Asia Defense

India to Test-Fire Secret Undersea Weapon

India is set to test-fire the K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile this week.

Franz-Stefan Gady
India to Test-Fire Secret Undersea Weapon
Credit: YouTube Still Shot

India’s Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) will test-launch the indigenously-developed, nuclear capable K-4 ballistic missile from a submerged platform in the Bay of Bengal this week, The New India Express reports.

The K-4, an intermediate-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missile with a purported range of up to 3,500 kilometers (2,174 miles), will be launched from a submerged pontoon, a replica of a submarine, from water 9 meters (around 30 feet) deep, according to DRDO sources.

The DRDO scientists’ purported aim this week is to test the full operational range of the missile. During a previous test in March 2014, where the weapon was ejected from the submerged pontoon by a powerful gas generator, the K-4 was only tested to a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).

Technical details on the top-secret K-4 remain scarce. It purportedly is 12 meters (39 feet) long, weighs around 17 tons, can carry a nuclear capable warhead of up to 2 tons, and is powered by solid rocket propellants.

DRDO scientists claim that the missile is highly accurate with a near zero circular error probability. According to publicly available information, the K-4 uses a Ringer Laser Gyro Inertial navigation system.

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The missile, capable of cruising at hypersonic speed, also features an “innovative” system of weaving in three dimensions during flight as it approaches its target. The New India Express paraphrases a DRDO scientist saying that this “exceptional feature of the weapon system makes it difficult to be tracked easily and destroyed by any anti-ballistic missile defense systems.”

The K-4 will undergo two more development tests before it will be fired from the Indian Navy’s first indigenously developed ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN), the INS Arihant.

As I reported previously (See: “India’s Deadliest Sub Is Ready for Operations”), the INS Arihant is slated to be commissioned this month. The vessel is based on Russian Project 971 Akula I-class nuclear-powered attack submarine.  It is the lead vessel of the Indian Navy’s future fleet of four Arihant-class SSBNs.

The submarine is equipped with four vertical launch tubes, which can be armed with either four K-4 missiles or 12—three per launch tube—K-15 missiles, another member of the K-series of missiles with a maximum range of 750 kilometers (466 miles).

There have also been some reports that DRDO is also working on a new top-secret variant of the K-4 with a 5,000 kilometer (3,106 miles) range.

India’s nuclear warfare policy is centered on a No First-Use (NFU) doctrine. The K family of missiles is meant to boost India’s second strike capability and will be the cornerstone of the sea leg of the country’s nuclear triad. India still maintains a policy of keeping its nuclear warheads de-mated from the missiles.

One of the major problems for India remains that its submarine force is too noisy, calling into question the credibility of its second-strike capability even with the new K-4 missile. Loud submarines are more easily detected and can be quickly neutralized in the event of war.