Work is underway in Russia to increase the range of the P-800 Onyx (SS-NX-26) sea and land-based supersonic cruise Missile to 1000 km. When initially developed by Russia, the maximum range of the Onyx was 600 km. The maximum range of the most recent Onyx variant, Onyx-M, is 800 km.
Russia’s upgrade of the Onyx could prove significant for India as the Indian BrahMos missile is based on the Onyx.
The Onyx, which was under development when the Cold War ended in 1991, was developed from the P-700 Granit missile, which in turn was developed from the P-500 Bazalt missile. While the Bazalt was powered by a turbojet, its successors – Granit and Onyx – were powered by ramjets, as is the BrahMos.
BrahMos Is Based On Onyx
The P-800 project initially ran aground because of lack of funds. India invested $240 million to complete two decades of the missile’s development and contributed its inertial navigation system to develop the BrahMos.
The Onyx was developed by NPO Mashinostroyenie (NPOM), and the BrahMos was developed in parallel by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between the DRDO and NPOM.
A source close to the military told TASS that active work is underway to increase the flight range of the Onyx supersonic sea and the land-based cruise missile.
“It is planned to increase the flight range of the supersonic Onyx to 1,000 km in the near future,” the source said.
Like the Onyx, the BrahMos has sea and ground-launched variants. Additionally, Brahmos aerospace has developed an air-launched variant of the Brahmos missile.
The sea and ground-launched variants of the BrahMos are 0.5 m shorter than the Onyx (8.4m, and 8.9m, respectively) and 0.1m smaller in diameter (0.5m and 0.6m, respectively) but weigh an identical 3000 kg.
It is widely believed that NPOM deliberately reduced the range for the BrahMos from 600 km to 300 km in order to conform to the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime).
BrahMos Range Extension
Following India’s induction into the MTCR, BrahMos Aerospace extended the range of the BrahMos missile from 290 km to 500 km through tweaks such as higher altitude cruise and better fuel management.
Effectively, NPOM rolled back the range restrictions built into the missile. The 500 km variant of the BrahMos is referred to as BrahMos ER.
During Aero India 2017, DRDO Chief S Christopher told reporters that a new variant of the BrahMos with a strike range of 800 km is under development.
A BrahMos official explained to the author that the 800-km range would be achieved by optimizing the cruise performance of the missile’s ramjet engine and through the use of composites to reduce missile weight, facilitating enhanced fuel load.
The BrahMos official emphasized that the weight and external dimensions of the missile would not be altered.
In April 2019, BrahMos managing co-director Alexander Maksichev told Sputnik that it’s proposed to increase the speed of BrahMos from Mach 2.8 to Mach 4.5 through optimization of its ramjet engine, thereby increasing the range of the missile further.
With a higher cruising speed, the missile would travel a longer distance.
On January 20, 2022, a BrahMos variant with increased indigenous content and improved performance was successfully tested from Integrated Test Range, Chandipur. The accompanying press release stated that the test was a major milestone for the BrahMos program.
The missile cruised at supersonic speed for its maximum range, following a modified optimal trajectory for enhanced efficiency and improved performance. The missile featuring a modified control system was fine-tuned to achieve an enhanced capability.
It’s likely the test was related to extending the range of the BrahMos beyond 500 km.
It’s not known how NPOM plans to increase the range of Onyx-M from 800 km to 1000 km, but it’s highly likely that BrahMos Aerospace will benefit from NPOM’s upgrade of Onyx. I
It’s also possible that NPOM is extending the range of the Onyx missile based on technology developed and tested to increase the range of BrahMos!
- Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. VIEWS PERSONAL
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