INDIA’S WIDE-RANGING MISSILE PROGRAMME

On February 21 and 22, 2018, India successfully test-fired two nuclear-capable medium range surfaceto surface missiles ‘Prithvi-II’ off the Odisha coast and ‘Dhanush’ from a naval ship positioned near Paradip in the Bay of Bengal. On February 6 and 20, the medium range Agni I and Agni II respectively were test-launched. Prithvi-

  • was successfully flight tested from the launch complex of Integrated Test Range, at Chandipur on sea with all the radars, electro-optical tracking systems and telemetry stations along the Odisha coast monitoring all its trajectory parameters. Prithvi-II, a liquid propulsion twin engine rocket has a strike range of 350 km and is capable of carrying 500-1,000 kg warhead.

Dhanush, a naval variant of the indigenously developed ‘Prithvi’ missile, has a range of 350 km and is capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg, which can hit both land and sea-based targets. It has already been inducted into the defence services. Developed by the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), its stabilised firing system was developed by Larsen and Toubro. The latest Dhanush trial was conducted as part of the Strategic Force Command exercise while its launch and flight performance were monitored by DRDO.

On January 18, 2018, Agni-5 was successfully flight tested for its full range from Dr Abdul Kalam Island, Odisha. This was the fifth test of the missile and the third consecutive one from a canister on a road mobile launcher. All the five missions were successful. The latest in India’s “Agni” family of medium to intercontinental range missiles, capable of carrying an approximately 1000 kg warhead, with new technology for navigation and guidance, it provides India the strategic depth needed to contain Pakistan and China. Itis also a fire-and-forget system that cannot be easily detected as it follows a ballistic trajectory. This was the first test launch of Agni-5 missile after India became a member of the MTCR, a 35-nation group to check the spread of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons.

On December 28, 2017, the Advance Air Defence missile system intercepted a target ballistic missile. Earlier in December, DRDO successfully launched Akash surface-to-air missile fitted with an indigenous seeker, and in November, it conducted a successful test flight of the indigenously developed Nirbhay long-range sub-sonic cruise missile.

India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) under the Ministry of Defence, began in early 1980s for the development of a comprehensive range of missiles. These included the intermediate range Agni and short-range missiles such as the Prithvi ballistic missile, Sagarika, the naval version of the Prithvi (all surface to surface), Akash and Trishul missiles (surface-to-air), Astra air-to-air missile, Nag anti-tank missile and also Surya inter-continental-ballistic-missile with a range of 8,000-12,000 km. The last major missile developed under the programme was Agni-III IRBM, which was successfully tested on July 9, 2007. After the third test of Agni-3 on May 7, 2008, the DRDO announced the closure of the IGMDP since most of the missiles in the programme have been developed and inducted into Indian armed forces. These were Akash, Nag, Prithvi, Trishul and Agni (as a re-entry technology demonstrator). There is a longer list of missiles developed under IGMDP, which apart from those already mentioned, include Barak-8 Anti-Radiation Missile and Anti-Satellite Missile. The DRDO is also developing a laser-based weapon system as part of its ballistic missile defence programme to intercept and destroy missiles soon after they are launched towards the Indian territory.

In February 2017, DRDO successfully test fired the indigenous interceptor missile Advanced Area Defence (AAD). This was the second test-firing of the missile system in less than a month. This achievement gives India a rare and incredible capability and it also joined the select group of US, Russia, Israel and China that have such a system.

The Agni-6, the latest and most advanced version with a strike-range of 8,000-10,000 km, is reported to be in early stages of development and is expected to be capable of being launched from submarines as well as from land.

BRAHMOS

The latest version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile fitted with an indigenous seeker was successfully flight tested on March 22, 2018, at the Pokhran test range in Rajasthan. Developed jointly by DRDO and BrahMos Aerospace, the supersonic cruise missile and the seeker, a precision strike weapon, flew in its designated trajectory and hit the pre-set target. The flight test was conducted by the scientists of DRDO and BrahMos along with the Indian Army.

BrahMos supersonic cruise missile systems are held by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. In 2007, Indian Army became the world’s first land force to deploy the tactical BrahMos. Presently, the Army operates three regiments equipped with various configurations of BrahMos land attack cruise missile (LACM). A fourth BrahMos regiment is currently under formation and its cruise missiles, of 290km range, will improve India’s capability along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). On March 11 2017, Indian Army successfully test fired an enhanced BrahMos extended range (ER) version with a range in excess of 400 km. Then on May 2 and 3 of 2017, the Army yet again conducted two successive successful test firings of an advanced BrahMos version. This was the fifth consecutive time when the Block-III version of BrahMos LACM was successfully launched and hit the land-based target in “top-attack mode,” a formidable feat not achieved by any other weapon of its genre and achieving an accuracy of less than one meter.

The lethal BrahMos has become part of the Indian Navy’s arsenal as well. Operational in all frontline naval platforms, it can be fired from both vertical and inclined launchers. It has also been successfully test-fired from a submerged platform to prove its fitness for the Indian Navy’s new, yet-to-be-inducted P-75I class of attack submarines.

On April 21, 2017, the Indian Navy achieved a major feat when it successfully test-fired BrahMos LACM, thus joining an elite club of navies of US, Russia, UK and China who have developed the capability of striking land-based targets from sea. The missile was fired from the Navy’s guided missile frigate INS Teg on a land target with desired results. Majority of the Indian Navy’s leading surface warfare ships like the Kolkata, Rajput and Teg classes have got the capability of firing the supersonic cruise missile to precisely neutralise selected targets far away from the coast.

In yet another historic feat on November 22, 2017, the air launched version of BrahMos created a world record after it was successfully test fired from the Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi-30MKI multirole fighter. The advanced BrahMos air launched cruise missile with precision strike capability hit a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal during the live test firing, making India the first country in the world to achieve the capability of launching a supersonic cruise missile from a long-range supersonic strike fighter.

BrahMos Aerospace, which way back in February 1998 turned out to be the maiden Make in India joint venture, has also initiated work to develop a smaller, smarter version of the versatile missile which could arm a wide range of modern naval and aerial platforms in future. A long-term future goal for which BrahMos Aerospace is going all out is to develop a hypersonic version of the missile. The new futuristic weapon, which could bring in a quantum leap in missile technology, would be called BrahMos-II (K). According to Dr. SK Mishra, CEO and MD, BrahMos Aerospace, the R&D programme for the futuristic weapon is currently underway and it requires a lot of groundwork and fundamental research and could take 5 to 7 years to reach practical results.

Today, BrahMos Aerospace is confident that the versatile missile systems can be easily integrated into the existing as well as prospective submarines, shore-based weapon complexes, ships and other combat platforms in various regions, including in Latin America. This could lead to a higher demand for missiles from the international market. The technology upgrade comes after India’s full membership to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which has removed the caps on the range of BrahMos. BrahMos Aerospace is now looking optimistically at the future prospects of designing and developing even more advanced variants of the missile, including a lighter, miniature one, to be called BrahMos-NG (next generation) and a hypersonic variant, to be called BrahMos-II (K). The former gives the capability to deploy a versatile, flexible and universal supersonic cruise missile system in a lighter, smaller and compact configuration. Development of the hypersonic BrahMos will be a revolutionary chapter in the global missile technology domain, as the futuristic weapon would have the capability to fly at an ultra-high speed of Mach 5-7.

With BrahMos successfully fired from land, air, ship and submarine configurations, India becomes the sixth nation to achieve the nuclear triad.

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