Nuclear-capable Nirbhay missile successfully test fired - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 17 October 2014

Nuclear-capable Nirbhay missile successfully test fired

Success proves Nirbhay sub-sonic cruise missile can strike 1,000 km into enemy territory

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 14

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday, October 17, while the prime minister was exhorting an annual meeting in Delhi of top military commanders from the army, navy and air force to be ready for any call to arms, India’s newest missile blasted off from a road-mobile launcher at the Chandipur test range on the coast of Odisha.

This was the Nirbhay long-range cruise missile, which can be launched at a target more than 1000 kilometres away. Flying at treetop level and navigating its way through heavily defended enemy airspace where a manned fighter would be quickly shot down by anti-aircraft missiles and guns, the Nirbhay is better equipped to survive the flight to its target. Its relatively slow flight speed, just 1,000 kilometres per hour, allows it to navigate its way precisely to the target.

In Friday’s test, the Nirbhay demonstrated its entire bag of tricks. Launched from a canister, it blasted off vertically like a conventional rocket, then quickly levelled off into horizontal flight, or “cruise mode”. The solid rocket motor was quickly jettisoned and its second-stage, turbofan engine started up, propelling the missile forward.

Over the next 70 minutes, the missile navigated its way to 15 pre-designated “way points”, using a sophisticated inertial navigation system, which can take assistance from the GPS satellite network. Halfway through the test, the Nirbhay did a pre-programmed U-turn and headed back to Chandipur. After travelling 1,050 kilometres, the test was terminated and the missile splashed into the Bay of Bengal.

The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) says the missile was monitored throughout its flight, including by an air force aircraft that flew above it.

“The missile maintained an accuracy better than 10 meters throughout its path and covered a distance of more than 1,000 km. The successful indigenous development of Nirbhay cruise missile will fill a vital gap in the war fighting capabilities of our armed forces”, said DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander.

This was the second test of the Nirbhay. Its maiden flight test, conducted on March 12, 2013, had to be terminated mid-way when the missile started deviating from its intended course.

The Nirbhay cruise missile is an Indian version of the American Tomahawk, which became an icon of high-tech warfare in the 1991 Gulf War through televised CNN footage of Tomahawks flying through the streets of Baghdad and precisely entering target buildings through open windows.

The Nirbhay has equally sophisticated facilities. It can “loiter” around a target, i.e. fly in circles until it is time to strike. Further, it can precisely distinguish its specified target within a bunch of similar targets.

Defence analysts have long speculated over whether the Nirbhay can carry a nuclear warhead. The missile tested today carried a warhead of 350 kilogrammes; that is the weight of a sophisticated nuclear weapon with a modern design.

The Nirbhay tested today was 7.5 metres long, which allows it to be configured for launch from land, sea, underwater and air. Submarines present the greatest challenge, since a submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) must be accommodated inside the cramped hull.

Indian submarines fitted with nuclear-tipped Nirbhay missiles would increase the versatility of the underwater leg of the nuclear triad.

A key hurdle to developing a long-range cruise missile like the Nirbhay is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which forbids signatory countries from assisting or providing technology to any other country developing a cruise missile with a range of 300 kilometres or more. India and Russia legally collaborated 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 key design challenge, which was to develop an air-breathing turbine engine that can propel the Nirbhay, was met by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore.

Pakistan, which has earlier tested and deployed the Babur (Hatf VII) cruise missile, is believed to have been supplied the engine by China, in violation of the MTCR.


  1. I guess u r wrong about engine. It is imported.

  2. No you are wrong here, we have managed to develop a small turbofan engine for the Nirbhay on lines of the Lakshya

  3. Col Shukla

    I used to enjoy reading your posts. And I still do.

    But I have a complaint.

    Off late, there is too little coming out from you. Earlier, I used to visit your blogpost "daily" to consume any posts. Now I visit once in a 3 or 4 days. This frequency is increasing.

    Hope all is ok.

  4. Can u confirm it war GTRE developed engine. As it didn't hit the target 1000km away but flew 1050 km and came back and hit.

  5. Sir,
    China is not a signatory to MTCR, though they have openly declared support to the regime. Hence transfer of missile technology by China to Pakistan does not lead to violation of the MTCR.

    Sreenivas R

  6. Jai Hind! Jai Hindustan!

  7. NSR says ---

    It is really a ground breaking event for India and they can be produced awfully cheap price and India owns all the technology, if not now at least soon...

    India must now move ahead at war footing to produce various range versions with various payloads to make it lethal and battle ready and transportable for army, airforce, and navy...

    Congratulations to the hard working engineers and scientists...

  8. @ Anonymous 10:08

    I'm writing a fair bit. Last month, as you can see from the blog, I posted 13 pieces. That is almost one piece every alternate day.

    Nevertheless, it is gratifying to know that some people would like more!


  9. @ Anonymous 00:00

    Technically, you are correct and I could have worded my paragraph better.

    However, given that China has repeated pledged to adhere to MTCR guidelines, including in writing, it would not be entirely wrong to conclude that they have violated that pledge.

    In violation of MTCR pledge might have been a better wording.

    I benefit greatly from alert readers like you. Thanks for holding me to high standards.


  10. Sir,
    I am a regular follower of your blog. Please confirm that Nirbhay turbofan engine is made in India. As I see in other forum, folks are thinking it to be impossible. Your confirmation will make my day.

  11. I think the engine is imported one, probably the Russian Saturn 36MT engine.

  12. Col Shukla,

    Where is the analysis in your post? Reading your article, one gets a feel that Nirbhay can join the army this Sunday.

    What more development challenges remain, how much time left before final operational clearence, how does it compare to similar Pak and Chinese missiles, is the army happy with Nirbhay capabilities etc?

  13. @ Dhruva

    This is a 600-word event report in a newspaper, not a 5000-word analysis for a journal.

    In any case, as is known by everyone who is familiar with the induction of new weapon systems, the Nirbhay will go through at least five more flight tests and extensive analysis, lasting at least 2-3 years before it is introduced into service.

    And as for your question about whether the army is satisfied with the Nirbhay --- this is premature in the extreme, since it will be a while before the army (or navy, or air force) gets even a sniff of the cruise missile.

  14. Hi Col Shukla,

    I have tried asking this question earlier too, but couldn't get a responsive. So one more try!

    Why does Amroured corps not have a gun at commander's turret (irrespective of origin of tank).

    We do see a co-axial and an Anti-Aircraft, but no GPMG or MMG at commander's turret. Urban Warfare would require so (I assume).

  15. It is great to see us getting self sufficient in missile technologies. It has taken 3 decades of persistence. I hope we see similar success in other key segments like ammunition, rifles, Artillery (Army and Naval), tanks/APC, Lght helicopters.
    I think Army needs to order more Chittals till LUH us decided.

  16. @ Vatsal Uttarwar

    You have not received an answer because your question is based on a wrong premise.

    Every Indian tank has a commander's machine gun. It is a 12.7mm gun with a collimator sight.

  17. Thank you Col. Shukla for the propmt and quick reply.

    My bad i never framed the question properly. Realising what I should have asked in first place is -

    Why is there no gun in front of loaders hatch (hope this time I am correct)

    My question arises from fact that western tanks (M1A3 with TUSK upgrade) have them.

    Thank you!


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