BrahMos cruise missile cannot be mistaken for a nuclear-tipped missile - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 14 March 2022

BrahMos cruise missile cannot be mistaken for a nuclear-tipped missile

India's nuclear launch posture involves land-based nuclear weaponry to be delivered ONLY by ballistic missiles, NOT by cruise missiles

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 15 Mar 22


The accidental launch last Wednesday (March 9) of a supersonic BrahMos cruise missile from India into Pakistani territory has built up into a diplomatic kerfuffle between New Delhi and Islamabad, despite the Indian government taking responsibility for the incident. 


On March 11, an official New Delhi release admitted that “In the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.”


“India has taken a serious view and ordered a high-level Court of Enquiry (Inquiry),” stated New Delhi.


Admitting that the missile landed in Pakistan, New Delhi stated: “While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident.”


A day earlier, Islamabad had summoned India’s Charge d’Affaires (Cd’A) in Islamabad and protested “the unprovoked violation of its airspace by an Indian origin supersonic flying object which entered into Pakistan from Suratgarh, India at 18:43 hours (6:43 p.m. Pakistan time) the previous day (i.e. on March 9).


Pakistan said the missile “fell to ground near Mian Chunnu city in Pakistan at around 18:50 hours the same day, causing damage to civilian property.”

India’s Cd’A was told that the flying object had damaged civilian property, put at risk human lives on ground and endangered domestic /international flights within Pakistani airspace.

Islamabad wasted no time in launching a propaganda offensive against New Delhi. On March 12, a Pakistani release criticised Indian “security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorized launch of missiles in a nuclearized environment.”


It demanded that India explain its procedures to prevent accidental missile launches and the particular circumstances of this incident. By then, it was well known that a BrahMos missile had gone out of control, but Islamabad demanded details from India. 


Addressing Indian launch experts, Pakistan asked: “Are Indian missiles kept primed for launch even under routine maintenance?”

Hitting back at frequent international criticism that Pakistani missiles risked falling into the hands of terrorists, Islamabad countered: “Given the profound level of incompetence, India needs to explain if the missile was indeed handled by its armed forces or some rogue elements?”

Rejecting India’s proposal for an internal court of inquiry, Islamabad demanded a joint probe to accurately establish the facts.

New Delhi has issued bare-bones clarifications and elaborations, but has not brought out several important facts.


First, since the missile that was fired had been identified at the very outset as a BrahMos cruise missile, there was no question of a misunderstanding by Pakistan that India had launched a strategic nuclear weapon.


It is a tenet of India’s nuclear launch posture that strategic weapons – commonly referred to as “nukes”, or nuclear-tipped missiles – are invariably delivered via ballistic missiles, never via cruise missiles. So there was little prospect of a cruise missile, fired from Sirsa or elsewhere, spooking Pakistan into setting off a nuclear exchange.


Since the cruise missile had been launched from near Sirsa, it would have almost certainly been identified by Pakistan’s air defence network as a BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM). That is because Sirsa is home to a major air force base, but not to any army BrahMos units, which are restricted to the strike corps.


Thirdly, the violation of Indian launch protocols is not a matter of grave concern in an accidental BrahMos ALCM launch. Unlike in the launch of a strategic, nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, where a two-person launch protocol is mandatory, this is not so in the case of a BrahMos ALCM launched from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter.


In the latter case, once armament is loaded and activated, there is no requirement for a two-person protocol to protect its launch. Since there is always the possibility of one pilot being rendered casualty and, therefore, unable to play his role in triggering a launch sequence, a single-person firing protocol is regarded as sufficient for an ALCM.


That still leaves unanswered the question: How did the BrahMos ALCM get fired? The “high-level Court of Enquiry (Inquiry)” that has already been constituted will obtain the answer to that.


  1. Sir, do you think the Pakistanis, and through them, the Chinese, will have an opportunity to reverse engineer the missile from its debris? Since the missile did not possess a warhead, parts of it may still be intact?

    1. I don't think so. The kinetic hit of a supersonic brahmos is too much of an impact matter of face images showed the debris of missile spread across 3-4 houses which took almost one day for Pakistan itself to identify what hit them.(First they claimed PAF trainer jet then a private jet and finally a missile where even now they aren't sure if it's Brahmos). Forget reverse engineering.

  2. What hogwash. As if Pakistan or any country would be naive enough to think India would only stick to using ballistic missiles as delivery for nukes? This claim like Indias so called "No First Use" policy rightly holds no water when it comes to Pakistans threat perception or response preparedness. The fact that India holds such lax protocols for ALCMs (nuclear or non nuclear)is a matter of grave concern, because Pakistan clearly doesn't see this as a non threatening scenario. If the scenario was reversed, I guarantee India would be crying on every international forum to have Pakistans missile program shutdown.

    1. The launch was accidental only as per official statements. It was an intentional launch to send a message and the message has been received. Just like in case of balakot airstrike which according to you people fell on some trees then how was there an response in that case while none in this case. The timing of this launch is also exactly on the eve of major election results which resulted mostly ruling BJP triumphing. However cries of Pakistan will not be cared by anyone in the world at present geopolitical scenario, Maybe only China will give some consolation statement.

  3. Sir, are we certain that this was an ALCM? I saw reports that IAF indeed commands a surface-launched battery of BrahMos. Also, If it was an ALCM launch it will have to be from an in-flight Su-30. All reports so far have mentioned accidental launch from ground, not air.

  4. How come Pakistan didn't demand compensation?

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