INDIA’S CRUISE MISSILE : A VIEWPOINT
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.
LT GENERAL (RETD) P.C. KATOCH