Home > China, Europe, India > Faster, Smaller, Lighter Missiles: How Brahmos Leads The Way?

Faster, Smaller, Lighter Missiles: How Brahmos Leads The Way?


Indo-Russian supersonic missile, Brahmos may see a new competitor – the French missile, ASMPA.

The past and future of Brahmos | Image source: www.rian.ru

The past and future of Brahmos | Image source: http://www.rian.ru

Exactly one year ago, on June 20th, 2012, the French Government reported the successful test for their new upgraded missile – the ASMPA (Air Sol Moyenne Porte Ameliore).

Competition For Brahmos

Except for the weight, the new ASMPA is a Yakhont-Brahmos missile clone – like Brahmos, the French missile is also ramjet powered, kerosene-fuelled; 200-500 kg payload; 250-500 km range .

After a decade of ignoring the existence of a Mach-3 missile with Russia and India, the successful test of the new French missile should have been announced with much fanfare. Varying reports confuse ASMPA, deceptively named after its predecessor, the ASMP, which too was not widely inducted or utilized. Curiously, even one year later, very little has come out in the open. After more than a decade of silence, such a giant leap should have made the French Defense industry shout from rooftops.

With the end of Cold War, France probably does not need the ASMPA missile right now? France may decide to produce the ASMPA if the threat profile to France changes? Due to MTCR, anyway France cannot sell many of these missiles?

Why produce a missile that France does not need and cannot sell?

Maybe, India with Pakistan and China as rivals, needs to keep a high profile on new developments!

ASMPA Firsts

The ASMPA is expected to be integrated with the Rafale – something that was not done till September 2012.

Considering that this is less than 1.0 ton in weight, (globalsecurity.org gives weight specs. as 860 kg), compared to the nearly 3.0 tons that the Brahmos weighs, the ASMPA is major leg up.

For India, the ASMPSA missile means it can be something that can be fitted on all the Su-30MKIs, the MiG-29s, maybe even the ancient MiG-21s. At one ton, the Su-30MKIs will not need the major modifications, which is under discussion with the Russian vendors for the last 18 months.

Logic and The Rationale

Therefore, the ASMPA is probably the one reason why India opted for the Rafale. Possibly, that is also the reason why the signing of the Rafale contract is being delayed. Do the French have a missile that they can sell? Is it vaporware? Announced, tested, prototyped – but not in production and yet to be inducted.

MTCR regulations create artificial limits – probably the range of Brahmos is more than 300-km and the ASMPA range is less than 300-km. By declaring the range of the ASMPA missile to 500-km, France can claim that MTCR regulations stop it from sale or transfer of missiles and missile technology.

India’s indigenous interceptor missiles already attain speeds of Mach3-Mach-4. So, Indian requirements is probably limited to weight-reduction – which France seems to have achieved.

The Global Matrix

It is also a matter of much curiosity, that the Americans and the British or the Germans could not crack this technology – but the French did? After all, the test-integration of ASMPA with Rafale took two years after its test firing from a Mirage-2000N.

While the French do have a long history of experimental ramjets and hypersonic engines, integration into production, induction of these technologies has been lagging. It is in the stabilization, production and induction of supersonic ramjets that Indo-Russian partnership has excelled.

Not surprisingly, after the ASMPA announcement, India and Russia promptly announced that the Brahmos will be upgraded from supersonic speeds (Mach2.5-Mach3) to hypersonic speeds (Mach5-Mach6).

Laser guided missiles are one of Russia’s weaknesses. To overcome this technology shortcoming, Russia has signed a deal with France for integrating a system using French components.

France and Russia have also been co-operating on ramjet and scram jet technologies. Was there technology or a component barter between the French and the Russians?

ON AUGUST 20th 1998 Bill Clinton ordered American warships in the Arabian Sea to fire a volley of more than 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at suspected terrorist training camps near the town of Khost in eastern Afghanistan. The missiles, flying north at about 880kph (550mph), took two hours to reach their target. Several people were killed, but the main target of the attack, Osama bin Laden, left the area shortly before the missiles struck. American spies located the al-Qaeda leader on two other occasions as he moved around Afghanistan in September 2000. But the United States had no weapons able to reach him fast enough.

They have now pinned their hopes on an alternative approach: superfast or “hypersonic” unmanned vehicles that can strike quickly by flying through the atmosphere, and cannot be mistaken for a nuclear missile.

These hypersonic vehicles are not rockets, as ICBMs are, but work in a fundamentally different way. Rockets carry their own fuel, which includes the oxygen needed for combustion in airless space. This fuel is heavy, making rockets practical only for short, vertical flights into space. So engineers are trying to develop lightweight, “air breathing” hypersonic vehicles that can travel at rocket-like speeds while taking oxygen from the atmosphere, as a jet engine does, rather than having to carry it in the form of fuel oxidants.

The term hypersonic technically refers to speeds faster than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, equivalent to around 6,200kph at sea level and 5,300kph at high altitudes (where the colder, thinner air means the speed of sound is lower). Being able to sustain flight in the atmosphere at such speeds would have many benefits. Hypersonic vehicles would not be subject to existing treaties on ballistic-missile arsenals, for one thing. It is easier to manoeuvre in air than it is in space, making it more feasible to dodge interceptors or change trajectory if a target moves. And by cutting the cost of flying into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the technology could also help reduce the expense of military and civilian access to space.

All this, however, requires a totally different design from the turbofan and turbojet engines that power airliners and fighter jets, few of which can operate beyond speeds of about Mach 2. At higher speeds the jet engines’ assemblies of spinning blades can no longer slow incoming air to the subsonic velocities needed for combustion. Faster propulsion relies instead on engines without moving parts. One type, called a ramjet, slows incoming air to subsonic speeds using a carefully shaped inlet to compress and thereby slow the airstream. Ramjets power France’s new, nuclear-tipped ASMPA missiles. Carried by Rafale and Mirage fighter jets, they are thought to be able to fly for about 500km at Mach 3, or around 3,700kph.

It’s not rocket science

But reaching hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 and above with an air-breathing engine means getting combustion to happen in a stream of supersonic air. Engines that do this are called supersonic-combustion ramjets, or scramjets. They also use a specially shaped inlet to slow the flow of incoming air, but it does not slow down enough to become subsonic. This leaves engineers with a big problem: injecting and igniting fuel in a supersonic airstream is like “lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it lit,” says Russell Cummings, a hypersonic-propulsion expert at California Polytechnic State University.

One way to do it is to use fuel injectors that protrude, at an angle, into the supersonic airstream. They generate small shock waves that mix oxygen with fuel as soon as it is injected. This mixture can be ignited using the energy of bigger shock waves entering the combustion chamber. Another approach is being developed at the Australian Defence Force Academy. In a process known as “cascade ionisation”, laser blasts lasting just a few nanoseconds rip electrons off passing molecules, creating pockets of hot plasma in the combustion chamber that serve as sparks.

Scramjet fuel must also be kept away from the wall of the combustion chamber. Otherwise, it might “pre-ignite” before mixing properly, blowing up the vehicle, says Clinton Groth, an engineer at the University of Toronto who is currently doing research at Cambridge University in England (and who has consulted for Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce, two engine-makers). To complicate matters further, scramjets move too fast for their internal temperature and air pressure to be controlled mechanically by adjusting the air intake. Instead, as scramjets accelerate, they must ascend into thinner air at a precise rate to prevent rising heat and pressure from quickening the fuel burn and blowing up the combustion chamber.

In other words, igniting a scramjet is difficult, and keeping it going without exploding is harder still. Moreover scramjets, like ramjets, cannot begin flight on their own power. Because they need to be moving quickly to compress air for combustion, scramjets must first be accelerated by piggybacking on a jet plane or rocket. There are, in short, formidable obstacles to the construction of a scramjet vehicle.

A Chinese programme to convert a nuclear ballistic missile into an aircraft-carrier killer, by packing it with conventional explosives, had reached “initial operational capability”. The DF-21D, as it is called, is designed to descend from space at hypersonic speed and strike ships in the Western Pacific. Even though the accuracy of the DF-21D’s guidance system is unknown, the missile is already altering the balance of power within its range.

DARPA suggested, America will need “the new stealth” of hypersonic vehicles. Similarly, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, remarked last year that the design of hypersonic missiles had become a priority for the country.

via Hypersonic missiles: Speed is the new stealth | The Economist.

  1. September 18, 2013 at 8:15 pm | #1
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