India’s Missile Arsenal – Analysis


By Debalina Chatterjee

Under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program, India started with developing an indigenous missile system. The Prithvi, Agni, Aakash, Nag and Trishul were the missiles that were to be developed. India has also developed missiles with collaboration of from foreign countries. India also plans to buy foreign missiles to fill the gaps of indigenous missiles whose credibility could be doubtful. The article takes a brief look at the missiles that India possesses.

The Prithvi was the first indigenously developed liquid fueled ballistic missile for Army, Air- force and Navy (Dhanush version). However, the role of Prithvi missile was confined to deterring Pakistan only and not China due to its range. The army version of Prithvi, Prithvi I is capable of striking approximately a quarter of Pakistani territory, Islamabad and most other cities.

According to Global Security Reports the Prithvi II, the air-force version, is capable of hitting major cities and military targets while the navy version could be armed with five different types of conventional warheads and a pre-fragmented warhead was developed which had performed well in both dynamic and static trials. The sub-munition warhead incorporating Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Bomblet is effective against fighting vehicles (AFVs) in the top attack mode besides being effective against personnel up to a distance of about 10m around the point of burst of each bomblet, while the submunition incendiary warhead is effective against inflammable targets. Hard targets like runways, administration and industrial complexes can be neutralised by the Runway Denial Penetrating Submunition warheads. Due to its 1.5kms CEP, it could not be used as precision munitions.

The Agni I can carry a nuclear payload to hit several targets in Pakistan and because of their increased range, they need not be deployed on borders. With new guidance and control systems, the Agni I had improved re entry capability and maneuverability.

While the AGNI I is a Medium Range Ballistic Missile, the AGNI II is an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile. The AGNI I is superior to the AGNI II as there is a low cost for its maintenance, has higher mission reliability, easier to be deployed, more accurate and effective, is developed with stealth technology which enables it to overwhelm any ballistic missile defence. Agni I could be fitted with a decoy which can confuse a ballistic missile defence. The RCS signature on it makes it difficult for it to be detected by radar. Even though the Agni II has a range of 3000kms, it could be a deterrent against Pakistan, but not China as it would not be able to reach many parts of China. Also, it would be required to launch the missile from near the borders in case India needs to strike deeply into China. However, with a higher range of 3500kms-5000kms, India’s Agni III could easily penetrate into mainland China.

In 2010, India decided to test its AGNI V ballistic missile with a range of approximately 5000kms. It falls 500kms short of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile which can easily put Beijing under threat. India also needs to develop Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles to make the AGNI V effective against Ballistic Missile Defenses of an enemy country.

The Trishul is a 9km range missile which was a replacement of the Soviet made Osa short range SAM. However, due to the failures of the Trishul missile, India decided to get interested in acquiring the Israeli Barak missile. India’s Nag missile is claimed to be the ‘world’s deadliest anti tank guided missiles. In 2009, during the trials in Rajasthan, the missile was able to develop its Kinetic Kill Vehicle. However, India decided to go for the US Javeline missile as Nag is taking a long time to be developed. The Javeline can take on an Explosive Armour Vehicle, thereby putting a threat to Pakistan’s Al Zarrar armoured tanks.

India’s Sagarika is a cruise missile which can carry both nuclear and conventional weapons. The Shaurya is a quasi ballistic missile and could be fitted with a maneuverable warhead and prevent it from being intercepted by an enemy ballistic missile defense. The missile has a hypersonic speed which makes it difficult to be intercepted and could be deployed in any terrain. The accuracy for precision strike is likely to increase with Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System 23. India also possesses the 3M 54 Klub anti ship cruise missile also known as Alpha to destroy submarines and vessels and also to “engage slow moving targets, whose coordinates are known in advance” even if the targets are protected against active missile defenses and have electronic counter measures and would be armed on 877YeKM. In case of air launch, the Navy’s Tu-22M3 aircraft are reported to be used. India’s BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile and has a range of 290kms. According to a Russian newspaper, Ria Novosti, the supersonic speed is maintained all throughout the flight, which gives it shorter flight time, consequently ensuring lower dispersion of targets, quicker engagement time and cannot be intercepted by any known weapon system in the world.

According to Pitt’s Report, it is difficult to deploy defensive counter measures and is an anti ship cruise missile. Since it is a cruise missile, it can be redirected even after it is launched and the large kinetic energy impact enhances its destructive capability. India’s new cruise missile, Nirbhay still needs to be developed and is a subsonic cruise missile.

The Popeye is an Israeli missile and could also be called Have Lite and is a short range, infrared guided and is air-to-surface cruise missile. It is a smaller variant of the Have Nap air to surface cruise missile. These cruise missiles are capable of hitting and destroying hardened targets. The P-70 Ametist is a submarine launched anti ship cruise missile while P-270 Moskit is a supersonic cruise missile and can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons giving better credibility to the Indian Navy.

Akash is a super sonic missile with a network of radars which are designed to neutralize multiple aerial targets which attack from several directions simultaneously and has an 88% “kill probability” and is said to be able to take on a sub sonic cruise missile also. It is a medium range medium and high altitude surface to air missile defense system and has the capability of handling various targets at a time. It employs a command and guidance system with provision for terminal guidance and is superior to the US Patriot missile system as they use solid fuel and has counter counter measures also. Thus it would be conducive to deploy these against China’s ballistic missiles with counter measures. India’s Astra missile is a beyond visual range air to air missile and has the capability of jamming radar signals of the enemy and hence, cannot be tracked down.

The S-125 Pechora is a low altitude surface to air missiles of the Indian Air force which represents a small interceptor missile which could be used to shoot stealth bombers. It has better resistance to jamming and can handle many targets at a time. The Indian Air Force has also developed the 9K33 Osa and the S-300s and the BrahMos air launch version is being modified for the Sukhoi 30s.

The road ahead

If the new Prahar missile is inducted, it would be able to bridge the gap between India’s Multi Launch Rocket Systems like the Smerch and the Pinaka and Short range ballistic missile like the Prithvi. With the Agni V ballistic missile in the list, India would be close to developing an ICBM. India’s Surya ICBM program has still not taken any shape.

India should make haste with the Surya I and probably Surya II and for MIRVs for better deterrent credibility against China and also use it as a currency of power against the West. For instance, with the development of sophisticated ICBMs which are nuclear tipped, India could be in a better position to raise her voice for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. In case India develops a successful BMD, India also needs to equip the BMD with Multiple Kill Vehicles in order to save the missile arsenals from being destroyed by enemy’s ballistic missiles equipped with MIRVs.

India should also concentrate on the BrahMos hypersonic cruise missiles with preferably long ranges so that it could penetrate into China and Pakistan’s territory without being detected and intercepted at an unimaginable speed. India could use Joint Strike Fighters in future with these hypersonic cruise missiles to for greater lethality. Missiles tipped with plutonium enriched warheads have given India an advantage over Pakistan’s highly enriched uranium tipped warheads. India has to keep pace with Pakistan’s sophisticated missiles. The Harpoon cruise missiles are also an option for India, however, it would be advisable if India concentrates on the BrahMos and enhances its credibility.

India could depend on Israel’s Jericho missiles as it has long ranges which could hit targets in China too till the time India develops a credible ICBM. Hence, India would not have to depend on the Agni V’s credibility completely.

Amidst the maddening dash for development missiles, India must not forget to concentrate on Multi Launch Rocket Systems as Extended Range MLRS with guidance systems can be treated as a ballistic missile. With Pakistan inducting the Chinese A-100s giving the artillery the ability for a ‘deep strike’, India also must concentrate on the Smerch. The Israeli M 270 MLRS could be a good option for India as it could able to counter air defenses also.

It would be too early to rate any missile in Indian arsenal as successful unless they have been used in operational state.

Debalina Chatterjee
Research Associate, Centre for Air Power Studies, Western Air Command, New Delhi.

3 thoughts on “India’s Missile Arsenal – Analysis

  • October 30, 2011 at 1:06 am

    I would like to point out certain errors in this report. One is about Nag. Javelin and Nag are two different types of Anti-tank missiles. Javalin is man portable small missile. While Nag is third Generation anti-tank missile that can be fired from modified BMP turret and the vehicle is called NAMICA (NAG MIssile CArrier). Kingly check the link to know more about NAG
    The modern Nag missile is being inducted bY Indian Army. Also the helicopter launched Nag missile called Helina is under testing with induction to happen soon. The man portable Nag which can be a competitor to Javelin is under development. It’s said that within three years time frame the whole development to be completed. It started in 2009-2010 time frame. So hope to see it in service by 2012-13.

  • October 30, 2011 at 1:10 am

    About Nirbhay, Nirbhay is under development and is meant to be a sub sonic cruise missile. A tradeoff exists in missile. One is speed and the other is range. If more speed, lesser range, if lesser speed more range. India needed a long range missile that can go beyond the 1000 km range, something like Tomahawk and thats why the Nirbhay is being developed. The first flight may happen anytime soon.

  • December 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    There is a need of a modern air defence system with the akash we somewhat achieved it with a range of 25-30kms.if our air defence system is well equipped we may not face a problem of being outnumbered against china. Nag if developed and inducted early, namica vehicles can outrun the chinese type 80 tanks with their armament .if equipped with indigenous anti ship missiles ( like kh-31,excocet, sea eagle) we can overcome our ageing and maintenance problems.with icbms like surya 1 in our hand we can confidently appeal for our permanent seat in security council.though our igdmp project closed unconditionally this our major step in gaining experience and develop as a new successful generation of missiles


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