On Friday, India successfully test fired an indigenously developed nuclear-capable sub-sonic cruise missile dubbed the “Nirbhay.” The missile has a range of 700-1,000 kilometers and is ultimately expected to take up the role of a nuclear delivery device for India’s strategic deterrence. Nirbhay, like so many other indigenous Indian defense technologies, was developed by the state-run Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The Diplomat reported on the preparation for the Nirbhay’s testing earlier this year.
What sets Nirbhay apart from other missile technologies in use or being tested by India is its high degree of maneuverability, rendering it a particularly potent nuclear device delivery vehicle. This is typical of cruise missiles (a shining example of which would be the United States’ Tomahawk), but not of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) such as India’s Agni series of missiles. The Agni, now on its fifth iteration still remains India’s primary nuclear delivery vehicle. The Nirbhay is additionally capable of low altitude flight and radar evasive techniques that make detection and interception much more difficult. The effective range of the missile is rated at “over 700 km,” placing regional rivals Pakistan and China well within striking distance. The missile also has the advantage of being highly mobile on the ground — it is capable of being launched from a mobile launcher.
The Nirbhay was tested in the Indian state of Orissa over a 1,000 km range. “The missile was test-fired from a mobile launcher positioned at launch pad 3 of the Integrated Test Range at about 10.03 hours” on Friday, an official told the Times of India. The Nirbhay was initially tested in early 2013, but that test was deemed a failure. According to officials that spoke to the Times of India, the first test “had to be terminated mid-way when deviations were observed from its intended course.”
The Nirbhay comes at a time when India is looking to build a nuclear triad. Earlier this year, it tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) known as the K-4. Additionally, the Nirbhay represents India’s continued development of indigenous defense technologies. Last year, the INS Arihant, India’s first home-built nuclear submarine, saw its reactor go critical and began sea trials. Both the Arihant and the Agni-V ICBM are set to enter service in 2015.
Here’s a video the DRDO released of the successful launching: