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Cruise missiles: Nirbhay better than Babur, but is it as good as US' Tomahawk


New Delhi, Oct 27: Having effective cruise missles significantly bolsters a country's land attack capabilities. It adds a totally new diamention to a nation's striking ability with features such as ability to fly low and avoid detection. It can quietly enter the enemy territory and deal a deadly blow with a precision strike.

First we must understand the difference between a cruise missile and a ballistic missile. Ballistic missiles are launched in a sub-orbital flight trajectory and spend most of their flight out of the atmosphere. It travels outside the atmosphere and then the warhead detaches and hurtles back to earth, usually at super sonic speeds. Cruise missile, on the other hand, are jet-propelled and more like pilot-less aircraft designed to strike distant targets with great accuracy. They fly close to terrain, as compared to ballistic missiles, and even speeds are much lower.

Representational Image

India's well known cruise missiles are BrahMos and Nirbhay. BrahMos was developed in ajoint venture with with Russia while Nirbhay is indegenously developed. But, before saying anything about Nirbhay, we must consider that many of the tests of Nirbhay in the past have failed or have been partially successful. Last test carried out near Balasore on November 7, 2017, was said to be a success but exact details are not know yet. So, further successful tests are needed before it is declared fully operarional.

Nirbhay was initially conceptualised to counter Pakistan's Babur Land-attack cruise missile. The missile was developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bengaluru.

Pakistan's Babur is the first land attack cruise missile to developed by Pakistan.It is medium ranged subsonic cruise missile launched from ground-based transporter erector launcher, warships and submarines.

Nirbhay is the two stage missile and capable of carrying 24 different types of nuclear warheads. The missile has a range of more than 1000 km, weighs about 1500 kg and has a length of 6 metres.

As per reports in several leading defence publications, Nirbhay is a far better missile if it becomes operational. Nirbhay, some reports claim, can be launched from all three platforms; ground, air, and water. In case of Babur, the known launch vehicles have all been mobile, land-based platforms, according to defenceupdate.in.

[All fine with BrahMos, but what about cruise missile Nirbhay]

Although Pakistan claims that a that a submarine version of Babur was tested successful, Indian Navy has refuted such a claim. Babur's stealth capability, when compared to Nirbhay, is also questionable. When it comes to terrain hugging capability, Nirbhay can fly as low as 5 mts from surface and can circle over the target so as to strike with great precision.

US' Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM):

Tomahawk was developed in the 1970s. Since then, it has been upgraded several times with guidance systems for precision navigation. Tomahawk has a modular design, allowing a wide variety of warhead, guidance, and range capabilities. Tomahawk Block III versions incorporates engine improvements,an insensitive extended range warhead, time-of arrival control and navigation capability which can reduce mission-planning time and increase navigation and terminal accuracy. Enhancements includes increased flexibility utilizing two-way satellite communications,increased responsiveness with faster launch timelines,loiter capability in area of emerging targets and improved affordability.

[How advanced is Pakistan's cruise missile technology]


Tomahawk is a far more advanced missile than both Babur and Nirbhay. Nirbhay, if future tests turn out to be successful in all parameters, would be a formidable missile that can send shivers down Pakistan's spine. On paper, Nirbhay looks slightly better than Babur. Babur's tests, as claimed by Pakistan, have been satisfactory so far but still a lot of improvement is needed. Tomahawk is a well established sub-sonic missile which has been in service for over 30 years. It is a key pasrt of US' striking capability. In fact, US has better cruise missile AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile) now.

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