India is one of the most rapidly growing militaries in the world. We have evolved from a regional force with tactical capabilities to a growing strategic force with global reach. This article will cover the 10 most powerful Russian weapon systems used by the Indian Armed Forces.
The 44,000 ton aircraft carrier will be the lynchpin of the Indian Navy’s war strategy. A carrier battle group (CBG) is one of the most heavily armed and feared forces at sea. The news of INS Vikramaditya and its sister warships steaming towards Pakistan could demoralise the enemy and force a quick capitulation.
With a complement of 36 aircraft, including 26 MiG-29K multirole fighters and 10 Kamov early warning as well as antisubmarine helicopters, the carrier can establish a cordon sanitaire in the Arabian Sea, denying Pakistan sea access. India’s latest aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya is the largest ship ever operated by them. This 45,000 ton refurbished carrier is currently the most powerful asset in the Indian Ocean. It has the capacity to deploy 24 MiG-29K fighters along with 6 ASW/AEW helicopters. This formidable combination gives the Indian Navy a very useful power projection tool. The carrier has a Russian electronic and sensor suite which is said to be powerful enough to prevent it from being tracked by powerful airborne radar systems. Though currently unarmed, the carrier will receive the Barak-8 SAM for self-defense during its first refit. The carrier uses a ski jump to launch fighters and arrestor wires to recover them, classifying it as a STOBAR carrier.
INS Vikramaditya has a range of 25,000 km at 18 knots and endurance of 45 days. The floating city has 110 officers and 1500 sailors on board.
Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes
If there is one aircraft that has defined the Indian Air Force in the 21st century, it’s the Su-30Mki. This is a long-range, multi-role, supermaneuverable 4.5+ gen fighter which is built according to Indian specifications. The baseline Su-30Mk from Russia was modified with French, Israeli and Indian avionics to create the ultimate Su-30 variant for India. It became the Su-30Mki where ‘i’ stands for India (Indiski). After realizing the combat potential and versatility of this amazing fighter, the IAF placed an order for 272 aircraft which makes India the largest Su-30 operator in the world.
The Su-30Mki is the bread and butter of the IAF as the rest of their fleet consists of legacy 4th gen fighters which have just a fraction of the capabilities of this fighter. With its 4000+ km range, 12 Hardpoints for 8000 kg of weapons, PESA Bars radar, it outclasses any other fighter in the region. It is safe to assume that 1 Su-30Mki can do the job of 2 MiG-29 and 2 Jaguar combined. It is currently used for air defense, reconnaissance and ground attack. The Su-30Mki is evolving into a cruise missile platform for the IAF. By 2016, it will be integrated with BrahMos and Nirbhay cruise missiles which would give it strike capabilities never before imagined by the IAF or its rivals. It also is integrated with several indigenous and imported electronic jamming pods and anti-radiation missiles which make it a deadly platform for Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD/DEAD) which is the most important part of modern warfare to sanitize enemy threats.
Il-78 aerial refuelling tankers
The Ilyushin Il-78 is the aerial refuelling tanker version of the large Il-76 transport aircraft. The Il-78 is a force multiplier as it allows multirole aircraft such the Su-30 to perform to their full capability. The aircraft has two removable 18,230-litre fuel tanks installed in the freight hold, allowing up to three aircraft to refuel in flight simultaneously.
Warplanes that can loiter for extended periods will, in theory, be able to conduct a range of missions. Because jet fighters are fuel guzzlers, their loiter time can be as short as 45 minutes for a MiG-21 to nearly three hours for the Su-30. With aerial refuelling, this can be enhanced. Indian pilots are known to conduct 10-hour missions, with the pilots taking turns to fly the aircraft.
An example of how refuelling capability can be a force multiplier is Flankers taking off from Thanjavur (the southernmost Sukhoi base), flying in fast and low – which consumes a huge quantity of fuel – over the Arabian Sea and surprising the Pakistanis from the rear.
Refuelling would also allow the IAF to attack Pakistan from the direction of Afghanistan. Indian aircraft can avoid landing in Afghanistan because that would give the Islamists and Taliban a handle for propaganda against the India-friendly administration and Afghan elites. The Pakistani defence forces would be completely mortified if India is able to achieve this geopolitical coup.
Strictly speaking, BrahMos, which is produced in India by BrahMos Corp, is an Indian missile. However, it is a Russian design that was mothballed after the Cold War ended. The missile is one of the few crown jewels of the Soviet empire which India managed to get its hands on. Russian and Indian engineers jointly work in this successful project which is owned by India and Russia in the ratio of 50.5:49.5.
This is undoubtedly the most famous weapon that India has. It was the result of a joint venture between India and Russia to modify the Yakhont missile for Indian needs and make it into a universal missile which could be launched from any platform. This 9m long missile which weighs 3 tons has now become the backbone of the Indian Defense forces as a long-range standoff weapon. It is currently employed by the India Navy on most of their major warships. Indian Army has inducted 3 regiments and the Air Force is conducting trials for the air launched variant. The air launched variant has a reduced weight of 2.5 tons and 1 missile can be carried under the fuselage of the Su-30Mki. The current production rate is said to be 100 missiles per year.
Naval variant Army variant
The next generation of BrahMos is named as the BrahMos NG. It is basically a smaller version of the current BrahMos with similar performance and minor improvements. It will undergo a 50% weight reduction and a 30% length reduction and 0% performance reduction. So how is it possible to do such a thing? According to my sources, the current BrahMos uses large electronics circuits and heavy guidance systems and components. The casing of the missile is quite heavy as well since the missile has 25 year old technology which is excellent but heavy and big, which makes the current version so heavy. The NG will feature new gen micro-electronics and advanced composites which will drastically reduce its weight. The new smaller ramjet will also contribute to the smaller size and reduced weight. The speed will be increased from Mach 3 to Mach 3.5. All the branches of the Indian military have expressed interest in the NG variant.
What gives a modern warship teeth are its missiles. Indian Navy ships and submarines are now equipped with the powerful Klub. This partly supersonic missile is the export version of the 2500 km Kalibr which the Russian Navy has used with devastating effect against the Islamic State as well as US-backed terror groups in Syria. Although the Klub version’s range is limited by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to below 300 km, it is more than enough to strike at coastal targets from well within international waters.
The interesting fact about the Klub’s flight is that for the majority of its trajectory it travels at a high subsonic speed. Initially the missile flies at an altitude of 30-45 feet above the sea surface. Approximately 60 km away from the designated target, the Klub descends to 15 ft and accelerates to supersonic speed before smashing into the target. Because of their immense kinetic energy, Russian missiles of this class have cut warships into half during testing. It also makes them almost invulnerable to defensive counter measures.
The Klub is also capable of performing very high angled defensive and speedy manoeuvres. This is unlike the linear – and predictable – flight path of other anti-ship cruise missiles. The Klubs are expected to cause mayhem in Pakistani waters and on shored based targets in the opening hours of a conflict.
During the 1999 Kargil War, unknown to the Pakistanis, a Russian built submarine of the Indian Navy was lurking close to Karachi. How close? Well, it had Karachi harbour within the range of its torpedoes. Had the conflict widened outside Kashmir, the submarine would have unleashed a volley of torpedoes against Pakistani naval installations. India has around a dozen of these silent submarines, which can make life extremely difficult for Pakistani naval and commercial shipping.
After acquiring the Akula II class SSN Nerpa from Russia on a ‘lease’ for 10 years, the Indian Navy gained the ability to provide a long-range underwater escort for their carriers and destroyers. The INS Chakra is modified for Indian needs and carries a mix of 36 Torpedoes and Klub Anti-ship missiles which can be fired from the 8×533 mm torpedo tubes. There are reports that India will acquire another Akula SSN, the Iribis which is currently under construction. It may be modified to carry vertical launch tubes for BrahMos missiles.
Multi-barrel rocket launchers
The multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) is a signature Russian weapon which proved its worth during World War II when it rained the earthly equivalent of hellfire on German Army columns and hardened urban defences.
India has been one of the early adopters of the system, including the BM21 Grad and Smerch. The legendary
MBRLs have low precision compared with artillery but they rely on a large number of shells dissipating over an area for a certain hit rate on specific targets. Plus, because of the short warning time for the impact of the whole volley, the BM-21 is considered an effective weapon.
India has more than 150 Grad and 62 Smerch systems. Inspired by the Russian BMRL, India now produces the Pinaka system with a reported high rate of production of 5000 rockets per year. Together, the deadly threesome will carpet bomb the living daylights out of the Pakistani Army.
In his book, ‘The Sea Power of the State’, Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, who transformed the Russian Navy into a global force, wrote: “Naval warfare aimed directly against land targets will play an ever greater part in any future major conflict.”
In the 1971 War, India’s Russian built missile boats had set fire to Karachi on the second day of the 14-day war. Continuing in the wake of those boats, India ordered – and later locally built – the Krivak III or Talwar stealth frigates.
Frigates are small when compared with top of the line destroyers, but as the Russian Navy proved in its ongoing war against the Islamic State, small ships armed with long-range missiles can deliver a knockout blow early on in a conflict.
The Talwars have a displacement of just 4000 tons, but with a speed of 32 knots they are among the fastest vessels in the ocean. They are capable of accomplishing a wide scale of missions in the ocean, primarily, finding and eliminating submarines and large surface ships.
Opinions differ as to Talwar’s stealth capabilities. According to Global Security, these missile frigates represent the cutting edge of technology in stealth, reach and punch. “They have ushered in highly automated integrated weapon platforms that are essential for blue water operations by the Indian Navy. Commissioning of these new frigates not only enhances India’s defensive potential at sea but also dramatically affects the power equations in Asia.”
Some Talwars carry 14 vertically-launched Klub missiles while the newer vessels are equipped with the much larger and supersonic BrahMos anti-ship missiles. Raiding Pakistani coastal targets will be a lot easier with their stealth profile.
Like a rampaging rhino the T-90 main battle tank is expected to steamroll Pakistani defences with its 125 mm main gun. Able to literally leap across ditches, the Russian built “Flying Tank” will be the spearhead of the Indian Army’s armoured spearheads that will slice into Pakistan as part of the Cold Start. This strategy calls for rapid and shallow thrusts into enemy territory aimed not at destroying Pakistan’s existence but at capturing “bite-sized” territory – up to 80 km deep – that can be used as bargaining chips after the war.
The T-90 is suited to lightning war for its many qualities. Being an operator of over 5000 T-55/72 tanks, it was natural that the Indian Army chose the T-90S as their replacement. They were first procured hurriedly from Russia in response to its neighbor’s attempt to purchase the T-80 and Abrams tanks. It weighs just 48 tons and has a crew of 3 which is made possible by the use of an autoloader for the 125 mm smoothbore gun. The unique feature of this tank is its ability to fire the Invar anti-tank missile from its barrel. The other special feature is that, even though the 12.7 mm machine gun mounted on the turret is manually operated, it can also be remotely controlled from inside the turret by the commander. The Indian variants have indigenous Kanchan ceramic armour which is topped by a layer of Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA). It is powered by a diesel engine which makes maintenance easier and reduces fuel consumption compared to the gas turbines of the T-80.
It is said that the Indian T-90S are downgraded variants of the Russian T-90A, but the Indians have fitted it with Israeli, French and Swedish sub systems and have made it possibly better than the Russian variant itself. It is slated to be fitted with the Saab LEDS-150 Active Protection System (APS) which will give it a 3-layered defense against enemy anti-tank munitions. The first layer is the APS, the second layer is the ERA and the third layer is the Ceramic armour. The T-90S can be easily deployed anywhere as it can be airlifted by Il-76 and C-17 transports of the IAF. India operates around 600 T-90S and the eventual number by 2020 is expected to be around 1500 tanks.
Infantry support weapons
Infantry support systems are the unsung heroes of the battlefield. Mostly on the low tech side, they nevertheless play a critical role in the thick of the fighting by providing the on-the-move – and vulnerable – infantry with effective cover.
The Indian Army operates around 100 units of the ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled, radar guided anti-aircraft infantry support weapon. It dates back to the 1950s, but the Shilka’s arrival ensured NATO aircraft would never be used at low level in the battlefield.
The weapon is still in production more than 60 years after it was developed, proving that simplicity is a desirable trait in any weapon system. The 23-mm four-barrelled system is an extremely effective weapon against enemy attack aircraft and helicopters under every weather and light condition. It has a very high density, rate and accuracy of fire, as well as the capability for each of the four auto-cannons to fire its own type of projectile from separate belts.
Being a short-range anti-aircraft weapon, the ZSU-23-4 is not meant to be used against modern jet aircraft but as an infantry support system it remains unmatched. It is deadly for enemy light armoured vehicles. With its high rate of accurate fire, the system can neutralise tanks by destroying their gun sights, radio antennas or other vulnerable parts.
The other battlefield support system is the Tunguska, which was designed to perform roles the Shilka couldn’t. Unlike the gun-only Shilka, the Tunguska is a combined gun and missile system designed to provide day and night protection for infantry and tank regiments against low-flying aircraft, helicopters and cruise missiles in all weather conditions. Plus, its 30 mm shells have greater penetrative power.
India ordered 24 units of the Tunguska in 2005 and may have up to 184 in its armoury today.
There will certainly be naive people – leftists and seculars – who will argue that India cannot fight a war against a nuclear armed rival. Before addressing that, here’s something you should do: stop seeing Pakistan as a rival. An enemy seven times smaller in economic terms is not a rival but an annoying detractor.
And as for war between nuclear armed rivals, it has already taken place – in 1999, in Kargil. In fact, the most telling statement on the war was made by India’s then Defence Minister George Fernandes. In January 2000 he observed that in precipitating the Kargil War, Pakistan “had not absorbed the real meaning of nuclearisation – that it can deter only the use of nuclear weapons, but not all and any war”.
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