India plans to test new medium-range missile in 2009

By Neelam Mathews, IANS

Hyderabad : Indian defence scientists are developing a new medium-range, multi-platform missile, called the Nirbhay or the dauntless, that will add more teeth to its armoury and is slated to be tested by end-2009.

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The missile, with a range of 1,000 km, is being developed at the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), a unit of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the defence ministry, a top official at the laboratory said.

"Every country needs multiple options. It is a question of survival," explained Avinash Chander, director of ASL, adding preparations were on for the technology demonstrator flight.

"It (Nirbhay) will be better than Babur," Chander told IANS, referring to Pakistan's first subsonic, low-level terrain-mapping missile, developed originally with a 500 km range and later upgraded to 700 km.

The latest in the series of India's missile development programme, the Nirbhay follows the Agni (I, II and III), the Prithvi (I and II), the Indo-Russian joint venture supersonic Brahmos, Akash, Trishul and Nag.

First tested in 2005, the Babur is similar in design to the US BGM-109 Tomahawk land attack cruise missile – the two being roughly the same size and shape. Pakistan is said to be working on a more advanced version with a range of 1,000 km.

The subsonic Nirbhay weighs 1,000 kg with a 1,000 km range and a speed of 0.7 mach. A missile is subsonic when its speed is less than the speed of sound (1 mach).

Nirbhay is six metres in length with a 520 mm diameter. While the missile is being developed in-house, India is looking at partnerships for the engine, said Chander. He did not elaborate whether talks were on with any foreign companies.

The requirement for Nirbhay was anticipated by India's three armed forces. Nirbhay is to have multiple platforms and can be launched from ground, sea and air, scientists said.

Meanwhile Agni III, part of the Agni missile family, is to be tested by the first quarter of 2008. It is seen by the establishment as the mainstay of Indian missile-based strategic nuclear deterrence, said Chander.

Agni III has a range of over 3,000 km and uses a two-stage solid propulsion – usually made up of a steel case containing blocks of a self-burning mixture – that enables it to be launched more quickly and with less logistical support than missiles using liquid propellants.

On the horizon is a 5,000 plus km, three-stage solid propulsion missile Chander is not willing to talk about. Whether it will be called Agni IV, only time will tell.