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Subsonic cruise missiles: Which is better - India’s Nirbhay or Pakistan’s Babur?


New Delhi, July 09: Cruise missiles are a crucial component of a country's arsenal. While ballistic missiles hog all the limelight due to their long range, speeds and fancy names, cruise missiles are talked about less. But what sets latter apart is that when it comes precise selective strikes without drawing much attention, it is the cruise missiles that are best suited.

Fundamental difference is that Ballistic missiles are launched on a sub-orbital flight trajectory and spend most of their flight out of the atmosphere. It travels well outside the atmosphere and then the warhead detaches and hurtles back to earth. Cruise missile, on the other hand, are jet-propelled 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.

Image for representation only (Source - Youtube screengrab)

India's well known cruise missiles are BrahMos and Nirbhay, while that of Pakistan is Babur or Hatf 7 missile.

BrahMos was developed in a joint venture with with Russia while Nirbhay is indigenously developed. BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile means that travels faster than sound, in fact latest BrahMos can go upto 4-5 times the speed of sound. But our main concern here is subsonic missiles like Babur and Nirbhay.

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One must understand that it is not possible to do a parameter by parameter comparison of missiles of two different nations because exact technical specifications would be classified.

Babur is said to be operational with the Pakistani forces, but Nirbhay is not yet. Nirbhay's most recent test earlier this year was a success, but before that some tests were a failure. More tests are needed before Nirbhay goes into mass production.

India is developing Nirbhay from scratch. From its engine to navigation system, all are indigenously made. Pakistan is said to have made Babur by reverse engineering US made Tomahawk missiles. Some defence experts say that some Tomahawks crash landed in desert, during Afghan war. Pakistan caught hold of these and reverse engineered. Some of the Tomahawks were almost 100% intact.

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Biggest problem with a cruise missile is propulsion. US developed specific jet engines which were small but had enough thrust, eventually these were adopted to use in Tomahawk missiles. Pakistan may have reverse engineered these engines.

Nirbhay uses Turbofan produced by Gas Turbine Research Establishment for propulsion. The missile is powered by a solid rocket booster for take off which is developed by Advanced Systems Laboratory(ASL).

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.

Babur is a short-range, turbojet-powered ground-launch cruise missile whose development began in 1990s. With a launch weight around 1,500 kg, it is capable of carrying a 450 kg payload up to 700 km.Even though Pakistan claims it to exceed 700 km mark, US has kept its max range estimate to just over 350 km.

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Pakistani Babur has derived guidance from Chinese and Russian satellite systems. Pakistan does not have satellite systems of its own to provide navigation. Nirbhay's guidance relies on India's own IRNSS/NAVIC satellite system which gives it enhanced accuracy.

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.

But, the greatest advantage of Babur is that it is operational. And Nirbhay is not yet fully operational, means green signal has not been given to start its mass production.

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