India Missile Update – May 2014

India continues to enhance its land-based ballistic missile arsenal with a robust development and testing regime. The solid-fueled Agni-V intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which has a range of over 5,000 km, has undergone two successful test flights. The 4,000 km Agni-IV ballistic missile will soon be ready for induction into the armed forces. At the same time, India is developing its maritime strategic forces; for instance, the nuclear reactor for the INS Arihant nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) recently achieved criticality. When this submarine, which was developed with Russian assistance, becomes operational and is equipped with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), India will have a complete triad of land-based and sea-based ballistic missiles as well as heavy bombers. India also continues to engage in cruise missile development, particularly the BrahMos hypersonic missile, which is also produced with Russian assistance. The Indian Ministry of Defense’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) oversees these multifaceted efforts. India appears to have attained a considerable degree of domestic capability regarding ballistic missile development, while it continues to rely on foreign support in other areas, such as cruise missiles, submarines, and ballistic missile defense.

Missile Systems

Land-based Ballistic Missiles

Agni Systems: the Agni I, II, and III solid-fueled ballistic missiles are in service. Each variant underwent testing in 2013. The Agni-I is reported to have successfully undergone its first night-time test in April 2014 from Wheeler Island, one of India’s main missile test sites. The Agni-IV underwent its third consecutive successful launch in January 2014, also from Wheeler Island. With this test, which was conducted jointly by the DRDO and the Strategic Forces Command, DRDO Director General Avinash Chander announced that the Agni-IV is ready for induction into the armed forces.

The Agni-V missile was successfully flight-tested for the first time in April 2012, followed by a second successful test in September 2013. The road-mobile Agni-V, which is capable of reaching most of northern China, including Beijing, is understood to be India’s attempt to maintain its deterrent against China’s nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and IRBMs, particularly variants of the Dong-Feng IRBM. The DRDO plans to have the Agni-V ready for induction by 2015, reportedly after a canister-based launch and several more tests. The Ministry of Defense has also announced that the DRDO will soon test a 6,000 km ICBM called the Agni-VI, although it is not clear how far along development is on this system, or if it is even underway.

Prithvi Systems: The Prithvi-I (P-I) and Prithvi-II (P-II) ballistic missiles are in service, but the Praahar tactical missile will reportedly replace the P-I, which will be upgraded for use in longer ranges. The 350-km nuclear-capable P-II was reportedly test-fired successfully in salvo mode from a mobile launcher at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in March 2014.

Other Ballistic Missile Systems: India is developing a number of tactical ballistic missiles which will serve conventional missions. The 150 km Prahaar will operate as battlefield support for the Indian army. The single stage, solid-fueled missile will have a 200 kg payload capacity. Analysts view the Prahaar, which will reportedly replace the P-I, as India’s response to Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons, and as a potential weapon against enemy headquarters and communications infrastructure during an armed conflict. The last known test was conducted in July 2011. Last year, India also unveiled the Pragati tactical ballistic missile, which will reportedly have a 200 kg payload capacity and have a range of 60-170 km. The Pragati is reportedly very similar to the Prahaar, even sharing the same missile canister and transporter erector launcher (TEL). It is not clear when either system will be ready for induction.

Sea-Based Ballistic Missiles

K-15 (a.k.a.B-05) System: In January 2013, the DRDO successfully test-fired the K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a pontoon in the Bay of Bengal. This test marked the completion of the developmental phase of the missile, which has been cleared for production. Once it enters service and is deployed on the Arihant SSBN, India will have a complete nuclear triad. The K-15 is reported to be a solid-fueled, nuclear-capable missile with two stages and a range of 750 km. Development of this system reportedly goes back to at least 2004, with four tests of the fully-integrated system conducted beginning in 2010. Further tests of the K-15 are planned for this year. Its deployment is dependent on the induction of the Arihant. Arihant sea trials are scheduled to begin in September 2014.

Dhanush System: The naval version of the P-II, the Dhanush, is operational, having reportedly entered service in 2004. The nuclear-capable missile has a 350 km range and is designed for launches from surface vessels. It was reportedly test-fired successfully in November 2013 from a naval ship in the Bay of Bengal.

K-4: In addition to the K-15 and the Dhanush, DRDO Director General Chander told reporters in February 2014 that India is also developing an SLBM known as the K-4. This missile will reportedly have a 3,500 km range. According to Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, the Arihant SSBN will contain four universal launcher tubes capable of holding either 3 K-15 missiles or one K-4. In March 2014, India reportedly tested an SLBM in the Bay of Bengal. Most sources indicate that this missile was not the K-15 and that it had a range of over 2,000 km, suggesting that this may have been a test of the K-4.

Cruise Missiles

BrahMos System: India continues to deploy the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile across the various branches of its armed forces, and on multiple platforms. The BrahMos is a two-stage missile with a solid-fueled first stage and a liquid “ramjet” second stage. The missile has a 290 km range, a 200-300 kg payload capacity, and can travel at speeds of up to Mach 2.8. It carries conventional warheads. It was jointly developed by the DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia. The missile was first deployed on the INS Rajput surface vessel in 2005. This was the BrahMos N1 version. Since then, the BrahMos Block I (BI) and Block II (BII) variants have been deployed into the Indian Army. In February 2014, the BrahMos was fired from the INS Trikand vessel in salvo mode for the first time, and an advanced version of the missile was reportedly tested in April 2014. India plans to deploy an air-launched variant (ALCM) and submarine-launched variant (SLCM) of the BrahMos. In March 2013, the SLCM was successfully test-fired for the first time from a submerged platform in the Bay of Bengal. Tests for the ALCM are scheduled to begin in 2014. It is not clear when either BrahMos variant will be ready for induction.

Multilateral Regimes and Regime Restrictions

Missile-related export controls against India have been relaxed in recent years, especially by the United States. Most Indian entities have been removed from the “Entity List” maintained by the Department of Commerce, thus removing heightened export license requirements for these entities. The DRDO was removed from the list in 2001 and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was removed in 2004. In 2011, all remaining DRDO and ISRO subsidiaries (in addition to Bharat Dynamics Limited, or BDL) were removed from the list. The list no longer includes any Indian entities involved in missile or missile-related work. These measures have made it easier for India to access U.S. aerospace technology. Ties have grown particularly strong between ISRO and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The two now cooperate under the Joint Working Group on Civil Space in areas such as space science, earth observation, and satellite navigation, and have established a scientific personnel exchange.

India still faces considerable international restrictions with regard to missile-related procurement. It remains outside of most export-control arrangements, including the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary association of countries with common export control policies aimed at stemming the proliferation of WMD-delivery vehicle technology. The MTCR guidelines hinder the transfer of most ballistic-missile related equipment and technology to India from participating states, a group that includes France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These states have agreed to maintain a “strong presumption” of denial of transfers of the MTCR’s “Category I” items, which are deemed the most sensitive. Included in this category are ballistic missile, cruise missile, and Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) systems with capabilities exceeding a 300 km range and a 500 kg payload, as well as sub-systems, facilities, and technology that support these systems. Category II items include rocket systems not listed as Category I with a maximum range of equal to or greater than 300 km. While participating states have greater flexibility regarding transfers of Category II items, under MTCR guidelines the states are still called upon to require confirmation that all listed items are to be used only for their stated purpose prior to authorizing export, and also to require confirmation that all non-listed items are not to be used in connection with WMD delivery vehicles prior to authorizing export. The MTCR remains an important obstacle to direct cooperation in ballistic missile development between India and the majority of the states which have advanced ballistic missile programs. While the regime’s provisions are non-binding, they still create a set of “best practices” that work against the proliferation of WMD delivery vehicles.

Satellite Launch Vehicles

ISRO currently maintains two main satellite launch vehicle (SLV) systems, which it uses to send various satellites, both domestic and foreign, into space: the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

The PSLV is a four stage rocket using both liquid and solid propulsion. It can launch a 1,600 kg satellite in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and a 1,050 kg satellite in geo-synchronous transfer orbit. It has had 24 successful launches, most recently in November 2013.

The GSLV Mark I&II is a three stage rocket with a solid-fueled first stage (and four liquid (L 40) strap ons), a liquid-fueled second stage, and a cryogenic third stage. It is capable of placing a 2-2.5 ton satellite into geo-synchronous orbit. Its success rate has been much lower than the PSLV, with five successful launches and three unsuccessful launches. The last successful launch took place in January 2014. ISRO is also developing another GSLV, the GSLV Mark III, for heavier satellites. This will be a three stage rocket with a solid-fueled first stage, a liquid-fueled second stage, and a cryogenic third stage. It is not clear when this rocket will be ready for testing.

In 2006, ISRO successfully conducted a ground test of a supersonic combustion ramjet engine, or scramjet. The organization continues to conduct research and development into scramjets.
Scramjets do not carry their own oxidizer and therefore enable vehicles to be smaller and lighter or carry heavier payloads. ISRO is developing scramjets and other air-breathing engines primarily as a means of increasing SLV payloads and reducing the cost of launches. Scramjets also can be used in missiles. BrahMos Aerospace plans to equip the BrahMos II hypersonic cruise missile with scramjets.

Major Contributors

The DRDO oversees India’s ballistic and cruise missile development and production while ISRO is responsible for the space launch program. Combined, these government organizations oversee India’s aerospace network. Numerous DRDO and ISRO labs, as well as public sector undertakings and private companies are part of this network. Below is a list of some major contributors:

Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL- DRDO): Reportedly designs and builds all Agni missile systems, including the Agni-V; developed technologies for increased range and payload capacity of the Agni-V; designs and develops composite rocket motors, composite rocket motor casings, flex nozzle controls, and thermal protection systems for Agni missiles.

Baba Technocrats and Manufacturers, Pvt. Ltd.: Manufactures systems and subsystems for the Agni, Prithvi, and BrahMos systems.

Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL): DRDO’s missile production agency; has been involved in the Prithvi, Agni, and Dhanush missiles systems; received unauthorized shipments of U.S.-origin controlled items applicable to missile guidance and firing systems while it was on the U.S. Entity List.

Defense Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL): Contributes to the development of liquid propellant rocket engines and reaction control systems for Prithvi and Agni missiles; involved in the development of the BrahMos and of an SLBM for the Arihant.

National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL): Conducts aerodynamic tests on many of India’s missiles and satellite launchers at its wind tunnel facility, including the Prithvi and Agni missiles, and the PSLV and GSLV.

Research and Development Establishment (Engineers): Develops mobile launchers for the Prithvi, Agni, and BrahMos missile systems.

Research Centre, Imarat: Involved in the development of guidance systems for the Agni and the Prithvi and of antennae for the Prithvi, Agni-II, and K-15; also involved in the development of the Dhanush.

Shiva Engineering Works: Involved in the design, production, and commissioning of mobile shelters for the Agni, Prithvi, Brahmos, and K-15 missile systems; involved in the development of handling equipment for Agni missiles, K-15 tube assembly fixtures, and Prithvi warhead containers.

Terminal Ballistic Research Laboratory: Involved in the development of nuclear warheads for the Agni, the Prithvi, and submarine platforms.

Satish Dhawan Space Center: Launches ISRO rockets; manufactures and tests rocket components, including solid propellant rocket motors; houses liquid and cryogenic propellants and prepares liquid and cryogenic stages of rockets for launch.

Vikram Sarabhai Space Center: Conducts research and development on launch vehicle design, propellants, solid propulsion technology, polymers and composites, and guidance; received illegal shipments of U.S.-origin items applicable to the research and development of launch vehicles and missiles while it was on the U.S. Entity List.

Walchandnagar Industries Limited: Manufactures motor casings and launchers for the Agni and air booster casings for the K-15; also manufactures components for the INS Arihant, and for satellite launch vehicles.


India’s missile and aerospace programs have also benefitted from a number of suppliers who provide components for its missile and rocket systems, often procured illegally from abroad. Below is a brief list of several suppliers of note:

Cirrus Electronics: Operates in the United States, Singapore, and India; knowingly supplied U.S.-origin controlled items to Indian organizations on the U.S. Entity List without the required export license, including semiconductors and capacitors, which can be used in missile guidance and firing systems, and static random access memory computer chips.

Enterysys Corporation: Operates in the United States and India; exported U.S.-origin controlled electronic equipment to BDL without the required licenses when it was on the U.S. Entity List.

NPO Mashinostroyenia: Russian firm that co-develops the BrahMos cruise missile in cooperation with the DRDO; co-founded the BrahMos Aerospace Joint Venture with the DRDO.

Rajaram Engineering Corporation: Accused by the U.S. Department of Commerce of illegally supplying an Indian space center with U.S.-origin equipment and technology related to the research and development of launching systems, including missile delivery systems.