The successful launch of India’s first long range subsonic cruise missile Nirbhay is an important landmark in the country’s missile development history.
It is expected to fill a vital gap between supersonic cruise missiles and long range ballistic missiles in the country’s war fighting capabilities. It has long been in development and the success now comes after a failure when it was launched for the first time in March 2013. The missile had then strayed off its course and failed to hit the pres-designated target. But this time, it was a complete success with the missile flying along 15 pre-determined points on its 1,000 km course in the Bay of Bengal and maintaining an accuracy of 10 metre in the entire path.
It is a low-flying missile moving just about the speed of commercial aircraft and is designed to evade detection by radars. It has such high accuracy that it can even hit a targeted building in populated area about 1,000 km away. The fact that it is nuclear capable raises its profile.
The most important feature of Nirbhay is that it is completely indigenously designed and manufactured. The scientists and engineers of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who have worked on it for years, can be proud of their achievement. The missile’s specialised engine was made at the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) in Bangalore. DRDO has not risen to the nation’s expectations in many areas and on many projects but it has done well in the development of missile technology. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) forbids signatory countries from assisting India in the development of a cruise missile with a range of over 300 km.
That is why the range of the BrahMos missile, which was developed in a joint venture between India and Russia, had to be limited to 295 km. Pakistan has its Babur missile which is in the same category as Nirbhay, but its engine is considered to have been supplied by China in violation of the MTCR. The US, Russia and France are the only other countries which have the cruise missile technology. The missile will need more changes and fine-tuning and it will take three years before it is deployed in the forces. When it is ready, it is likely that it will be as good as the US’ iconic Tomahawk missile. It is a multi-platform weapon and can be launched from land, air, sea and underwater. The ability to launch them from submarines will greatly increase India’s strike power. It is also felt that it will fit well into the framework of India’s much discussed “cold start’’ strategic doctrine.