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India to Test Nirbhay Cruise Missile With Indigenous Propulsion System

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India to Test Nirbhay Cruise Missile With Indigenous Propulsion System

The first developmental trial of a Nirbhay cruise missile fitted with an indigenous propulsion system is expected to take place in April.

India to Test Nirbhay Cruise Missile With Indigenous Propulsion System
Credit: Defense Research and Development Organization

The Indian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD’s) Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) will test fire a nuclear-capable Nirbhay Long Range Land Attack Cruise Missile (LRLACM) fitted with an indigenous propulsion system in April, according to an Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) official who spoke to IHS Jane’s during the February 5 to 9 Defexpo 2020 exhibition in Lucknow, northern India.

The indigenous Small Turbo Fan Engine (STFE) is under development by DRDO’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE). The new engine along with a new radio frequency seeker is expected to be tested during two developmental trials in April, with a live firing slated to take place in January or February 2021. Development of the LRLACM is scheduled to be completed the same year. 

Nirbhay is India’s first indigenously designed and developed long-range cruise missile. 

The Nirbhay is a subsonic LRLACM that can be armed with a 200-300-kilogram warhead. The nuclear-capable, solid fuel missile can reportedly reach top speeds of 0.6-0.7 Mach and can strike land targets at a distance of up to 1,000 kilometers. It can be launched from multiple platforms — the first test of the air-launched variant is expected to take place in 2021. The Nirbhay reportedly has loitering capability.

The sixth flight test of the Nirbhay LRLACM took place at the Integrated Test Range on Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha in April 2019. 

The test validated the low altitude and the sea skimming capability of the missile. A previous successful test launch of the Nirbhay missile took place in November 2017. Another test launch in December 2016 ended in failure, with the LRLACM destroyed in mid-air after it deviated from its course. As I noted in February 2019:

Two other test launches also ended in failure, with only one other flight trial, conducted in October 2014, declared a success. DRDO engineers have pointed to problems with the flight control software and navigation system of the Nirbhay, as well as hardware design flaws, for the causes of the failed missile tests. 

The ship-launched version of the Nirbhay could be inducted into service by as early as 2023, according to the ADE official. A test of a submarine-launched variant of the Nirbhay from a submerged platform may take place by  the end of 2020, the official added, with an actual test launch set to occur in 2021. 

Nirbhay LRLACMs used in past tests were all powered by Russian-made NPO Saturn 36MT mini turbofan engines.

The Indian MoD reportedly considered terminating the Nirbhay program on multiple occasions in the past. In addition to technical and funding issues, senior Indian military officers have raised questions over the Indian military’s operational requirement for a subsonic LRLACM.