The successful test of Nirbhay (fearless) on Tuesday is a shot in the arm for India’s missile program and a feather in the cap for India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). According to the DRDO, “the missile majestically cruised for a total time of 50 minutes, achieving a range of 647 km. The missile was tracked with the help of ground based radars and other parameters were monitored by indigenous telemetry stations developed by DRDO.”
Tagged as the country’s first indigenously designed and developed long-range subsonic cruise missile, Nirbhay can cruise at 0.7 Mach at altitudes as low as 100 m to avoid enemy radars, and has the capability to loiter around the target area for some time, and strike only when a target is identified.
With a range of over 1000 km, and capable of carrying a 300 kg conventional or nuclear warhead, it can be deployed from multiple platforms on land, air or sea, and puts India in a select club of nations capable of producing such a missile. India’s attempts to build its own cruise missile began way back in 2004, and was scheduled for completion by 2016.
It was first tested in March 2013, but failed. The second test in October 2014 was successful, but a third test in December 2016 was aborted after the missile strayed off its path. Meanwhile, questions were raised about the need to develop such a missile, given that the BrahMos short-range supersonic cruise missile, which can also be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft and land, was already being deployed and inducted by the forces.
In January 2016, the government gave DRDO—which had been protesting against not just the tight deadline but also lack of funds—time till mid 2018 to either prove the missile works or scrap it. If it had indeed been scrapped, it would have probably impacted the INS Arihant, India’s first indigenously built nuclear ballistic-missile submarine, which is on sea trials now, and expected to be fitted with the homemade Nirbhay once it is operational.