Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A half-yearly look at DRDO's ongoing missile projects

As we approach the end of the first half of 2014, it is worthwhile to look at how the year so far has been for indigenous research and development (R&D) in the defence sphere. We will of course also take a look at what else the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has lined up for the remainder of 2014.
Writing in February this year ( A new year for DRDO), I mentioned some of the more high profile launches that were scheduled for the first quarter of the year itself. Of those, the semi-official unveiling of the K-4 submarine launched ballistic missile has indeed taken place. The K-4 is part of the K-series of 'shaped trajectory' systems that have been developed by the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad and are suited for launch from underwater platforms. The K-4 has a range of over 3000 km and its boost-glide re-entry vehicle (BGRV) is India's entry into the worldwide hypersonic race that is unfolding at the moment. Indeed this system could well be more mature than the WU-14 the Chinese tested recently (although this is just conjecture on my part).
In any case, once fully ready the K-4 will arm the INS Arihant which will carry four of these missiles in its vertical launch tubes. The INS Arihant incidentally has revealed a bit more of itself recently as the picture enclosed below (Fig I) shows. This ship is headed out for sea trials and will soon test-fire the 750 km plus range K-15 SLBM while submerged. The Arihant can carry up to 12 K-15s. Its sister ship, the INS Aridaman is getting ready for launch this year.
Fig I: INS Arihant in the harbour.
The canisterized launch of the Agni-V has however not taken place yet and will now take place sometime later this year. Nevertheless December 2013 did see the 'missile ejection test' (MET) whereby a 'dummy missile' simulating the Agni-V was tested from the TCT-5 transporter erector launcher (TEL) for the Agni-V (see Fig II below). The TCT-5's semi-trailer based canisterized launcher has a length of 30 metres, width of 3.2 metres and height of 4.4 metres. The dummy missile tested as part of MET with its two rocket motors and a gas generator had an all up weight of 65 tonnes. MET seems to have been quite a success and has validated India's canisterized missile launch capability for very heavy missiles.
Fig II: Agni-V dummy missile ejection test from TCT-5
Meanwhile the second test of the Nirbhay ground launched cruise missile (GLCM) which has got repeatedly postponed will in all probability take place either later this month or in early June. The Nirbhay, which has a range of over 1000 km currently flies with an imported turbofan engine. However that is slated to change and an indigenous turbofan for this cruise missile now seems to be ready and will progressively replace the imported engine in subsequent tests.

Other big ticket items that have made progress are the Astra Mk-I air to air missile (AAM) and the PDV exo-atmospheric ballistic missile interceptor. The Astra MK-I whose first weapons release trial from a SU-30 MKI took place just last week seems to bring quite a sense of joy to DRDO's technologists since India's import dependency on foreign AAMs has to be reduced now given the possibility of high tempo operations against both the PAF and CAF simultaneously. India needs a domestically built and potentially much cheaper state -of-the-art to buff up its inventory of air to air munitions. Astra MK-I (see fig III below) is described as an 'all aspect, all weather missile with active Radar terminal guidance, excellent electronic counter counter measures(ECCM) features, smokeless propulsion and process improved effectiveness in multi-target scenario'. The Astra MK-II which has a head on range capability of 100 k (i.e double that of the Astra MK-I) will be tested by the end of the year and with the MK-I undergoing a series of ever more complex trials by the same period. The seeker for the Astra is an Agat from Russia and will be built in India under full transfer of technology.

Fig III: Astra MK-I weapon release trial from Su-30 MKI
The other really big story so far is of course the test of the PDV interceptor which can achieve both hit-to-kill as well as explosive destruction of an incoming RV through a directional warhead (which it can carry) at altitudes of more than 120 km. The PDV is guided by a 'high accuracy inertial navigation system (INS) supported by a redundant micro navigation system moved towards the estimated point of the interception' and has both a radio-frequency (RF) as well as an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker on-board. The late April test of the PDV was essentially used to validate the capabilities of the IIR seeker as well as the new target missile that was used for the test. As such neither an actual hit to kill nor an explosive intercept was orchestrated since DRDO wanted to get as much data as they could from both the IIR seeker as well as the target missile. The PDV launcher has been built by Larsen and Toubro who delivered the system in 2012. Left unsaid is the fact that the PDV strengthens India's hand immensely in the negotiations for any putative Space NPT. A picture of the PDV is enclosed below (see Fig 4)
Fig IV: PDV interceptor
DRDO is having a productive year and let us hope the rest of 2014 continues to be fruitful for indigenous defence R&D. All images are courtesy DRDO.

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