The history of Independent India and its missile defence began in 1958 with the establishment of the Special Weapons Development Team (SWDT). This later transformed into the Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL), which spearheaded one of the most iconic missile programs, the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP).
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, it is time to look at how the missile programme of the country came to be where it is today.
Sleeping Giants: How Few Carried Dreams of a Nation
As the SWDT transformed into DRDL and then with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) setup, India began Projects Devil and Valiant to reverse engineer a Soviet guided missile and develop inter-continental ballistic missiles, respectively. Even though both were discontinued before any success, they were instrumental in building the capacities of the DRDO, which began working on its guidance package.
The double engine research into missile technology by DRDO and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) meant that the decade of 1980s witnessed the country gaining significant ground in technology.
Based on the information in the public domain, ISRO’s SLV-3, the first orbital rocket of India, lent its first stage to the Agni-TD ballistic missile technological demonstration of the Agni missile family. Such an exciting development matured into the famous Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) by the missile man of India, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
Under IGMDP, four projects were established
Prithvi, the short-range surface-to-surface missile; Trishul, the short-range low-level surface-to-air missile; Akash, the medium-range surface-to-air missile; and, Nag, the third generation anti-tank missile.
Further, with the political push for nuclearisation, from the mid-1990s to the 21st century, DRDO developed Sagarika (submarine-launched ballistic missiles), BrahMos (cruise missiles) and Dhanush (a naval variant of Prithvi).
Unstoppable: How self-reliance emerged from international boycott
After the test of the Prithvi and Agni missiles, India was in the crosshairs of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Subsequently, various imports that India depended upon were denied. The US denied phase shifters for the radars, while Germany denied magnesium alloy for the wings of Prithvi missiles. According to an expert who wished to remain anonymous, “Even France denied gyroscopes and accelerometers. Even private companies like Intel refused to give processors required by the computers for the rockets.”
However, necessity is the mother of invention. IGMDP built a consortium of DRDO laboratories, industries and academic institutions to plug the gaps. By 2011, India was self-reliant in end-to-end missile development and made state-of-the-art components indigenously.
March onwards: The future of Indian missiles
Although 2008 marked the official closure of IGMDP, a series of Agni and Prithvi missiles turned into independent projects. Of the Akash family, currently under development is the Akash-NG with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Multifunction targeting radar. Meanwhile, the Nag family now exists in various versions: man-portable, helicopter-mounted, stand-off and IFV mounted.
The Prithvi family will be replaced by Prahar and Pranash solid fuel missiles, currently under testing. The Prithvi Defence Vehicle will likely see the Pralay missile as the upgrade. The Agni family has become an umbrella for various advanced missiles such as Agni-P, which can carry manoeuvrable reentry vehicles. Meanwhile, the longer-range Agni-IV and Agni-V have intercontinental ranges and multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. Agni-VI is another intercontinental ballistic missile under development.
Ode to Dr Kalam
In an ode to Dr Kalam, the K Missile family was named. It is a family of submarine-launched ballistic missile variants of the Agni family.
In addition, India also has cruise missiles under BrahMos and Nirbhay. Astra is the 5th gen beyond-visual-range active radar homing air-to-air missile series. India also developed air defence missiles. The Prithvi Air Defence Mk 2 is slated to demonstrate anti-satellite capability.
Path to global leadership: What missiles India needs next?
With the advancements in missile technologies worldwide, there is a need to look beyond traditional setups and deployments and develop for evolving battlefields. One such capability duly missed by Indian forces is to engage targets in urban warfare settings. Globally, there is a push for precision drone-launched warheads. One such unique missile is the Hellfire R9X which deployed composite blades as a warhead to eliminate targets without collateral damage.
Further, the most recent acquisition of S-400 Triumf advanced surface-to-air missile defence system from Russia has exposed dependence on missile defence systems imports. India also procured Russian rocket launchers, cruise missiles and air-to-air missiles.
With the introduction of drones and satellites and how anti-tank missile systems dominated the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war, India needs to work on state-of-the-art systems to counter our adversaries and maintain an edge on the battlefield.