Monday, November 12, 2007

India steps up production of Prithvi and BrahMos

This interesting report from Times of India caught my eye:

With Pakistan rapidly moving towards enlarging its missile arsenal with China’s help, India is slowly but steadily stepping up production of Prithvi surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, as well as BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. Sources said facilities were now in place to produce around 20 Prithvi missiles every year, while the annual production rate of BrahMos missiles is geared towards touching 50 in the near future.

In 2006-2007, for instance, Hyderabad-based defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Limited for the first time managed to produce 15 full-fledged Prithvi missiles and four training missiles, apart from 18 warheads, said sources. While different Prithvi variants have strike ranges varying from 150-km to 350-km, the BrahMos missile developed with Russia can hit targets over 290-km away.

"Similar plans to step up production of the strategic missiles (700-km Agni-I and 2,000-km-plus Agni-II ballistic missiles) are in the pipeline," said a source.

While Army has had its 150-km Prithvi-I missiles for some years now, IAF and Navy operationalised their longer-range variants of the same missile recently. Navy, for instance, is weaponising its Sukanya-class large patrol crafts with Prithvi’s ‘Dhanush’ variant, which has a strike range of 250-km to 350-km. IAF, in turn, has started moving its Prithvi-II missile squadrons from Hyderabad to some airbases closer to the western front.

As for the air-breathing BrahMos missiles, which fly at a speed of 2.8 Mach, Navy was the first service to equip its frontline warships like Rajput-class destroyers with their vertical launch systems. The Army, which already has missile groups to handle Prithvi, Agni-I and Agni-II, is now also operationalising BrahMos land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) as its "precision strike weapon."

Work on BrahMos’ air-launched version for Sukhoi-30MKI multi-role fighters, however, had been hit by delays. Consequently, this missile will be integrated with the naval IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft as the first step.

Incidentally, Pakistan tested a new air-launched 350-km range cruise missile, ‘Hatf-8’ or ‘Thunder’, a couple of months ago. Moreover, its ‘Babur’ cruise missile, said to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads to 500 km, is already on course for large-scale induction. Indian defence scientists, too, are working on a wide array of missile programmes, which interestingly also include submarine-launched versions of both Prithvi (K-15) and BrahMos missiles.

The Agni-III missile, with a 3,500-km strike range meant for China, will be ready by 2010 after a few more tests. Then an advanced 5,000-km range Agni missile, with a third mini-stage being added to the two-stage Agni-III, is also on the anvil.

Similarly, work is also in progress to develop submarine-launched cruise and ballistic missiles under the ‘Sagarika’ project to complete India’s ‘nuclear triad’ — the ability to fire nuclear-tipped missiles from the air, land and sea.

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