Nirbhay, India’s new missile on the cards

By Neelam Mathews, IANS

Hyderabad : Indian scientists have done the design and begun hardware planning for its latest missile, Nirbhay, or the dauntless, with the technology demonstrator flight planned for end-2009, top officials at the state-run Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) here said.

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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.

"Every country needs multiple options. It is a question of survival," explained Avinash Chander, director of ASL, a unit of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

"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.

First tested in 2005 – like Nirbhay- 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. The subsonic phrase is used when the speed is less than that 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 ground, sea and air launched.

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

Agni III has an over 3,000 km range, 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 those 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.