A December 21 test launch of India’s nuclear-capable Nirbhay long-range cruise missile has reportedly been unsuccessful, according to local media reports. It is the third time that a Nirbhay missile trial has allegedly failed to achieve its test perimeters since March 2013.
The December 21 launch, like previous tests, took place at the Integrated Test Range–the Indian military’s primary missile test facility–on Abdul Kalam Island, off the coast of Odisha and was overseen by the Indian military’s Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO).
According to the Times of India, the missile had to be destroyed mid-air after it deviated from its course. “The booster engine in Nirbhay’s first stage started working. The missile lifted off from its launcher. But it started veering dangerously towards one side in less than two minutes of its lift-off,” DRDO sources told The Hindu.
“This is a hardware element issue. This is a reliability issue with a component,” the sources added. “It is a big failure. We should have a thorough re-look at what has been done so far. Out of four Nirbhay missions, three have ended in failure.”
So far, only a flight trial of the missile conducted on Octobe4 17, 2014 met all test criteria. The missile reportedly travelled 1,010 kilometers while being monitored by the ground station and an Indian Air Force fighter jet.
The Nirbhay is a subsonic land attack cruise missile armed with a 300-kilogram warhead and capable of reaching speeds of 0.6-0.7 Mach. It is designed to be highly maneuverable and has loitering capabilities. It is designed to be launched from air, sea, and land.
The failed missile test is particularly bad news for India’s first domestically developed and built ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) class, the Arihant-class, which, according to some military experts, will be armed with the Nirbhay cruise missile.
The Indian Navy commissioned the lead boat of the class, the INS Arihant in August. As I explained (See: “India Quietly Commissions Deadliest Sub”):
The INS Arihant will serve as a blueprint for India’s future fleet of four to five Arihant-class SSBNs to be built under the so-called Advanced Technology Vessel project. The ship building center at Vishakhapatnam is reportedly currently working on the second and third submarine of the class. The second Arihant-class SSBN, INS Aridhaman, is expected to be commissioned in 2018. In comparison to the lead ship of the class, subsequent boats will be larger (e.g., they will boast eight rather than four launch tubes), operate a more powerful reactor, and feature a host of other technical improvements.
There are also other missile systems under consideration for the future Arihant-class of SSBNs including the submarine-launched variant of the BrahMos short-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile, as well as the K-4 and K-15 intermediate-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
The Nirbhay missile, once operational, will also likely be deployed aboard surface warships of the Indian Navy.
DRDO is reportedly also working on developing an air-launched variant of the weapon system for the Indian Air Force. It is unknown when DRDO will conduct the next test of the Nirbhay.