SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the author.

It was quite ap­par­ent that to meet the op­er­a­tional need of a medium range cruise mis­sile, In­dia will have to go the in­dige­nous route, es­pe­cially when the core tech­nol­ogy of the BrahMos has not fully been shared by Rus­sia, which is the norm with de­vel­oped na­tions

BrahMos, the fastest cruise mis­sile in op­er­a­tion in the world that trav­els at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0, is an Indo-Rus­sian joint ven­ture that has been mak­ing head­lines pe­ri­od­i­cally. The land, ship-launched ver­sions are al­ready in ser­vice with the In­dian mil­i­tary and the air-launched ver­sion would en­ter ser­vice shortly. On March 20, 2013, In­dia achieved the stu­pen­dous feat of test fir­ing the BrahMos su­per­sonic cruise mis­sile un­der­wa­ter. The sub­ma­rine-launched vari­ant of BrahMos was test fired suc­cess­fully for the first time from a sub­merged pon­toon near Visakha­p­at­nam off the coast of Bay of Ben­gal. This was the first ver­ti­cal launch of a su­per­sonic mis­sile from a sub­merged plat­form. The mis­sile can be launched from a depth of 50 me­tres.

What In­dia re­port­edly wanted for its armed forces was a medium-range cruise mis­sile of 550-625 km range but Rus­sia agreed to the 300 km range BrahMos com­ply­ing with the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime (MTCR). Present, the BrahMos-II is also un­der de­vel­op­ment. This is a hy­per­sonic cruise mis­sile with an es­ti­mated range of of 290 km again in ac­cor­dance with the MTCR. How­ever, this will have a speed of Mach 7, dou­ble the speed of the cur­rent BrahMos mis­sile, be­com­ing the fastest hy­per­sonic mis­sile in the world. It was quite ap­par­ent to In­dia that to meet the op­er­a­tional need of a medium-range cruise mis­sile, it will have to go the in­dige­nous route, es­pe­cially when the core tech­nol­ogy of the BrahMos has not fully been shared by Rus­sia, which is the norm with de­vel­oped na­tions.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Pak­istan has al­ready de­vel­oped two ver­sions of cruise mis­siles; the Ra’ad and Babur that has a range of 700 km, re­verse en­gi­neer­ing un­ex­ploded US Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles lost over its ter­ri­tory in 1998, be­sides full as­sis­tance from China and North Korea through its over­all mis­sile de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme. They can carry both con­ven­tional and nu­clear war­heads. The air launched Ra’ad (Hatf-8) was tested for the fourth time on May 31, 2013, and will be in­tro­duced into ser­vice in the near fu­ture.

To this end, In­dia’s de­vel­op­ment of the in­dige­nous medium-range cruise mis­sile ‘ Nirb­hay’ is some­what slow, though it does not mean it can­not catch up. The maiden test of Nirb­haya on March 12, 2013, had to be aborted af­ter 20 min­utes of flight since it had started de­vi­at­ing from its course. Orig­i­nally, the maiden test was sched­uled in late 2012, but was de­layed be­cause of tech­ni­cal rea­sons. Once op­er­a­tional, not only will the Nirb­hay boost the strike range of In­dia’s cruise mis­siles, more sig­nif­i­cantly it will pro­vide a ter­rific boost to In­dia’s nu­clear triad es­pe­cially in boost­ing our sec­ond strike ca­pa­bil­ity through the com­bined punch of the sub­ma­rine-launched K-15 bal­lis­tic mis­siles and Nirb­hay cruise mis­siles. Nirb­hay is de­signed to fly at an al­ti­tude of 500-1,000 me­tres at a speed of 0.67 Mach and is likely to have mul­ti­ple war­heads. It can carry both con­ven­tional and nu­clear war­heads, lat­ter to be car­ried by Su-30MKI fighter air­craft while con­ven­tional war­heads of 450 kg will be de­ployed on the Jaguar air­craft and Rafale MMRCA with a range of 750 km for use against land and sur­face tar­gets at sea. The cen­tral er­ror of prob­a­bil­ity is as­sessed to be around 20 me­tres but it should be pos­si­ble to im­prove to pin­point hits through bet­ter ter­mi­nal guid­ance.

The naval ver­sion will have longer strike range for ef­fec­tive sec­ond strike ca­pa­bil­ity in case of nu­clear war, and will be booster equipped. The naval ver­sion will be ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a 250 kg nu­clear war­head and have a strike range of 1,200 km trav­el­ling at a speed of Mach 07. It is ob­vi­ous that the Nirb­hay must progress from sub­sonic to su­per­sonic and even­tu­ally to hy­per­sonic ver­sions to make it in­vin­ci­ble. To this end, In­dia has never fol­lowed the re­verse en­gi­neer­ing route as is dili­gently done by China and Pak­istan, en­abling leapfrog­ging of tech­nol­ogy. It is time we pon­der over it.


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