Nirbhay cruise missile test achieves partial success - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 13 March 2013

Nirbhay cruise missile test achieves partial success

Missile performs well up to 200 kilometres before fizzling

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Mar 13

The globally-watched first test of one of India’s most challenging technology projects --- the Nirbhay cruise missile, being developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) --- achieved only partial success this morning at Chandipur, where the military tests most of its missiles.

The Nirbhay is an Indian version of the US military’s Tomahawk cruise missile, which became an icon of high-tech warfare through CNN video footage during the 1991 Gulf War of Tomahawk’s flying through the streets of Baghdad and entering target buildings through open windows.

Like the Tomahawk, the Nirbhay is a long range (1000-2000 kilometres), subsonic (below the speed of sound, 1,236 kmph) cruise missile. For the military this is a crucial system that flies into heavily defended enemy airspace, where anti-aircraft missiles, guided by a thick radar network, would quickly shoot down a manned fighter. But a cruise missile, flying at treetop level and with a smaller radar signature than a fighter aircraft, would be far better equipped to survive the flight to its target.

This was the missile that the DRDO tested on Tuesday. Describing the test to Business Standard, senior scientists who were present say the Nirbhay was launched just before noon from the Interim Test Range at Chandipur, watched by an array of DRDO scientists including the chief, Dr VK Saraswat. The launch was perfect and the booster established the missile in cruise mode correctly. The Nirbhay flew more than 200 kilometres along the Odisha coast, skimming the Bay of Bengal, watched by radars along the coastline. The navigation too was perfect, with the Nirbhay correctly touching the first two “way-points”, which marked the route that the missile was to take. Things went wrong only after 15 minutes of flight, when the Nirbhay significantly deviated from its path. Since it was close to the inhabited coastline, a self-destruct mechanism inside the missile was activated to destroy it.

“I would call the test 80 per cent successful. The Nirbhay demonstrated that it could take off correctly, establish a cruise profile, and navigate to its initial waypoints. These were new performance parameters that we had never tested before, so we are satisfied that the test proved those. But then, one of the sub-systems malfunctioned and we had to terminate the test. All that remains is to determine why this happened and to rectify the flaw,” explains Dr Avinash Chander, the DRDO’s missile chief and a key architect of the Agni ballistic missile programme.

A key hurdle to developing a long-range cruise missile is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which forbids signatories from assisting or providing technology to any other country developing a cruise missile with a range of 300 kilometres or more. India and Russia could collaborate in developing the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile because its range was pegged at 295 kilometres, just below the MTCR limit. In building the Nirbhay, however, India has had to go it alone.

The MTCR forbids collaboration in building cruise missiles because they could be used for delivering nuclear weapons. Since the Nirbhay will eventually be a canisterised missile, it could also be launched from submarines with a nuclear warhead, increasing the versatility of the third leg of the nuclear triad.

Pakistan is ahead of India in cruise missiles, having tested and operationally deployed the Babur (Hatf VII) cruise missile. There is speculation among international analysts, however, that the engine of the Hatf VII has been provided by China in violation of the MTCR.

The key design challenge of developing an air-breathing turbine engine that can propel the Nirbhay, has been met by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore.

A terse message from the Defence PRO today stated, “Long range cruise missile Nirbhay was successfully launched today at 1150 hrs from launch complex, Chandipur, Odisha, meeting the basic mission objectives successfully.  After travelling approximately mid-way, deviations were observed from its intended course. Further, flight was terminated to ensure coastal safety.”


  1. parting gift... gone wrong... or welcome gift... to head off... for the next... in hot seat... may vacancy... ???...

  2. What is its correct range-750km/1000km/1000-2000km?
    It was said russian saturn built turbojet powers it.
    If GTRE has built the engine, kaveri engine had a successful spinoff!

  3. Ajai: factual reporting except for the byline where you use the word "fizzling". Yes - I am nitpicking, because the words we use reflect our mindset.

    This is not quite as bad as some other mainstream English media reporting that uses words like "setback", "blow" etc. I am sure the DRDO engineers/scientists dont think of this as a "setback". They will think of this as a learning experience and an obstacle to be overcome. The least the media can do is report factually and not discourage the hard working scientists.

    Why is there such a deep yearning to be judgmental?

  4. >80% success

    What a joke. India could buy a tried and tested BGM-109 Tomahawk (which is widely used by democratic countries) for 100% success.

  5. Ajaiji,

    How can you be so misinformed ?

    How can China violate the MTCR if it never signed it in the first place ?

  6. yeah a grenade bursts, probably before the pin is pulled out and kills the soldier whom it was meant to protect...well 80% sucess, after all it killed,and bust...

    Can we come to a figure ratio of DRDO/HAL staff being present in the battlefield wherein their 80% successful equipment is being used against the enemy.

    Whats new in such facts, the trainer program of DRDO n Hal put a stop to pilots having a basic trainer, used the Mig 21, a fighter ac as a trainer,IAF had attrition rate not DRDO/HAL, had the rookies killed , not DRDO/HAL personnel , had IAF aspirants tranformed from a future IAF asset into a coffin not DRDO/HAL's personnel, got the Mig series a bad name; there was no DRDO plane to get a bad name,got the IAF a bad name whilst DRDO planes were flying in brochures, aided in less personnel in the armed forces due to the bad image it gets.....and DRDO/HAL to justify its existence and its personnel's job took on more projects . After all emotional atyachar of indeginsation as 'tatra truck' scam is always there to shelter in

    Failure is a stepping stone to success...but not for DRDO/HAL, its a cements the relationship between its advertisements and achievements.

    8% of DRDO staff should be present in the battlefield wherein their 80% success rate equipment is being used

  7. Col., why are you mum about the CBI chargesheet against ACM Tyagi & AW &now Finmeccanica ?

  8. Anything and everything that is Pakistan is a violation of everything that is sane and normal in this world. Being China's footstool and a beggar for handouts from those sadistic nations who throw Pakistan their leftovers, nothing Pakistan has ever developed or ever will, will be through hardwork, innovation, ingenuity or skill. Pakistan is one sorry excuse of a nation run my misguided demonic forces.

  9. your article seems a bit contradictory.First you seem to imply that it is difficult to track low flying cruise missiles on a radar network,but,in a u turn, you suggest that radars were tracking the nirbhay cruise missile on the coast line. so what is it?. if the radars on the coast line were tracking this cruise missile,then i believe it is possible to track any cruise missile

  10. Hi
    Can you please post an article based on following points !
    1. Why Agni-4 missile is more lighter than other Agni-series missiles ?
    2. When we have the proven tech to design and develop missiles of lighter-weight then why DRDO still busy in developing heavier Agni missiles having weight over 50,000kg ?

    Thank you

  11. The missile is closer to the KLYUB rater than the Tomahawk though of course that is Journalistic license.

    A single failure is too early to comment ut the thing to watch is whether the solution is found in weeks ,months or years.

  12. I want to partially congratulate the Indian DRDO for its partial success.


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