Kochi, Oct 14: A Sukhoi (Su-30MKI) fighter will be on chase duties when the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) undertakes a crucial flight trial of the home-grown sub-sonic cruise missile, Nirbhay.
Top military sources have confirmed to OneIndia on Wednesday that the third flight trial of Nirbhay will be scheduled on Oct 16 from Launch Complex-III of Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur (near Balasore) off Odisha coast.
"The launch will depend on many factors as usual with weather being a critical one," a source said.
As this piece goes live, the final Flight Readiness Review (FRR) and Launch Authorization Board (LAB) meeting is underway.
DRDO has scheduled the launch a day after the 84th birth anniversary celebrations of its former chief Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
As reported by OneIndia earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil a bust of Dr Kalam at DRDO headquarters in Delhi tomorrow while Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will be present in Hyderabad for renaming the Missile Complex after the former President.
Low-altitude flight a challenging task
An official said that this time the scientists are preparing the missile for a low-altitude flight, a challenging task.
"Mostly all the parameters are same as the last flight, barring this time it will be a low-altitude flight of Nirbhay. The missile will be likely to be brought down from around 4.8 km to 20 m. The process will be undertaken step-by step with the missile likely to fly for around 5 minutes in each stage," the official said.
The total duration of the flight is likely to be around 50-minutes to one hour. During low-altitude flights, a missile will have to very high drags, which the scientists are confident of tackling.
Sukhoi's long-endurance to come handy
During the successful second flight trial conducted last year (October 17, 2014), Nirbhay was chased by a Jaguar striker.
"Last time we couldn't get a Sukhoi as the entire fleet was grounded owing to some technical reason. Generally Jaguars, Mirages and Sukhois are used for chased duties during the flight trials of fighters and long-range missiles. This time we are using a Sukhoi as it has long-endurance and can capture the flight parameters till the end," an official said.
To capture the video footage of a missile in motion, normally pilots are given the flight nomenclature in advance. The launch time, duration, flightpath, speed and way point navigation (in case of Nirbhay) will be known to the pilots, making their job easier.
Missile test result crucial for many top DRDO brains
Nirbhay is India's first home-grown subsonic cruise missile and is developed by Bengaluru-based Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). The missile has an expected strike range of 800-1100 km.
The maiden launch of the missile (March 12, 2013) had to be aborted mid-way when one of the systems developed snags for 500-600 milli seconds. This forced DRDO to embed upgraded redundant systems on Nirbhay during its second trial last year.
The current launch will be crucial for DRDO after the Modi government brought in changes on the top with a new Director General (Dr Selvin Christopher) and Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister (Dr G Satheesh Reddy) taking charge.
The trial will be also a litmus test for ADE's recently-appointed Director M V K V Prasad.
Interestingly, this will be the first missile test after Dr Christopher, Dr Reddy and Prasad in their new avatars.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia and tweets @writetake)