Home Grown

Make in India should be the mantra for missiles

Rohan Ramesh

The test launch of Prithvi II nuclear capable ballistic missile on June 27 night is being seen by the Indian Strategic Forces Command (SFC) as a routine exercise to monitor the readiness and capability of the missile forces, but in reality, it signifies much more than that.

Astra air-to-air missile

Missiles are broadly two generic types – ballistic and cruise. Ballistic missiles differ from cruise missiles in their flight path. A ballistic missile is a guided warhead mounted on a booster that propels it into beyond, and when the booster burns out, it is jettisoned and the guided one re-enters the atmosphere and using gravity goes into freefall, gathering speed as it falls towards its target.

A cruise missile, on the other hand, stays within the atmosphere throughout its flight. In fact, a cruise missile uses the atmosphere for flight, deploying wings and fins to generate lift like an airplane. A cruise missile also typically remains powered and guided throughout its flight from launch to impact against the target, unlike the ballistic missile which is guided in the terminal phase.

And missiles are characterised as strategic and tactical depending on their range. Strategic missiles are the dinosaurs of missile families, essentially carrying nuclear payloads, and capable of traveling half-way across the world. They are essentially a legacy of the US-Soviet Cold War.

Tactical missiles are basically short-range missiles, up to 300 km, although some of the tactical missiles have longer ranges - around 600 to 750km. Unlike strategic missiles, these are essentially designed to carry conventional warheads but that concept could be changing. With Pakistan claiming to have developed tactical nuclear missiles specifically meant for use against India, such as the Nasr, the test launch of Prithvi nuclear capable missile is obviously Indian riposte to the Pakistanis.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica website describes tactical guided missiles as, “generally categorised according to the location of the launch platform and target. There are five types, air-to-air, air-to-surface, surface-to-air, anti-ship, and anti-tank, or assault.

Although missiles can be propelled by either liquid-fuelled or solid-fuelled rocket engines, solid fuel is preferred for military uses because it is less likely to explode and can be kept ready-loaded for quick launch. Such engines commonly propel tactical guided missiles —i.e., missiles intended for use within the immediate battle area — toward their targets at twice the speed of sound.

Arguably, the most important part of a tactical guided missile is the guidance system. Heatseeking Missiles which have infrared sensors to detect heat emissions from an aircraft to shoot it down. The Encyclopaedia Britannica website illustrates that, “antiradiation missiles home onto radar emissions, while one type of optically homing missile may ‘lock’ onto an image of the target that is captured by a television camera. Upon receiving information through its sensor, the guidance system relays instructions for course correction to the control mechanism through some type of autopilot contained within the missile or through commands transmitted from the launch platform.” Radar guided missiles are those which home in on their targets with the help of a radar that is part of or networked with the launch platform.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica website states that “Ballistic missiles are most often categorised as short-range, medium-range, intermediate-range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (SRBMs, MRBMs, IRBMs, and ICBMs). SRBMs are effective to 300 miles (480 km), MRBMs from 300 to 600 miles (480 to 965 km), IRBMs from 600 to 3,300 miles (965 to 5,310 km), and ICBMs more than 3,300 miles (5,310 km).”



Air-to-Air missiles (AAM) are guided munitions that are fired from one aircraft to bring down another. Certain AAMs can also be carried by helicopters.

The recent Indo-Pak skirmish showed that India needed a new medium/Long range AAM. Su-30s used by the Indian Air Force (IAF) were unable to target the Pakistan Air Force F-16s as the RVV-AE in use with the IAF has a range that was inadequate in comparison with the AMRAAMs that the F-16s fielded. The IAF is looking to acquire I-Derby ER missile but this has run into trouble with India requiring Russia’s nod to integrate the missile onto Su-30 aircraft. The I-Derby may be the primary armament of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL’s) LCA Tejas.

Hence according to Sputnik News, “The IAF began user trials of extended-range, Russian-made air-to-air missiles on 19 June 2019. On the first day, the IAF test fired the air-to-air missile from a Sukhoi-30 MKI combat aircraft; it destroyed a UK-made Banshee drone off the coast of Odisha.”

The report further states that, “It is believed that the missiles that the IAF has been testing at the eastern base are RVV-MD short-range missiles, RVV-SD medium-range missiles, and RVV-BD beyond visual range missiles - the next generation of Vympel’s air-to-air missiles.” India has already placed a USD 700 million order for 300 missiles.

India is also acquiring the very-long range Meteor AAM along with Dassault Rafale fighters. The Meteor has an air breathing ramjet engine which is considered the future of propulsion.

India may also soon induct the Astra AAM developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The IAF is also acquiring the ASRAAM missile.

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