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What ails ingenuously developed cruise missile Nirbhay


New Delhi, Oct 29: Nirbhay can be a formidable weapon for the armed forces, but the indigenously developed subsonic cruise missile just keeps failing in the tests. The Nirbhay is a land attack cruise missile armed with a 300-kilogram warhead capable of reaching speeds of 0.6-0.7 Mach and designed to be launched from air, sea, and land. But, ever since its conceptualisation, Nirbhay's test results have not yielded results that were expected.

Representational Image

So much so that reports are now saying that the Nirbhay program could be scrapped. The last and the fifth test was conducted on November 7, 2017, which was said to be a success but not much is know if the outcome was satisfactory on all the test parameters.

Nirbhay is a 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.

According to DRDO, Nirbhay missile is a 1000-km class cruise missile that has the capability to strike "deep" into the enemy's territory. The missile has the capability to loiter and cruise at 0.7 Mach, at altitudes as low as 100 metres.

All the features on the paper are fine but the missile should become operational first. Only once the missile passes all the tests satisfactorily will it be cleared for mass production.

[How advanced is Pakistan's cruise missile technology]

Out of the five tests of Nirbhay subsonic missile, two were declared as failures and the result for one of the tests was never declared. The fifth and last test conducted on November 7 last year was said to be a success.

Problems with Nirbhay:

Nirbhay was initially conceptualised to counter Pakistan's Babur Land-attack cruise missile. During its testing, nuclear-capable Nirbhay missile has suffered several setbacks.

Since March 2013, three Nirbhay test launches have been classified as failures. The missile was developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bengaluru.

After the design was finalized, the technology required for the missile was developed. It was integrated by R&D Engineers, Pune, a specialized arm of DRDO. The first test flight of the missile was planned in October 2012, but the launch was postponed to December owing to the changes being made to the launcher.

First test:

The first trial of Nirbhay was held on March 12, 2013, from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur. The missile took off from the launch pad successfully and reached the second stage of propulsion, travelling 15 minutes through its envisaged path at a speed of 0.7 mach. After that, it veered away from its trajectory. This forced the command center to detach the engine from the missile mid-way into the flight.

Second test:

The second test of Nirbhay was held on October 17, 2014, from Chandipur. This time the missile met all the parameters and completed all 15 way-points. The missile travelled for more than 1000 km that lasted for a duration of over 1 hour and 10 minutes. Indian Airforce fighter jet Jaguar chased the missile during its flight to capture the video of the flight.

Third test:

During its third test on October 16, 2015, all initial critical operations were successful and Nirbhay even and the missile even reached the desired Cruise Altitude. But, it crashed into the Bay of Bengal 11 minutes into its flight after covering only 128 km of its 1000 km range.

Fourth test:

Nirbhay's fourth test took place on December 21, 2016, from ITR Chandipur. The results of this test have not been made public yet. Reports say that the missile blasted off from its launcher but shortly afterward it started veering dangerously towards one side two minutes after lift-off. The missile then had to be destroyed mid-air after it strayed from its programmed course. A potential reason for the failure was described as a hardware problem with one of the missile's component.

Fifth test:

The cruise missile took off from a specially designed launcher from the launch complex-3 of the Integrated Test Range or ITR at Chandipur, near Balasore on November 7, 2017.

"All initial critical operations of the trial such as a blast of the sophisticated missile are successful as it moved up in its trajectory," a DRDO statement said. The test was dubbed successful but the exact details of the test are not known yet.

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