Homegrown Firepower

Indian armed forces have access to wide range of indigenously developed missile systems

Atul Chandra

The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a vast range of missile systems that have made India essentially self-sufficient when it comes to land-based systems. In its year-end review for 2022, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that it had undertaken successful tests with 11 missile systems out of which nine were land-based.

Agni P; Indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile Pralay; Nirbhay

Credit for the indigenous strength in missile development goes to India’s indigenous missile development effort known as the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) that began in 1983 to develop the Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, Nag and an Agni Missile Technology Demonstrator. The IGMDP ended in March 2012 after 29 years. Four of these missile systems are in-service today—Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, Nag and the Agni.

The DRDO now needs to invest in an effort similar to the IGMDP programme to develop a new generation of smart-munitions which can defeat modern air-defence systems, be developed and updated in quick time and produced in large quantities by India’s private sector industry. The development of drone-based and loitering munitions with the Indian private sector will also result in more efficient manufacturing and lower sustainment costs over the lifecycle of these weapons.


Successful Endeavour

The pinnacle of India’s land-based missile systems is the Agni-V, which is operated by the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). The Agni-V is an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a range of over 5.000 km. The Agni-V is the cornerstone of India’s policy to have credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapons. The three-stage solid fuelled long-range surface-to-surface nuclear capable ICBM is capable of carrying a 1.5 tonne warhead. The Agni-V was first tested in 2012 and the latest test was performed in December 2022. This strategic surface-to-surface missile can also be launched from a canister on a road mobile launcher, which enhances its survivability.

The Agni-V uses an all-composite light weight motor for its second stage and an innovative conical all-composite rocket motor. Re-entry temperatures of in excess of 4000 degree Celsius are tackled by an indigenously designed and developed carbon-carbon composite heat shield that maintains the temperature below 50 degree Celsius inside the payload compartment. Guidance is provided by a very high accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS) and state-of-the-art Micro Navigation System (MINS). The DRDO has also been successful in developing indigenous on-board computers and software for the programme.

The other variants of the Agni in service are the Agni 1, Agni 2, Agni 3 and Agni 4. The Agni 1-4 missiles have a range of 700-4,000km. The Agni 4 has a range of 4,000 km and features state-of-the-art avionics, a fifth generation on board computer and distributed architecture. The Agni 4 is a road mobile Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).

The Agni P is a new generation nuclear capable IRBM with a range of 1,000-2,000 km, which is slated to soon enter service with the armed forces. The Agni P is a two-stage canisterised solid propellant ballistic missile with dual redundant navigation and guidance system and is the most advanced variant of the Agni class of missiles.


New Tactical Missiles

A new tactical missile developed by the DRDO is the Pralay surface-to-surface missile. The development of this new weapon commenced in 2015 and it was successfully tested twice in 2021. The new missile is slated to enter service with the Indian armed forces soon, starting with the air force first and then the army. The MoD cleared the induction of Pralay into the Indian Air Force (IAF) last year and in April, news agency ANI reported that the MoD would place orders for two more Pralay units worth Rs 7,500 crore.

Pralay is powered by a solid propellant rocket motor and features several learnings from the DRDO’s existing missile programmes. Capable of being launched from a mobile launcher, Pralay has a range of 150-500km. The missile guidance system includes state-of-the-art navigation system and integrated avionics. The DRDO has also been testing a heavier payload version of the missile with different range.

The Nirbhay subsonic cruise missile on the other hand has been in development for over a decade and is yet to enter service with the armed forces. With a range of 1,000 km, the Nirbhay long range sub-sonic cruise missile will be capable of deep penetration attacks to strike high value targets with precision. It can loiter and cruise at 0.7 Mach and fly at altitudes as low as 100 m.

The missile is guided by a highly advanced inertial navigation system indigenously developed by Research Centre Imarat (RCI). The guidance, control and navigation system of the missile is configured around an indigenously designed Ring Laser Gyroscope (RLG) and MEMS based Inertial Navigation System (INS) along with GPS system.

The Nirbhay cruise missile has had several tests powered by a solid rocket motor booster developed by the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL). The production versions of the Nirbhay are expected to be powered by the indigenously developed Manik Gas Turbine engine, which is in the 450kg thrust class. The Nirbhay missile is launched from a mobile articulated launcher.

BrahMos WPN System
BrahMos WPN System


BrahMos Celebrates 25 Years

The BrahMos Aerospace story can be considered as one of the great successes in India’s missile development history. The joint venture between the DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya (NPOM) has resulted in the development of Mach 3 capable cruise missiles that can be launched from ground-based mobile launchers, warships, submarines and aircraft. The BrahMos-NG, which is now in development, will set the stage for the next 25 years of BrahMos Aerospace in India.

The Indian Army, Navy and the IAF inducted the BrahMos weapon system in 2001, 2007 and 2020 respectively. The Indian Army has inducted the BrahMos in Block I, Block II and Block III variants. The Indian Navy will in future also receive Next-Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long Range).

The company’s first export customer, the Philippines, is also expected to place a repeat order. The Philippines Navy will operate three BrahMos Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile batteries, which will join the Philippine Navy’s Coastal Defence Regiment. The first BrahMos Shore Based Anti-Ship Missile Battalion has already been activated in the Philippines.


Smerch MLRS Upgrade

The Indian Army is now looking at an indigenous life extension programme for its BM-30 SMERCH Multi Launcher Rocket System (MLRS). The Army had placed orders for the BM-30 SMERCH in 2005 and 2007. The SMERCH MRLS can destroy a wide variety of targets such as troops and personnel out in the open, soft-skinned, light-armoured and armoured vehicles, artillery, tactical missile and air defence units, command posts, communications centres and aircraft and helicopters.

Earlier this year, the army issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking life extension of the 300mm rockets for the BM-30 SMERCH MLRS. The rocket types are which life extension will be performed are the 300mm 9M55S with a Fuel Air Explosive War Head; 300mm 9M55F HE Fragmentation SWH-70km; 300mm 9M528 HE Fragmentation SWH-90 Km and 300mm 9M55K Cluster War Head. The rockets share the same design and differ from each other only in the type warhead used. These rockets can engage targets as far out as 120km. The life extension will have to be undertaken by private Indian vendors.



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