Does the USA possess any capability to intercept supersonic cruise missiles (e.g. BrahMos)?

If YES, how?

If NOT, why?

  • According to Pravda (cited on Wikipedia, LOL), no. I don't really know the answer otherwise. (And not my DV.)
    – Fizz
    Mar 24 at 12:36
  • Supersonic cruise missiles, and even more so, hypersonic cruise missiles, are the crane kick of cruise missiles: "Do it right, no can defense". It takes only a minute for a cruise missile flying at Mach 5 to travel 100 kilometers. Multiple countries are working on developing supersonic (Mach 5 or higher) cruise missiles due to the "no can defense" principle. Mar 24 at 13:05
  • @DavidHammen: those are hypersonic. The P-800 and its Indian variant are older, and don't exceed Mach 3. The ESSM was tested against "high-diving supersonic" threats, but details have not been disclosed prnewswire.com/news-releases/… The ESSM itself flies at Mach 4.
    – Fizz
    Mar 24 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


I have answered this very question in detail on a more relevant Aviation StackExchange.

I'll restate a few key points from my answer, and add a few relevant to your question.

  • The interception rate against cruise missiles is unknown, but generally lower than against aircraft. All figures here are relative to indicate orders of magnitude. In general, a kill probability of 50-90% is considered effective.

This paper includes some math. This is for a point target being specifically defended, against an expected attack. There are multiple factors that can break the kill chain, and you can see how 50% can quickly turn into 5% if the missile is considerably more advanced.

Speed complicates interception in several ways. It gives less time to detect, identify, prepare to fire, and engage the target. It also multiplies the effect of error in tracking and targeting. Overall, the difficulty of interception scales approximately with speed squared. The paper above is for guns, but the math for missiles works in similar ways.

As can be seen from these sources, key factors that affect missile interception difficulty include:

  • Speed
  • Maneuverability
  • Countermeasures
  • Jamming

The Brahmos missile represents the mid-upper tier of ~2010 Russian missile technology, augmented with Indian-developed software on Western hardware. It's been designed to defeat medium and large warships of modern navies, including the USN. Such ships are protected with at least 3 tiers of missile defense: SM-2 at a long range, ESSM within 30 nmi, and Phalanx CIWS at close range.

Given such targets, the Brahmos missile includes the widest range of electronic countermeasures among modern missiles, the highest speed, and is capable of various maneuvering profiles. So it's among the most difficult missiles to intercept.

Nothing would give a 100% interception rate. But to rely on a steady kill rate above 50%, one would have to employ a modern system with specialized anti-missile capability such as SM-3, MEADS, or S-400.

To bring the kill rate up further, to where 90% can be possible, one would have to step up to Integrated Air Defense Systems - a combination of long-range radars, combat air patrols, EAW/AWACS, fighters ready to scramble, and, then, layered long-range, medium-range and short-range SAM systems. 4 to 6 separate interception events, each with an independent chance to kill the target.

  • The biggest factor is foreknowledge. If you know you're going after a missile flying from point A to point B at time HH:MM, very high Pk above 90% can be achieved. If you're not actively looking for cruise missiles, even the best systems can be ineffective. And if it's unexpected to the point of disbelief, one can even land a Cessna on the Red Square.

The technology would also have to be state of the art, such as S-500 or at least the newest Patriot and SM combinations, modern jets like the F-35, Typhoon or Su-30, with new missiles like Meteor or latest versions of R-77 or AMRAAM, plus modern local air defense systems.

The US has such defenses in place around its Carrier Battle Groups, and possibly around Washington DC and other critical military command centers. If fired upon, when an attack is specifically expected, one can expect most missiles to be deflected by decoys or intercepted by hard-kill measures. Some missiles, between 1 out of 10 and half, will still hit their targets. This is very approximate.

  • TL;DR: The US has some capacity to intercept supersonic missiles. The interception rate will not be 100%, but between 50% and 90%. This high rate will only apply if an attack is expected and the forces are ready.
  • Where did you get the 50% to 90% range from, specifically?
    – Fizz
    Mar 25 at 0:55
  • @Fizz Many various studies done on the subject. Everyone has different numbers, since the models are nonlinear, and there isn't enough actual combat experience with missile defenses to get statistics. That is the range where the best-case numbers converge.
    – HK-51
    Mar 25 at 3:41


The "RIM-162 ESSM is designed to counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles."

The BrahMos is a version of the P-800 Oniks. It's top speed is around Mach 2.6. The ESSM's top speed is around Mach 4.

Details have generally not been released to press, but in 2013 Raytheon claimed to have successfully tested the ESSM against a "high-diving supersonic" threat.

  • The P-800 is not a high-diver as I read it, but rather a surface skimmer at supersonic speed, BrahMos is expected to be alike. (UPD high-low trajectories are also specified, so next applies to strict surface-skimming flight) High divers have a disadvantage of being high at some point, thus detectable on long range radars, while skimmers have an advantage of being so close to surface that radars get blinded by mere presense of that surface, not to mention staying below horizon for surface-mounted radars while in cruise, so early warning becomes harder to achieve.
    – Vesper
    Mar 24 at 15:05
  • Take a look at this recent article - idrw.org/makeshift-launcher-hints-at-new-brahmos-er-block-iv Wikipedia says the speed is Mach 4. Mar 24 at 17:25
  • @SwiftPushkar: frankly I find the Indian claims about the perf or the BrahMos a bit incredible, given how similar it is to the P-800, from the outside at least. And also considering that Russia is involved in the actual BrahMos development. You'd think they be able to refit those super duper characteristics to their own stockpile. It's worth remembering that the Indian military is famous for claiming to have hit targets that everyone else agrees they've missed. aspistrategist.org.au/…
    – Fizz
    Mar 24 at 23:39
  • @SwiftPushkar: I can buy that the air-launched version of BrahMos may achieve higher speeds, at higher altitudes, where the air is thinner.
    – Fizz
    Mar 24 at 23:55
  • @Vesper: details are more scarce about the newer P-800/P-900 but for the P-700 "The missile flies a lo-hi-lo profile, at Mach 2.5 at altitude and Mach 1.5 during the terminal phase." ausairpower.net/APA-Rus-Cruise-Missiles.html Likewise the P-270 / Kh-41 Moskit "can be programmed to fly a high altitude trajectory at Mach 3, or a sea-skimming trajectory at Mach 2.2."
    – Fizz
    Mar 25 at 0:15

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