DRDO engages in back-to-back missile tests
DRDO Chairman Dr G Satheesh Reddy has said that the rapid test-firing will enable India to achieve self-reliance in the field of missile systems. The country can produce whatever system or equipment required by the armed forces here itself, he said. Shaurya hypersonic missile, BrahMos extended-range missile, Prithvi nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Hypersonic missile technology development vehicle, Rudram-1 anti-radiation missile and the Supersonic Missile Assisted Release Torpedo weapon system were among the tests carried out.
India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been carrying out a series of tests at short intervals recently. In fact, the premier defence research agency has conducted one test firing of a missile every three days since early September 2020. The missiles include a wide variety, ranging from the nuclear-capable Shaurya—a ground-launched variant of the submarine-launched B-05 ballistic missile—the air-launched Anti-Radiation Missile ‘Rudram’ and tactical missiles like laser-guided Anti-Tank Guided Missile.
Among first in this series was the successful test of the Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle, which is a scramjet-powered cruise vehicle which achieved a velocity of nearly 2 km per second. The vehicle is envisaged as a test platform for a future range of hypersonic cruise missiles. Soon, DRDO test-fired the Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART), which is a high-speed missile delivering a lightweight torpedo to attack enemy submarines over 600 km away.
Yet another test involved the indigenously designed and developed cruise missile Nirbhay which has a range of 1,000 km. Test-fired from the integrated test range on A P J Abdul Kalam island off Orissa coast, it was the seventh test of the land-attack missile, and the first test using an indigenously built turbo-engine.
According to top DRDO officials, the wide range of tests proved the organisation’s self-sufficiency in missile technology. Regarding the reason behind the frequent tests, the officials said it related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Most of the DRDO’s 52 laboratories were functioning during the lockdown imposed in view of the pandemic but several tests had to be deferred as the movement of personnel was restricted,” they explained.
Yet another test involved the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with an indigenously built rocket booster, airframe and power distribution system. The test aimed to increase the indigenous content of the missiles. Moreover, DRDO successfully test fired Rudram-1, an anti-radiation missile, from the Integrated Test Range, Balasore.
Hypersonic Missile System
DRDO plans to develop a complete hypersonic cruise missile system which will have the capability to strike its targets at speeds at least double that of the world's present fastest BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle is the first step in this direction. DRDO Chairman Dr G Satheesh Reddy said cruise missiles fly at a lower altitude. "Among them, we have subsonic cruise missiles, supersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic cruise missiles. The hypersonic cruise missiles travel at six, seven or eight times the speed of sound, which is approximately 300 metres per second," he said.
"Our test vehicle had a scramjet engine, which works at hypersonic speed, taking the oxygen in the atmosphere and then burns it," he added. "During the test, the scramjet engine in the hypersonic cruise vehicle was taken to a designated height and released at the specific Mach number. Then, the engine was ignited and tested," he said.
The DRDO chief said the experiment was successful. “It paves the way for us to work on these technologies for longer ranges," he added.
On when a hypersonic cruise missile system would be fully developed, Reddy said, "It will take probably about four to five years for us to work on all these things and realize a complete missile system working for some good amount of range."
At present, the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is considered to be the world's fastest cruise missile with speeds of around 2.8 Machs. Regarding the successful test of the BrahMos in September 2020, the DRDO chief said the missile was tested with heightened indigenous content. The BrahMos Extended Range Missile can be launched at targets beyond 400 km and can strike its targets at longer ranges than before. It was earlier used for striking targets slightly less than 300 km.
“India has achieved self-reliance in the field of missile systems and can produce whatever is required by the armed forces within the country itself,” he affirmed.
Reddy was speaking in the backdrop of DRDO conducting over 10 successful missile tests within a short span of five weeks including that of the Shaurya hypersonic missile, BrahMos extended-range missile, Prithvi nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Hypersonic missile technology development vehicles, Rudram-1 anti-radiation missile and the Supersonic Missile Assisted Release Torpedo weapon system.
The DRDO chief said the private sector industry in India has risen to the occasion. "They are able to not only partner with us but also develop the system as per our specifications."
Referring to the successful missile tests at a time when India was engaged in a conflict with China on the border, Reddy said the focus of DRDO was to develop the state-of-art weapon systems to equip our armed forces. "As part of that responsibility, DRDO has been working on many weapon systems. Even during the COVID-19 period, scientists have been continuously engaged in this task. All these systems have matured and hence whenever a system is ready, we are going for further developmental trials," Reddy explained.
Reddy also spoke about DRDO's contribution to the Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The organisation has started working in many areas to make indigenous systems and now we are strong and completely self-reliant in the areas of missiles, radars, electronic warfare systems, torpedos, guns, and communication systems and so on," he said.
DRDO scientists are continuously looking at various systems which are being imported now and trying to develop indigenous versions, he added. "We are helping the industry in a big way and supporting them in developing various systems," he said.
“DRDO has also given 108 items completely designed and developed by the industry. We have instituted a technology fund to support such industries and opened our test facilities to them. Now, we are taking industry partners right from the beginning of the projects," he said.
He added that DRDO is focusing on more advanced and complex technologies. "We want to make India an advanced technology nation for fulfilling the Prime Minister's dream of Atma Nirbhar Bharat," he said.
Among the tests conducted in rapid succession, that of Rudram-1 is considered a major landmark. “The Rudram-1 anti-radiation missile launched from a fighter aircraft would require a few more tests to be completely proven and will provide Indian Air Force (IAF) with the capability to strike enemy radars including surveillance and air defence systems,” said Reddy.
The Rudram-1 missile system was successfully test-fired from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft near the East Coast of the country and it hit the intended target successfully. "Rudram-1 is basically an anti-radiation missile launched from an aircraft and when you release it, it will be able to detect any emitting element and lock on to that element. The missile will then be able to act on the element," said the DRDO Chairman.
"Once the missile is inducted by the IAF, it will strengthen the force attacking the enemies emitting elements (Radars)," he explained.
Even though almost all recent tests were successful, Nirbhay did not produce the intended result. However, the DRDO chief said that Nirbhay had been test-fired earlier and successfully completed all the development trials. "In the latest test, we only wanted to increase the indigenous content by incorporating the engine and various other parts. The missile took off very well and the separation and many other staged worked as planned. The engine also started functioning very well. But, after that, there was some snag," he said. DRDO scientists are looking into the snag and would solve it soon, Reddy added.
Nirbhay is a subsonic cruise missile with ranges of around 1,000 km.
Meanwhile, Reddy said that once fully developed, the SMART weapon system would boost the Navy's anti-submarine warfare capability and allow it to engage enemy submarines from far-off distances.
The SMART weapon system was successfully test-fired for the first time in October during which a supersonic missile launched a torpedo against a simulated submarine as a target and the test was a total success. Reddy elaborated, “A torpedo has a limited range capability. But, the range is enhanced through many mechanisms, one of which is a supersonic missile-assisted release of the torpedo, called SMART.”
A torpedo is incorporated in the front sections of a missile, which carries the torpedo to the designated point and then opens it up. "These operations successfully functioned in the very first attempt itself," Reddy said.