Watch the NDTV news item on Nirbhay in video. C
Watch the NDTV news item on Nirbhay in video. C

A test flight of India’s Nirbhay cruise missile failed today. “The missile blasted off from a mobile launcher positioned in the launch pad — 3 of the ITR missile test range at Chandipur, Odisha. at about 11:54 a.m.” DRDO announcement said. However, after a successful lift-off, about 17 minutes into the flight the missile had deviated from the planned flight path and the mission was terminated. Nevertheless, DRDO claims the missile “successfully” met the basic mission objectives and performed some of the manouveres satisfactorily before being terminated midway.

Under the planned test, Nirbhay (Fearless) will be required to complete a flight of 1,000 km, representing the weapon’s operational range. Originally, the test was scheduled for late 2012 but was delayed. Once development is completed Nirbhay will become part of India’s nuclear triad and an important complement in the country’s nuclear retaliatory capability, establishing viable ‘second strike’ through submarine-launched K-15 ballistic missiles and Nirbhay cruise missiles. A conventional armed variant will also improve the naval strike capability beyond the range of the current BrahMos.

The Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a DRDO facility in Bangalore, has designed Nirbhay as a derivative of the Lakshya unmanned target drone. It is designed for deployment from land, air and sea. As a cruise missile, Nirbhay can fly autonomously or under remote control. The weapon is launched from road mobile launcher, using a booster for acceleration. After the booster separates, the turbo-jet engine kicks in, powering the missile for the cruises phase. Nirbhay will fly at an altitude of 500 – 1000 metres at a speed of 0.67 Mach. It is equipped with autopilot maintaining constant altitude from the ground, thus enabling the missile to avoid detection by flying ‘under the radar’. ADE is also referring to the missile as a ‘loitering weapon’, as it can fly around te target until instructed to attack. However, it has not been disclosed whether the missile is equipped with sensors to obtain images to provide the intelligence for such attack. Other attributes mentioned in the past were multiple warheads, although it is not clear if each weapon will have multiple attack capability or the family of weapons will offer a choice (for example, conventional, anti-ship or nuclear.)India plans to field two versions of Nirbhay – the nuclear armed cruise missile, to be carried by up to 20 specially modified Su-30MKI fighters. The booster-equipped naval version will deploy with the three Arihant class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). Carry a warhead weighing 250 kg this variant will be capable of striking targets at a range of 1,200 km, utilizing a hybrid Ring Laser Gyro/Global Positioning Navigation (RLG/GPS). Cruising at a speed of 0.7 Mach and using terrain following navigation the missile is designed to maintain a 10 meters height above water or 30 meters above land.

A conventionally armed variant carrying a warhead of 450kg, will have a range of 750km. It will deploy with Jaguar strike fighters and Rafale MMRCA and used for land and naval surface attack applications. Using the same hybrid RLG/GPS navigation the missile will offer combined attack accuracy of about 20 meter CEP, which could be further improved using radar-based terminal-guidance. Most of the avionics used for the Nirbhay program are derivatives of avionic modules developed for the BrahMos missile.

Pakistan has already developed two versions of cruise missiles – the Raad and Babur, that has a range of 700 km. Pakistan developed its cruise missiles after recovering two US Tomahawk cruise missiles lost over its territory in the 1998.

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