Bengaluru: BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM) received the first ever fleet release clearance (FRC) issued by the certifying agency.
The supersonic and advanced ALCM with its proven capabilities for the Indian Air Force (IAF) there by becomes the first indigenous weapon to get the critical FRC.
According to military sources, the FRC was granted to BrahMos missile on June 10 during a high-profile meeting of various stakeholders held through video conferencing.
The meeting was attended by members from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), BrahMos Aerospace, Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), Software Development Institute (SDI), IAF HQ and the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC).
The FRC for BrahMos airborne version was accorded by CEMILAC.
“The FRC paves the way for the IAF squadrons to use BrahMos ALCM during various combat missions. This is an important milestone for the missile makers,” a government official said.
The IAF had added unmatched capability in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) when it inducted the mighty Sukhois (Su-30MKIs) armed with BrahMos ALCMs into the resurrected No 222 Squadron at the Air Force Station (AFS) Thanjavur on January 20 this year.
The stand-off distance of BrahMos (300 km) and the range of Sukhoi (3000-plus km) along with refuelling have given the IAF a great advantage during its missions in the IOR.
Ahead of the induction into IAF, the BrahMos ALCM had demonstrated six spectacular test firings to validate its impeccable land-attack and anti-ship capabilities.
Out of these, there tests were from land-based launchers and three from Sukhois.
Since its first mission on June 12, 2001, BrahMos missile saw 26 launches from various Indian Navy platforms, 23 launches for Indian Army and six tests for the IAF.
In addition, there were close to 20 developmental launches as well.
During the DefExpo2020 held at Lucknow in February, Dr Sudhir Kumar Mishra, CEO & MD of BrahMos Aerospace, had told Onmanorama the missile variants will be tested with enhanced range this year.
In its ALCM role to be integrated on Sukhois, BrahMos underwent several changes including weight reduction from 2.9 tonne to 2.5 tonne.
As reported by Onmanorama earlier, the role of ASTE and SDI has been pivotal in the integration of BrahMos ALCM on Sukhois. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s Nashik Division too played a key role.
FRC could be compared to the initial operational clearance (IOC) granted to Tejas. There will be another certification likely in future that will clear the missile for some advanced roles.
When asked about the relevance of FRC, an official said that it is a mandatory requirement considering the changes both the weapon and carrying platform have undergone.
“Sukhois have undergone several modifications during their integration of BrahMos ALCM. Factors like fatigue of aircraft and launcher comes into play now. It is important that we generate long-term data and FRC paves way for the same,” the official said.
Under the FRC, limited number of Sukhois have been chosen to carry BrahMos ALCM for immediate missions. In future, additional Sukhois will be added as per FRC.
A government official confirms that the FRC process was expedited following the current stand-off between India and China on the border.
“These are sensitive issues and can only confirm that there was an urgency on this matter,” an official said refusing to share more details.
It is now certain that the missile will be given another round of final clearance after agencies analyse the date being generated from various IAF missions, post FRC.
“There are several factors that will be looked into, including production issues. All the learnings will help to enhance the scope of the missile in future missions of IAF,” an official said.
Similar to the final operational clearance (FOC) granted to Tejas, there will be another type of FRC that will be granted to BrahMos in future.
Ahead of this, the IAF will have to identify the Sukhoi batches that would undergo modifications to integrate the missile, the critical one being the launcher developed by BrahMos Aerospace Thiruvananthapuram Ltd (BATL).
Officials say that FRC is an important milestone for an indigenous missile which will now set the tone for other weapons as well.
“The IAF pilots have already begun their missions from AFS Thanjavur and more assets will be added to the squadron there. The FRC gives a stamp for the pilots to use these missiles in various modes as per the mission requirements,” an official said.
Gradually more desi missiles are expected to be given the FRC, including the Astra beyond visual range (BVR) missile, RudraM-1, RudraM-2, RudraM-3 and the New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile (NGARM).
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake)