This article is intended to explore the possibility of developing the K-15 into a submarine launched Anti-shipping ballistic missile. I believe this can be achieved and that once completed it will provide the Indian Naval services with a true “Brahmastra” a massive unstoppable Area denial weapon. It will be even more effective than the much touted DF-21D due to the launch platform being a submarine and hence hidden till the moment of launch. I shall try and explore both the Promise and the practical possibility of such a weapon system in this article.
Scenario-it is a balmy morning in early 2022 and following the breakup of negotiations over tawang with the Chinese the PLAN “Shi Lang” Battle group steams its way into the southern Indian Ocean as part of a naval offensive against the Indian navy. At the heart of this battle group is the “Liaoning” the PLAN carrier, she is protected against aerial strikes by her complement of J-15 “Flying Shark” Fighters which provide CAP over the carrier and her escorts of three Sovremenny destroyers to take on surface threats and four type 052C destroyers providing a formidable SAM cover to the group as well as four 054A frigates and a single 093 class SSN screening the seas three hundred kilometers ahead of the battle group. The Indian Navy is ordered to decapitate this group in a single decisive strike with minimal losses in ships and equipment and the decision to use the “Brahmastra” is finalized.
Within minutes a coded message was sent to the second ARIHANT class SSBN on patrol in the southern Bay of Bengal only 600km from the PLAN fleet and six K-15 missiles soon broke the surface and arched southwards towards the “Liaoning”. Travelling at Hypersonic velocities the six missiles closed the gap in a matter of minutes, the HQ-9 systems of the Type 052C fired furiously trying to hit the warheads as they arched down from the sky, two warheads were hit but then the sea shook as the Liaoning was thrown backwards by the massive force of a thousand kilogram unitary warhead exploding on impact upon its flight deck while a second hit the superstructure midships. The third warhead exploded in midair 200feet to the right between two sovremenny destroyers the force of the blast causing the entire superstructure of both vessels to collapse while breaking in half a 054 close to these vessels. The fourth fell directly on top of a Type 052C breaking the ship into two halves and blowing massive holes in two adjacent Frigates with the force of the blast and gutting the superstructure of another 052 a few hundred feet away.
When the smoke cleared two sovermenny’s and three 054A’s had sunk apart from two 052s, the Liaoning itself was sinking fast, for all practical intents and purposes PLAN CBG “Shi Lang” was no more”.
The practical project-
Now that we have indulged ourselves and enjoyed the scenario presented above let us come to the practicality of creating such a missile. Can we do it? Is it feasible to develop the K-15 into an ASBM? Let us look at the pieces required to assemble this jigsaw. An ASBM is basically a Regular ballistic missile updated to have a Very small CEP and an ability to change course during flight based upon real time updates. An ASBM system in the very basics consists of the following pieces.
1) The missile
2) The sensor array to track ships
3) Real time Data Analysis and interpretation systems and software.
The missile-The development of the K-15 began sometime in the late 1990’s and has been flight tested up to its full flight range numerous times, as well as from underwater launch platforms. Standing 10mt tall with a launch weight of only 6-7 tonnes the K15 was always designed as a very compact SLBM, but with a mere 750km range it always was somewhat a misnomer of an SLBM providing very little practical strategic strike ability against any target deep in the Chinese Hinterland, The K-15 however is perfect for use as an ASBM. It is stealthy and can be launched form a submarine relatively close to its target thereby reducing flight distance and reaction time. It is also guided till the target and equipped with a very maneuverable reentry vehicle hence is a perfect candidate for in flight navigation updates. It already has a very small single digit CEP which indicates a very high accuracy and an ability to target relatively small objects like a ship in the open ocean.
The sensor array-The key to all this is the IRNSS or the Indian regional satellite navigational system, this system once operational shall be the primary system providing geopositional information to the Missile and launch platforms. it shall consist of 7 satellites in a geostationary orbit over the IOR supported by ground stations on the mainland. Being geostationary shall make it relatively safe as the satellites do not have to overfly any hostile nations.
In itself the IRNSS can only guide and we will still need a whole battery of imaging and mapping satellites to keep an eye on any ships transiting into and around the IOR, we have this part of the puzzle in place somewhat with RISAT 1 and RISAT 2 which will be able to provide near real time updates to ground controllers and handlers about hostile shipping in the IOR. However both these satellites are in sun synchronous orbit which means that they are not always over the IOR, RISAT 1 for example orbits over India 14 times in 24 hours. What we need are a couple of geostationary SAR satellites that can provide real time updates via secure data links to their ground stations.SAR in itself can provide RADAR surveillance over a large swath of territory however we will still need satellites with Electro optical sensors to provide more detailed data in real time along with over the horizon radar and UAV’s.Some of this gap is filled by the CARTOSAT series. Another addition shall be ELINT satellites listening to the huge amount of electronic chatter generated by a carrier’s flight operations. The OTH Radar or X-band Radar is another game changer which provides Very long range detection of enemy fleets and missiles. It was first reported by the tribune in 2010 that India was looking for this asset however how far we got to actually getting it is unknown. This asset is required as it can provide real time radar data for thousands of kilometers, for comparison please note that the Israeli Green pine RADAR we now deploy has a range of only 500km.
The persistent coverage provided by RADARS and satellites is augmented by UAV’s and maritime surveillance aircraft for a more detailed and clear picture of hostiles. The manned aircraft in question is undoubtedly going to be the P8i, the unmanned platform in question is presently the Heron and the searcher 2 UAV’s operated by the IN presently, however this will have to be upgraded to a more persistent real time 24×7 reconnaissance ability in the near future.
3) Real time data analysis and interpretation systems and software- Much of this capability already exists as most of the satellites in question are already in operation, what remains is to expedite radically the rate at which data can be analyzed . This primarily depends on one thing only “Brute computing power” India has been at the forefront of many computing milestones in the recent past and systems like the PARAM 500 will no doubt play an important role in the same.
Items crucial for the terminal guidance phase of the missile are missile borne SAR (synthetic aperture radar, MMW (millimeter wave radar) and imaging infrared sensors, however little information about Indian efforts on the same is available in the public sphere. And hence i shall not comment on the same.
However all said and done the claim of single digit CEP and terminal hit guidance for the K-15 indicate that these are already in place.
In addition to this as the K-15 already is a quasi-ballistic missile flying through the atmosphere for most of its flight duration and guided at the same time I believe that the DRDO scientists have already gotten around the problem of electromagnetic interference caused by superheated plasma formation around the missile body during flight, this is a major achievement and it took the Chinese scientists working on the DF-21D a long time to master it.
All in all I’d like to conclude by saying that the tech required for a nascent ASBM already exists within the nation what remains is for it to be operationally deployed, that again remains a matter of policy not of analysis.
As always all opinions expressed are mine solely and all information is from open sources only.