The ‘K’ factor in the recent missile tests

Table of Contents India’s first SLBM provides the building blocks for new missiles allowing the…

India’s first SLBM provides the building blocks for new missiles allowing the DRDO self-sufficiency in missile technology

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully conduct the second flight test of indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile ‘Pralay’ from Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha, on Dec. 23, 2021; (PTI Photo)

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) ended the year by conducting nine missile tests in December. Among others, these tests validated the performance of the air-launched variants of the Brahmos missile, extended range Pinaka rockets, a new vertically-launched short-range surface to air missile and the Agni Prime ballistic missile.

This is the second largest series of missile tests after a similar testing spurt last year. Both were a result of the Covid-19 imposed restrictions which affected the DRDO’s launch calendar, leading to a bunching up of tests corresponding to two waves of the pandemic. Two of the DRDO’s newest missiles were also tested–the Pralay tactical ballistic missile and the Supersonic Missile Assisted Rocket Torpedo (SMART). The Pralay was tested for the first time on December 22 from the Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam island off the coast of Odisha. The new missile followed the desired ‘quasi-ballistic trajectory’ and reached the designated target with a high degree of accuracy, validating the control, guidance and mission algorithms. All the sensors deployed near the impact point across the eastern coast including the down range ships, tracked the missile trajectory and captured all the events, a defence ministry press release said. The missile was developed in just four years. DRDO officials say the Pralay will need at least two more tests before it can be operationalised.

The Pralay has a range of 50 to 500 km and will replace the liquid-fuelled Prithvi series ballistic missiles which have a maximum range of 350 km. The programme was launched four years ago to meet a specific Indian army operational requirements to engage targets like troop and vehicle concentrations, logistic dumps and bases at ranges beyond the Prithvi and Brahmos missiles, using conventional munitions.

The SMART on the other hand allows warships to swiftly engage submarines at ranges between 50 and 650 km. The missile can carry a DRDO-developed Shenya light torpedo to pre-programmed ranges.

Both the Pralay and the SMART have a common ancestor—India’s first submarine launched ballistic missile, the K-15, which equips the Arihant class SSBNs. The K-15 (now renamed the B-05) is a 10-metre long two-stage solid-fuelled manoeuvering ballistic missile with a range of 750 km. It was born out of the specific requirements to miniaturise a nuclear weapon-tipped ballistic missile to fit the 11-meter diameter of the Arihant class submarine hull. The K-15 has a height of 10 metres at least five metres shorter than the Agni-1 missile which has a range of 700 to 1,200 km. The key according to a DRDO official lies in the new high energy solid rocket propellant designed for the K-15 by its Pune-based High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL). The fuel not only has more energy than the solid fuel used in the Agni series solid propellant rockets, it also burns more efficiently.

“It was this discipline of making a missile small enough to fit the hull that drove us to perfect new technology,” a DRDO scientist says. A derivative of the K-15’s solid booster technology was first used for the anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) which successfully destroyed a satellite in low earth orbit on March 27, 2019. The Indian ASAT tested under the Mission Shakti programme uses a 13 metre tall three-stage interceptor called the PDV Mk 2 derived from the K-15 programme. A hypersonic land-based and nuclear-armed variant of the K-15, the Shaurya, completed its tests a decade ago. It was recently cleared for induction into the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). The K-15 clearly is a strategic gift that keeps on giving.

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