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DRDO Test of Prahar: Need For Deeper Analysis

Published Sep 21, 2018
Updated Jul 10, 2020

The DRDO tested tactical SSM Prahar on 20 September after seven years, the known information of the missile is scanty but the test could have deeper implications on India’s conventional and nuclear posture.

On 20-September, 2018 the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully flight tested the indigenously developed surface-to-surface tactical missile ‘Prahar’, from Launch Complex-III, ITR, Balasore as indicated by the Ministry of Defence through a Press Information Bureau release.

Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister) Smt Nirmala Sitharaman congratulated DRDO, Army, Industries and other team members for the successful mission and said “indigenously developed Prahar will further strengthen our defence capabilities.”

The trial was witnessed significantly by the Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat, Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman DRDO Dr G. Satheesh Reddy  underlying the importance of the same. The Range stations and electro optical systems tracked the missile throughout its flight.

The press release indicated that ‘Prahar’ is a contemporary weapon system capable of carrying multiple types of warheads and neutralizing a wide variety of targets. The reference obviously is for the missile to carry a nuclear as well as a conventional warhead.

This is only the second test of the Prahaar missile. The first was held seven years and a couple of months back on 21-July, 2011. Again the Ministry of Defence Press Release on the occasion denoted that the DRDO successfully flight tested its latest surface to surface Missile `PRAHAAR’ from Launch Complex III, off Chandipur Coast, ITR, Balasore, Orissa.

The Missile was said to have a range of 150 kms, comparable to ATACMS Missile of United States of America and is said to fill the vital gap between Multi Barrel Rockets and Medium Range Ballistic Missiles. The Missile was said to be capable of carrying different types of warheads, operates as battle field support system to the Indian Army.

The dimensions of the Prahaar have been stated in 2011 as 7.3 meters and diameter of 420 mm weighing 1280 kgs, and a single stage solid propulsion system.  The missile attained a trajectory of height of 35 kms before hitting the targets of the range of 150 kms in about 250 seconds.

The Prahaar is said to be equipped with state of the art high accuracy navigation, guidance and electro mechanical actuation systems with latest onboard computer, it achieved terminal accuracy of less than 10 meters.

The Missile has a pay load of 200 kgs has a fast reaction time, which is essential for a battle field tactical missile.

The Missile was launched from a Road Mobile System, which can carry six missiles at a time and can be fired in salvo mode in all directions covering the entire azimuth plane.

The Missile system was  developed to provide Indian Army a cost effective, quick reaction, all weather, all terrain, high accurate battle field support tactical system. The development of Missile was carried out by the DRDO Scientists in a short span of less than two years said the release of 2011 claims the 2011 Press Release

The flight path of the Missile was tracked and monitored by the various Radar systems and Electro Optical systems located along the coast of Orissa. An Indian Naval ship located near target point in Bay of Bengal witnessed the final event.

In 2011 the launch operations were witnessed by Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri and Secretary Defence R & D, Lt Gen Vinod Nayanar, AVSM, Director General of Artillery, IHQ of MoD (Army). A team of scientists headed by Shri Avinash Chander, Chief Controller R&D, DRDO coordinated the entire launching operations. Similarly on the occasion, then Defence Minister Shri AK Antony has congratulated the Scientists of DRDO for the successful maiden launch of the new Missile.

Given the characteristics the Prahaar is not a replacement for the Prithvi 1 which is no longer in service, but had a similar range as the Prahaar of 150 km with a total weight of 4.4 ton and warhead of 1 ton.

Prahaar on the other hand is much lighter in weight at over 1 ton and has a warhead weighing 200 kg. The Prithvi 1 was however liquid fuelled, thus placing restrictions on quick response while the Prahaar is touted as, “a fast reaction time, which is essential for the battle field tactical missile”.

The reasons for the second test by the DRDO seven  years after the first are not clear. Was the development plan shelved till the Indian Army projected the necessity for a short range ballistic missile of a range similar to that of Prithvi or were there development challenges that have been overcome.

The Prahaar was however displayed on the Republic Day 26 January 2012 and pictures of the missile with launchers are available. There are no reports of the missile tests by the user the Army so the same is unlikely to have been inducted.

While the Indian Army has the BrahMos with a range of 290 kms plus it is a supersonic cruise missile and thus a need for a short range ballistic missile is justified. However the Brahmos has a steep dive capability and could do much the same tasks as the Prahaar. Being a joint Indo Russian project the BrahMos is not cleared for carrying a nuclear warhead.

The question that thus arises, is development of the Prahaar a response for the nuclear capable battlefield rocket system the Nasr.

As per CSIS project Missile Threat, Hatf 9 “Nasr” is believed to be a modified Norico AR-series launcher procured from the People’s Republic of China. The missile was first successfully tested in April 2011 and has entered into service in 2013. Tests have been carried out in May 2012, February 2013, November 2013, September 2014, and July 2017 as per the CSIS.

Pakistan military has claimed that Nasr provides the country a full spectrum deterrence– implying tactical to strategic nuclear capability. Pakistan’s unstated nuclear doctrine is of First Use under specific circumstances.

India carried out the test of the Prahaar in July 2011 within three months of the test by Pakistan, yet the second test was carried out after seven years.

Was this to demonstrate a more robust response to Pakistan induction of Nasr, will Prahaar be nuclear tipped and how long will it take to be inducted in the Army are questions that beg answer.

In case the Indian Army is developing a tactical nuclear weapon as Prahaar how will this gel with India’s No First Use nuclear doctrine and massive retaliation second strike are other issues that need consideration?