India-Russia joint venture BrahMos Aerospace wants to double the speed of its ramjet-powered supersonic cruise missile to beyond Mach 5 as an interim step towards the development of a clean-sheet “BrahMos-II” hypersonic weapon.

BrahMos general manager of marketing and export Praveen Pathak says the company’s pursuit of a hypersonic missile remains in the decision phase and could take seven or eight years to fully realise.

He says the central challenge is finding the best materials to protect the hypersonic air vehicle against the extreme temperatures and shockwaves experienced during high-speed flight.

Today’s BrahMos missile travels at Mach 2.5 to 2.8, but the primary goal is to develop a weapon capable of sustaining a top speed of Mach 7 or greater using a supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine.

Russia, India, China and the USA are all pursuing hypersonic missiles with the aim of outrunning each other’s air defence systems and boosting the kinetic energy of each strike.

“The main problem scientists are facing is how to withstand so much heat, so it’s the same situation everywhere – whether it’s India, Russia or the US,” says Pathak. “Everyone is driving to have something faster, because whoever gets there faster will be the leader.”

Ramjet engines operate most efficiently at speeds above Mach 2, but BrahMos thinks it might be possible to push ramjet technology into the high-supersonic or low-hypersonic realm.

India displayed its latest air-launched variant of the BrahMos missile at MAKS. The weapon is integrated with the country’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole fighters.