India Missile Update – 2002

India continues to develop and test a broad array of guided missiles. The nuclear-capable Prithvi and Agni missiles were tested in 2001, and there were reports that India was working on the Surya, its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). India also successfully launched both the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), the largest rocket India has built. Configured as a missile, either launch vehicle could deliver a nuclear warhead to intercontinental ranges. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), India is making progress toward its aim of achieving self-sufficiency for its missile programs, but continues to rely on foreign assistance.


Agni: In August 2000, in an interview with Defense News, a scientist with India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) declared that both variants of the nuclear-capable Agni missile were operational and ready for serial production and deployment. The scientist said that the $5 million Agni-I can carry a 1,000 kilogram payload 1,500 kilometers and the Agni-II can deliver a 1,000 kilogram payload approximately 2,500 kilometers. The DRDO scientist also claimed India possessed 10 Agni-I missiles and two Agni-II prototypes. He added that the DRDO and Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL), India’s state-owned missile builder, could produce up to 18 Agni-II missiles a year.

The Agni-II was test fired in January 2001. The missile, reportedly carrying a one-ton payload, was fired from a mobile launcher at the Interim Test Range (ITR), and marked the first time the missile was fired “in its final operational configuration.” It was only the second time the missile had been tested.

Dr. Vasudev Aatre, head of the DRDO, was quoted in Jane’s Defence Weekly in February 2001 as saying that India is planning to develop an enhanced version of the Agni called the Agni-III. According to Aatre, the missile “will have a better range and capability” than the Agni-II. The missile is expected to have a range of 3,500 kilometers.

In January 2002, India successfully test-fired a new “shorter range” Agni missile with a range of 700 kilometers. The missile was launched at 8:45 am from Wheelers Islands off the Orissa coast into the Bay of Bengal. A defense ministry statement quoted Defense Minister George Fernandes as saying that the “mission was flawless and enhanced India’s capability in deployment of such surface-to-surface missile systems.”

Akash: India tested the Akash surface-to-air missile in July 2000, on February 27, 2001 and again three days later on March 2, at the Interim Test Range (ITR). The missile, fired from a mobile launcher, can reportedly carry a warhead of 55 kilograms to a range of 25 kilometers.

Brahmos (PJ-10): The first flight test of the Brahmos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile was conducted at the Interim Test Range in June 2001. The missile was developed by BrahMos, an Indo-Russian joint venture formed through an intergovernmental agreement that was signed in February 1998. The DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPO Mash) are the joint partners. Reportedly based on the Russian SS-NX-26 “Yakhont,” the Brahmos is approximately 9 meters long, weighs 3900 kilograms, can travel at speeds of Mach 2.5 to 2.8, and can carry a 200-300 kilogram warhead up to 300 kilometers. The missile is launched from a canister and its propulsion system consists of a solid fuel booster and a liquid ramjet sustainer. Thrusters and jet vanes are used to control and turn the missile, and an inertial navigation system guides the missile during the mid-course and terminal phases through an active radar seeker. The missile, which will reportedly be ready for sale by 2003, is capable of being launched from land-, sea- and submarine-based platforms.

Nag: This anti-tank missile was successfully test fired in September 2001. India will reportedly begin user trials soon.Prithvi: The 150-kilometer range liquid fuel Prithvi-I missile continues to be India’s only deployed ballistic missile. It was reported in late 2000 that India would begin production of Prithvi missiles for the Indian defense forces. Both the Prithvi-I, which can carry a 500-1,000 kilogram payload, and the 250-kilometer-range Prithvi-II, will be built by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL). BDL company sources were quoted as saying that the Indian Army required 150 missiles and the Air Force wanted 50 Prithvi-II missiles.

In late March 2001, India again tested the Prithvi-I. According to a DRDO official, the main objective of the test was to “gauge the propulsion parameters of the missile.” Nine months later, an extended range (250 kilometer) version of the Prithvi called the Prithvi-II was launched from the Interim Test Range. The missile was fired from a mobile 8 x 8 Tatra Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL).

Surya: In April 2001, Defense News reported that India was preparing to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), named Surya, as early as January 2002. The CIA has reported that most components needed for an ICBM are available from India’s indigenous space program, and that India could convert the PSLV into an ICBM within a year or two of a decision to do so.

A DRDO scientist told Defense News that the Surya is based on both liquid- and solid-fuel technology. He said the Surya will be 40 meters long and weigh 40 tons. A follow-on version of the Surya, known as Surya-II, may be tested in 2003 to a range of 12,000 kilometers, according to the scientist.

Space launchers and satellites

Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV): Just 21 days after its initial launch was aborted at the last second, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) lifted off from the Sriharikota Space Center in April 2001 carrying an experimental GSAT-1 satellite. The 400-ton rocket is comprised of a solid propellant core first stage ringed by four liquid propellant strap-on boosters, and uses a Russian cryogenic engine in its upper stage. The solid propellant first stage and liquid-fuel second stage of the PSLV are used as the core first and second stages of the GSLV. The strap-on boosters are also derived from the PSLV second stage.

The first launch attempt on March 28 was halted just one second before liftoff after computers detected that one of the strap-on boosters was not generating the proper thrust. The malfunction was reportedly traced to a defect in the booster’s plumbing, which prevented the proper flow of liquid oxygen to the engine thrust chamber. The booster was replaced and the other strap-on engines were deemed fit for another launch.

The GSAT-1 failed to reach its intended orbit, however, reportedly because the satellite ran out of propellant. As a result, the spacecraft is drifting and unusable. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) officials nonetheless claimed the mission fulfilled its objectives. An ISRO press release reported that the GSLV performed well during the flight, thereby validating the design and integration of its subsystems.

In June 2001, ISRO officials were reported as saying the first GSLV equipped with an Indian cryogenic upper stage will be launched in late 2003. The new engine has reportedly undergone one 30-second test firing. Indian officials are reportedly also considering building a cryogenic engine with more thrust that could be available for flight testing in 2004-2005.

An upgraded version of the liquid-fueled Vikas engine, used on both the PSLV and the GSLV, was tested in early December 2001. The new engine reportedly produced 11 percent more chamber pressure than the current Vikas engine, and is slated to be flown on the next flight of the GSLV sometime in 2002. ISRO said the new engine could potentially increase the payload capacity of the GSLV by 150 kilograms.

Technology Experiment Satellite (TES): India successfully launched the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES), along with two other satellites, aboard a PSLV on October 22, 2001. The TES will reportedly collect 1-meter resolution images, meaning that the satellite can capture objects that are one meter in diameter or larger. ISRO’s chairman stopped short of characterizing TES as a spy satellite, but said the application of the imagery will depend on the needs of the specific user. TES is reportedly designed to operate for three years.

Russian assistance

In April 2001, Defense News reported that Russia’s Splav Research and Production Association will deliver Russia’s advanced 90R anti-submarine missiles to India. The missile was developed for Splav’s RPK-8 “Zapad” anti-submarine missile system. The missile can fly more than four kilometers before plunging into the sea, and is capable of homing on submarines 1,000 meters deep. A senior Indian Navy official said the Navy will buy the missiles for its Russian-designed “Project 17” stealth warships, which are being built at the Mazagon Docks in India. The first warship is scheduled to be commissioned by December 2007.

Missile defense

India is reportedly working on integrating its Rajendra phased array radar with the Green Pine radar developed by the Israeli firm Elta and used by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. Both the Indian Air Force and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) are reportedly involved in the project.