Nuclear-capable Nirbhay cruise missile's test fails for the fourth time

22 December 2016

Another test of the much-touted "Nirbhay" land-attack cruise missile, designed to carry nuclear warheads to a strike range of 1,000-km, failed on Wednesday. This was the subsonic missile's fourth test since March 2013, all of which have more or less flopped to achieve test parameters.

The missile had to be destroyed in mid-air after it deviated from its flight-path along the coast in Bay of Bengal soon after launch from the Integrated Test Range at Balasore off the Odisha coast around noon on Wednesday. "The test was an utter failure, with the missile veering to the right within two minutes of take-off," said a source.

While the missile's first test in March 2013 had completely failed, the second one was dubbed "a partial success" in October 2014. But the third test in October 2015 and the one on Wednesday also failed miserably.

DRDO may have come a long way in developing ballistic missiles like the Agni series, which have strike ranges from 700-km to over 5,000-km, but continues to flounder in the field of cruise missiles.

The armed forces, of course, already have the supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles but they have been developed with the help of Russia, have a range of only 290-km as of now and carry only conventional warheads.

The Nirbhay, a stealth missile in the making for almost a decade now, was meant to fulfill the armed forces' demand for nuclear-tipped land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) versatile enough to be fired from land, air and sea. The missile was said to be a counter to Pakistan's Babur LACM.

The real big test for DRDO, of course, will be the impending fourth test of the Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile, with a strike range over 5,000-km, in its final operational configuration from the Wheeler Island off Odisha.

This test of the three-stage Agni-V, after which it will undergo user-trials by the Strategic Forces Command, is planned for end-December or early-January, as was first reported by TOI.

While ballistic missiles like the Agni follow a parabolic trajectory, cruise missiles like Nirbhay are designed to fly at low-altitudes, virtually hugging the terrain, to evade enemy radars and missile defence systems.

The Nirbhay, after an initial blast off with a solid-propellant booster rocket engine to gain speed and altitude, is supposed to deploy its smallish wings and tail fins in the second-stage to fly like an aircraft thereafter.

The missile, which flies at a speed of 0.6-0.7 Mach and carries a 300-kg warhead, is designed to be highly maneuverable with "loitering capabilities" to first identify and then hit the intended target.