Author: Parul Aghi (Author is an Aerospace engineer, currently associated with the field of Guided Missiles at Defense Institute of Advanced Technology (DRDO) )
It is well known that India has acquired almost every technology in missile systems from ballistic missiles to Supersonic Cruise Missiles, with range from 290 km to 5500 Km. To strengthen our power and to compete with the rest of the world, we have to keep updating our pool of warheads. Even though India is a very docile state and does not actively preach war, it would be of strategic importance for us to have subsonic cruise missile as an addition to our arsenal. This seems to have been the thought process that has led to the recent strings of investment of both capital as well as manpower that has taken place towards development of such weaponry.
There are many reasons for developing and inducting such missiles. On the one hand, ballistic missiles are far more expensive than cruise missiles. On the other, cruise missiles are difficult to detect and intercept. India made its move by introducing NIRBHAYA, a subsonic cruise missile. ‘The Fearless’ as the name suggests is latest indigenous entrant into India’s import dominated missile brigade.
The fact that Pakistan is already equipped with two homegrown subsonic cruise missiles i.e. The RAAD and The Babur, makes this a much needed development coming at a time when unstable politics in Pakistan makes relationships strained. Its another to debate over the genuinity of Pakistan’s claims of originality as it shows resemblance to Toamhawk (American Subsonic cruise missile). So as to legalize the copy, some people will call it as competitive benchmarking for Pakistan. Even experts have stated, “We should not be surprised to learn in the future date that it is a licensed variant of a Chinese clone of the Kh-55″. In this regard India’s claims find firm footing.
Nirbhay missile is categorized as long range subsonic missile with operational range of around 1000 km which is longer than Babur missile and moreover its range can further be extended. It can fly at tree top level (hence also known as ‘tree top missile’) providing good stealth from Radars.
This missile can blasts off like rocket but after that it can be treated as an aircraft which has wings and tail fins. This feature of missile makes it maneuverable and it can also loiter as this is majorly based on the Lakshay-2 pilotless target aircraft developed by Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a key Aeronautical Systems Design House of Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). It can hover over the target before deciding on the right point of impact. Towards the terminal phase of its mission, or after a priority target is decided, the missile breaks into a search pattern and attacks the target which stands out as one of the exceptional feature of this missile.
It can also be remotely controlled and even recovered. Being advanced in Inertial Navigation Systems, India has used very sophisticated techniques for the guidance purpose which make missiles like Babur pale in its comparison. Furthermore the missile can deliver 24 different types of warheads as per the mission requirements. It can be launched from surface, air as well as water making it a good pick for the Tri-services as a whole.
It was first tested on 13th Mar 2013. The test was planned to cover the maximum range of the missile, which is 1,000 km. Following launch from a road mobile launcher, the first stage rocket booster separated, starting the turbojet engines attaining full thrust as the missile cruised at a speed of 0.7M ( 900 kph). The missile successfully navigated to two waypoints. It was flying at a height of 4.5 km (distance of 200 km) when a deviation from its pre-programmed flight path was observed. Control room aborted the flight-test to ensure safety of coastal region by cutting off the missile’s engine power, which is a mandatory and global norm in R&D of missiles. It is not a new thing for maiden test flights. Even in the first flight test of Pakistan’s Babur missile, it could fly only for 17 km (August 12, 2005) and in second flight it completed 22 Km (March 22, 2007) against 800 Km planned range.
The exact cause of its deviation from flight trajectory is still to be examined. Experts believe the missile was flying in a controlled manner so there is a chance it was a waypoint programming error.
Nine more tests have been planned for NIRBHAYA before its induction. The first two tests were planned for validating the robustness of the missile’s airframe and also to validate its two-stage propulsion system. It is not as yet equipped with a digital terrain profile matching sensor (TERCOM navigation system). Well, the robustness of the missile’s airframe and the efficacy of its two-stage propulsion system were proven beyond doubt.
It may in ways have fallen short of expectation but cannot be ruled out as a failure, a way the media has made it look. In ways it has met with partial success as it did fulfill all the primary objectives, covering almost 25 percent of its range. The day may not be far when Nirbhaya will be protecting Indian Territories, fearless of her enemies.
Dawn: N-capable cruise missile test-fired, http://dawn.com/2012/09/18/n-capable-cruise-missile-test-fired/ ; accessed on 17th March,2013
Ausairpower.net: Bypassing the National Missile Defence System – The Cruise Missile Proliferation Problem, http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Cruise-Missile-Proliferation.html ; accessed on 17th March,2013
Simply Decoded: Different Type of Missiles and their Technology, http://www.simplydecoded.com/tag/different-type-of-missiles-and-their-technology/ ; accessed on 17th March,2013
DNA: Nirbhay test flight failed, terminated midway, http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_nirbhay-test-flight-failed-terminated-midway_1810381 ; accessed on 17th March,2013
Picture Courtesy: DRDO