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‘Nirbhay’ – Role in Indian Missile Armoury

Published Apr 16, 2019
Updated Apr 20, 2020

Countries develop multiple missile systems with varied capabilities to provide wide range of strike options, Nirbhay the sub sonic cruise missile on operationalisation will complement the Brahmos.

On 15 April 2019, the sixth test of the Long Range Sub-Sonic Cruise Missile, Nirbhay was carried out by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) from the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur Odisha.

The aim  of the test was flight trial to prove the repeatability of boost phase, cruise phase using way point navigation at very low altitudes.

The Ministry of Defence press release  indicates that the missile took off vertically turning horizontally into desired direction, booster separated, wing deployed, engine started, cruised all the intended waypoints. The missile demonstrated its sea-skimming capability to cruise at very low altitudes.

Thus the mission objectives were said to have been met with tracking by a chain of Electro Optical Tracking Systems, Radars and Ground Telemetry Systems deployed all along the sea coast.

Nirbhay has been under development for the past six years. The missile has suffered several setbacks. Since March 2013, three Nirbhay test launches have been classified as failures. With three successes the last two consecutive ones there should be some relief for the DRDO.

Some details of the fifth test on 7th November 2017 indicate that the missile has the capability to loiter and cruise at 0.7 Mach, at altitudes as low as 100 m.

The guidance, control and navigation system of the missile is configured around the indigenously designed Ring Laser Gyroscope (RLG) and MEMS based Inertial Navigation System (INS) along with GPS system.  There is a possibility in the future that the navigation will be linked to the Indian IRNSS satellite system thereby making it GPS proof.

During the fifth test the missile is said to have cruised for  a total duration of 50 minutes, achieving the range of 647 km

The planned range of Nirbhay is 1000 kms with a warhead of 200 to 300 kgs with varied types including nuclear in the offing. The range test was held on 17 October 2014 covering the distance of 1000 kms in over 1 hour and 10 minutes.

The solid rocket booster for takeoff is developed by Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL).

On reaching the required velocity and height, a Turbofan engine takes over for further propulsion. The Turbofan engine Manik is reportedly developed or under development by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bengaluru

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>First pictures here of this morning’s test of the <a href=”https://twitter.com/DRDO_India?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@DRDO_India</a> Nirbhay cruise missile, the sixth launch in the program. Today’s test demonstrated very low altitude flight. <a href=”https://t.co/E75oRaNxkL”>pic.twitter.com/E75oRaNxkL</a></p>&mdash; Livefist (@livefist) <a href=”https://twitter.com/livefist/status/1117750510763872257?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>April 15, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

GTRE has successfully tested prototype of Small Turbo Fan Engine (STFE) for High Altitude Cold Climate Starting trials in Leh during February 2018. The successful demonstration validated the design, selection of materials and the control logics used for lighting and acceleration of engine to minimum sustained speed. The performance of pyro systems was as per expectations.

It was integrated by R&D Engineers, Pune, a specialized arm of DRDO.

The importance of the Nirbhay to India’s multiple missile systems with two now in the cruise family – BrahMos and Nirbhay though still under testing is due to the following:-

Range of 1000 kms is longer than that of the BrahMos

Being subsonic unlike the BrahMos which is supersonic it has the capability to approach the target at low altitudes skimming tree tops and strike the same after hovering thereby even having the capability for selection of one in a mix that is available.

Detection of the Nirbhay will be relatively difficult but once detected then it would be easier to shoot down the missile due to the slow speed as compared to the BrahMos.

Nirbhay could be launched from undersea essentially by the SSBN Arihant series in the future, BrahMos has been tested from an undersea platform but at low heights below the surface.

More over Nirbhay is a completely indigenous system that has been developed by the DRDO.

Now developing the Nirbhay into a viable operational missile would be necessary and how many years more is taken in this remains to be seen?