Army’s “Cold Start” doctrine gets teeth - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 21 July 2011

Army’s “Cold Start” doctrine gets teeth

A Pakistani artillery battery fires a salvo. The Prahaar missile, tested today by India, provides a tactical ability for conventional strikes against targets as deep as 150 km

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd July 11

India’s ability to win a quick, pre-emptive war against Pakistan has just been enhanced by a useful new set of teeth. This morning, at a missile test range in Balasore, Orissa, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) launched its first-ever Prahaar missile, a mobile, truck-mounted rocket that can strike within 10 metres of a target that is 150 kilometres away.

The Prahaar gives a huge boost to India’s military doctrine of “Cold Start”. This method of war would be adopted as retaliation for any grave Pakistani provocation, such as another 26/11 Mumbai-style terror attack. Cold Start involves multiple, simultaneous invasions of Pakistani territory with quickly assembled Indian Army battle groups, well before Pakistani forces can reach the border and occupy defensive positions. The Prahaar would provide the army’s invading battle groups with lethal fire support, striking Pakistani headquarters far behind the frontlines, and destroying roads, railways, bridges and other communications infrastructure that are essential for rushing Pakistani forces to the border.

Unlike the DRDO’s Prithvi missile, which was introduced into service as a 150-kilometre range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Prahaar is categorized as a “battlefield tactical missile”. Its maximum payload of 200 kg does not allow the Prahaar to carry a nuclear weapon (which are seldom under 500 kg). But while nuclear capable ballistic missiles are useful only in the nightmarish eventuality of nuclear war, the Prahaar can be useful at every stage of a Cold Start campaign. Being a solid-fuel missile, it can swing into action quickly in response to rapidly evolving situations; and its short flight time --- just 250 seconds, or just over four minutes --- allows it to engage fleeting targets that would disappear in the time that it would take to scramble and fly in fighter aircraft.

Furthermore, the Prahaar’s range of warheads, which the DRDO has developed, gives the Indian Army multiple options. It could carry a cargo warhead containing bomblets that disperse over a wide area, killing any exposed troops. Alternatively, it could carry air-delivered mines, which spread across a piece of terrain, denying passage to enemy infantry or tanks. Or the Prahaar could carry a single, high explosive warhead that can demolish even the best-protected target or critical infrastructure.

So far, many of these targets have fallen to the lot of the Indian Air Force. But in a Cold War situation the emphasis of the IAF, especially during the initial crucial days, would focus on attacking the Pakistan Air Force to prevent it from causing casualties in the Indian Army’s attacking battle groups, or stopping their advance. By using the Prahaar against enemy entities that are beyond the range of artillery guns or rockets (30-40 kilometres); or for interdicting enemy reserves and logistic columns far behind the lines, IAF fighters would be freed up for “counter-air operations” against the PAF.

If, as is more than likely, the IAF buys the Prahaar in numbers, the missile could be effectively launched against forward Pakistani air bases, destroying fighters on the ground and damaging runways, air defence radars and air control networks. Currently, manned fighter aircraft perform these tasks, often at the cost of pilots’ lives and shot down fighters.

Pakistan has no battlefield missile similar to the Prahaar. Over recent years, its scientists have focused on developing the Hatf-9 (or Nasr) short range, ballistic missile, which seeks to deter a Cold Start campaign with its ability to deliver a nuclear warhead to a maximum distance of 60 kilometres. Since most Indian cities are farther than that, strategists believe that the Hatf-9 is intended for counter-force targeting, i.e. against one or more of the Indian Army’s integrated battle groups inside Pakistani territory. This would serve notice of Pakistani resolve to carry out a counter-value strike, which would take the form of a longer-range missile, carrying a nuclear warhead to one or more large Indian cities.

According to the DRDO, the Prahaar is comparable to the US Army’s Advanced Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which was extensively used during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Prahaar is launched from a Road Mobile System developed by Larsen & Toubro, which can carry six missiles. All six can be fired in a salvo, each of them against a different target.

According to the DRDO, the Prahaar was developed in a period of just two years.


  1. Well done DRDO. This should give the much needed boost to our offensive capabilities. Couple of questions:

    #1) What type of seeker/guidance mechanism does prahaar have. There are some reports that it uses the Brahmos seeker.

    #2) If the Indian Army interested in this weapon or as usual wants to import the best toys.

  2. Salute to Prahaar!!
    Dear Broadsowrd!! Please also post an analysis, how this can be used to counter Chinese operational capability at NEFA and AksaiChin areas. Because they have a large number of S300PMU batteries there that are makes the airspace quite hostile to our Sukhois and Mirages. First we need to neutralise their S300 then apply air power.

  3. A well explained article in current scenario after Prahaar. Thanks

  4. Again this was an excellent article. In tandem with Brahmos, the Prahaar is the most suitable weapon to instantly demolish all the immediate frontal targets and activities of the enemies, may it be Pak or even Sino. The viability of this system against Sino may be enhanced if possible.

  5. Congratulations to the guys who worked on it.

    And 2 years seems a bit un-Indian.
    The DRDO is in danger of being a potent organization.

  6. "Its maximum payload of 200 kg does not allow the Prahaar to carry a nuclear weapon (which are seldom under 500 kg)" -
    Prahar can carry a Tactical Nuclear Weapon (TNW) with a sub kilo ton yield. TNW have been designed to fit into an artillery shell of 155mm dia. 200 kg is a decent payload when it comes to TNW and the best part you do not have to be accurate down to a few meters!
    We will have Prahar in our inventory, so what? Do we have the willingness to use it? If we have the will, does Pakistan know it? If she knew, 13/7 would not have happened. But it happened because Parakram (an exercise in futility) happened!

  7. Dear Col Shukla,

    Prahar groups in adequate numbers will certainly add these abilities. But to inflict damage and win a quick war or a localised outbreak (all the time in J&K)we need the ability to deploy vast amounts of cheap firepower consistently in long devastating barrages. Only tube arty can deliver hour after hour after hour of consistent saturating firepower.

    And that is our weakest link for reasons we all know. We have less than 250 functioning slightly Self Propelled guns with 30-40 km range (Bofors), the mainstay the arty the IFG has a max 17 km range with no self propelled ability, the 20-35 km range M46s are 4 decades old with no Self Propelled ability. Pak has more Self Propelled arty than India does.

    We have got to sort out our tube arty issues. Else we will loose lives and worse not win battles.

  8. A very accurate analysis... particularly because the folk at BR forum were getting confused as to what this missile would be used for. The jokers were speculating it's use for all the things that we would normally use the Prithvis and Agnis for. Prahaar is in support of the cold start (or whatever real concept is called) doctrine, PERIOD.

  9. Congrats DRDO.You have proved that you can do wonders within a short span of two years .Then where is the problem that we have to go out all over the world to search for latest Arms? Why and Who are reponsible? Thanks col sukla for an excellent analysis.

  10. "According to the DRDO, the Prahaar was developed in a period of just two years."

    Not just this, all the scientist involved during the RnD were merely 35 or below.

  11. Shuklaji,

    "Its maximum payload of 200 kg does not allow the Prahaar to carry a nuclear weapon (which are seldom under 500 kg)".

    Minister of State for Defence Shri. Pallam Raju was quoted in New Indian Express on Friday 13, 2007, that the strategic payload of Agni-3 was between 100Kg to 250Kg. The online link is gone, but you can look it up in hard copy. Do you have a source for 500Kg or is that just your guess? Most strategic warheads of P5 are under 200Kg. A lady DRDO scientist was recently given an award for reducing the weight of explosive lens by 30%.

  12. Dear Colonel,

    It being akin to ATACMS means :

    deep strike precision weapon
    capable of engaging time critical targets at high precision
    under all weather conditions

    Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) family of launchers category
    High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launcher category

    Use against air defense targets.

    C4ISR buster.

    against sophisticated enemy, equipped with early warning capabilities,

    can maintain an element of surprise
    Capability to launch attacks off axis. ( shaping the ballistic trajectory to 'hide' the objective and target it is aimed at).

    capable of delivering various types submunitions from a single dispenser foundation

    Delivery of Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM), Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel (APAM), Sense and Destroy Armor (SADARM) and Brilliant Anti-Armor (BAT) type submunitions

    weapons will be optimized for the attack of deeply buried targets, such as command posts and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) storage caches.

    Those are applications for which ATACMS were used in Iraq mainly in conjuction with attack heptrs.

    Good feeling.

  13. @ajai sir

    a very nice article, but i have a few questions would like answers about them

    Q. Shiv said it looks like endo atmospheric ABM, Prasun said its derived from LORA (Israel), this statement says its like ATACMS, whats your opinion.

    Q. Is it the end of road for Prithvi 1

    Q. Are there any chances of Prahaar 2 or 3

    Q. Do you agree with what anonymous 15.18 has opined

    Q. who will be the primary user of Prahaar

    awaiting your response


    Joydeep Ghosh

  14. @leonuh1

    I completely agree with you. What you said is exactly the reason i said we need to innovate and reverse engineer some established defense systems like

    a. Indigenously develop a 8 cell version of Smerch mounted on a 24 ton Tata TEL with auto loader, making lighter smaller and faster than the original.

    b. Add the 105 mm IFG to the FICV or the BMP2 Sarath to give the APC a heavy firing capability

    these will not only fill the gap between pinaka, Prahaar, but will also help to augment the firepower of our T90S/M, T72, Arjun tanks that cant operate in Sikkim, Arunanchal, Himanchal, or J&K as the roads and terrain are not favorable in these areasa.

    These systems can be deployed much faster and can have a sustained attack


    Joydeep Ghosh

  15. Shuklaji, a couple of points:

    1. Are ballstic missiles accurate enough to destroy roads, railways, and bridges? Their speed puts limitations on their precision -- they cannot manoeuvre the way subsonic cruise missiles do or they'll simply break apart. Even if the missile is accurate enough, how does one ensure that the co-ordinates fed into its navigation system are accurate enough? It would require the deployment highly sophisticated reconnaissance assets do the job properly.

    2. We have no idea what the Nasr's payload is. Without that information, there is no way of knowing whether it can really carry a battlefield nuclear weapon or not. Also, note that Pakistan would never deploy nuclear-armed Nasrs unless a prolonged period of high tension precedes a war (Cold Start seeks to avoid exactly that by achieving complete strategic surprise). It would mean handing over control of nuclear weapons to battlefield commanders, and it won;t happen unless the Pakistani situation is desperate. IMO, the Nasr has more value as a psy-ops tool against Indian analysts and planners, than any viable military application.

  16. SR GOPAL;As far as it is known the test that was carried out was the first flight trial.Many more rigrous trials incl that by users will have to be carried out before it is introduced in service.PRODUCTION Is the next step before it is actually with the users.So we are still a long way off before we actually get the teeth.

  17. Ajay sir, one query...
    Is Prahaar missile a modified version of the AAD missile?

    Available pics show them to be exactly identical.

  18. @AK

    The Prahaar seeker. It's still a matter of speculation. I will know more about it in the days ahead.

    @Anonymous 13:32

    Ha ha. But you're right. The DRDO is capable of delivering, as are many of the other individual entities in the defence production universe. What is needed is for the MoD to build a friendly and efficient framework.

    @Anonymous 15:18: "Prahar can carry a Tactical Nuclear Weapon (TNW) with a sub kilo ton yield."

    Yes, many weapons systems can do that... including 155 mm artillery, as you point out. But that does not mean that you load every possible weapon with a nuclear warhead. The more challenging job is to produce a larger number of usable weapon systems that can play a larger role on the conventional battlefield.

    @ Leonuh1

    Agreed, agreed.


    Either the minister got it wrong, or The New Indian Express did. Those warhead weights are entirely incorrect.

    @ Anonymous 20:30

    Exactly right. You're on the button...

    @ Vijay:

    Roads: NO; Railways: YES, by hitting yards and sidings and loading points; Bridges: MAYBE, if they are big enough.

    You can get 10 figure grid references, i.e. to the nearest metre, through satellite mapping now. So the problem is not the feeding, it is in making the missile delivery accurate enough.

    I believe (and we're all speculating here) that the Nasr 9 would be decentralised very early to Pakistani corps commanders. That range of weapon is only usable within theatre... and against a rapidly evolving threat.

    The Cold Start doctrine is not about Strategic Surprise. It is about operational and tactical surprise, generated by speed of response. What possible strategic surprise would you hope to gain from a doctrine that has been openly declared (the frequent denials notwithstanding... those are only for causing confusion and uncertainty in Pakistani minds!).

  19. A very well written analysis Ajai sir. Congrats to DRDO for the Prahar. More might to the mighty Indian army.

    But sir I have s speculation is that possible that pakistani nasr with nuke could be a bluff against huge military build up which pakistan army cannot face? so they went for a bluff to threat India's advancement and cheer up demoralized army. can you pls look into this?

  20. india remains too pakistan centric. The Brahmos can do exactly what the prahaar does. or even if not, such missiles can easilty be purchased off the shelf. in contrast, things like sub-launched long range cruise missiles, anti-satellite missiles or even hypersonic missiles of longer range are out of reach from the global markets and this direction is where we should be heading; since the number-one enemy that india faces is china, not pakistan.

  21. Doesn't seem particularly more useful to Smerch MBRL which has a bigger payload and has a range sufficient for most battlefield targets.

  22. Sir,

    Good article... Can you please confirm that this missile is completely indigenous development?

    because some say it uses Extended Range Artillery (EXTRA) munitions System.. is this true?

    My only concern is if its true will they allow us mass production here locally?

  23. "But in a Cold War situation the emphasis of the IAF...."
    but shouldn't it be
    "But in a Cold Start situation the emphasis of the IAF"

  24. I think you will find that Pakistan has A-100E with a range of 120 -150km with ToT, currently being built in Karachi. It also can have a variable warhead types between 150 to near 300 kg in weight. India is only playing catch up!

  25. there are already hatf 2 & 3

  26. Thanks Joydeep,

    Completely agree on reverse engineering in general. Havent really researched the specifics of your proposals so cannot comment on feasability or op use.

    But will definitely say this, Rocket Arty - Pinaka/Smerch are very useful but tube arty is critical. Infact its more important in our context. Also you cannot equip 250-300 arty regiments with Smerches and Pinakas. They are held with the 3 Arty Divs and are controlled by Corps HQ of Strike Corps.

    For the rest of the army tube arty is crucial and we are very weak there.

    Thanks Shukla sir, glad you agree. you promised an article on 'fighting with what we have' a few months ago. Looking forward to that;-)

  27. That is not a Paki artillery battery firing a salvo... its Air Defence guns firing. Tch Tch !

  28. @Leonuh1

    Thanks and sorry

    I could not reply to your answer.

    One thing I would like to say is that its not the question of equipping 250-300 regiments with Smerch/Pinaka. Its about the need to reverse engineer military tech and equip forces with systems to fill gapping holes in our defense.

    As for my proposals like FICV with 105 mm guns for heavy firing capability or reverse engineering the Smerch to a 8 cell system on 24 ton Tata truck, please look into reasons in my earlier posts as to why I say we need these systems.

    Also to enhance our reverse engineering capability first we need to do some little changes in exiisting systems. If we succeed then we can go for bigger reverse engineering projects. Waiting for your response


    Joydeep Ghosh

  29. Dear Joydeep,

    I have gone through your previous posts as you asked me to. Smerch looks okay, but not the 105 guns on FICV. 105 mm gun has a 17 km range, we need atleast 30/40 km for all our guns + some shoot and scoot capability. Also remember majority of our deployment will be in High Altitude. Tactically seems unfeasble. Engineering I have no idea.

    At teh cost of repeating myself, we need atleast 1000 155m guns with some atleast Bofors level SP capability. And we needed them yesterday! Plus we need those ULHs
    But the urgent how will we get around 1000 155 mm guns in the next 2/3 years - that is critical!, Leonuh1

  30. @ Leonuh1

    what you say is agreed but the point you make of urgently getting 1000 155 mm or lets take what the army want 1800 SP/Towed/Wheeeled/ Tracked Howitzers, will happen only when we get rid of procrastination and invite bids and decide the winner.

    After several cancellations amid bribes, incompetent systems, it looks we wont decide on them in next 10 years. Then what to do, improvise is the best option.

    Thats why I said about smaller Smerch that could move faster, higher over the precarious roads. And if you vote against 105 mm guns on FICV/ BMP2 Sarath for accuracy, the next best option is Swedish made AMOS twin breech loading system that can fire laser guided shells to over 10 km distance.

    mind you you cant have everything.
    Aawaiting your response


    Joydeep Ghosh

  31. My question is that if Cold Start is planned to be in response to a future terrorist attack, then what is the use of penetrating in the western sector of Punjab and Rajasthan. Most of the terrorist infrastructure is known to be in POK and the adjoining areas. SO even if Cold Start operation is successful we are in no way damaging the terrorist camps, they will remain where they are. SO i don't see any point in invading enemy territory where there are more of innocent civilians and almost no terrorist infrastructure.


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