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Indian Rocket Artillery Can Be Devastating Too

January 1, 2020

Via Wikimedia Commons.

On December 19 the Pinaka Mark II underwent test launches in the Odisha coast to prove the range of its new guidance system. The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) revealed its 30 year old work-in-progress is now capable of hitting targets 75 kilometers away, doubling the original Pinaka Mark I’s range with unguided munitions. Although the Pinaka Mark II has yet to enter service its track record of launches earns it a place among the world’s advanced medium-range rocket artillery weapons such as the US-made HIMARS and the Israeli-made Extra.

The Pinaka Mark II’s success joins an unmistakable trend across Asia where militaries are pushing the limits of conventional battlefield rockets.

As part of its arms race with Pakistan in the late 20th century the Indian Army drew requirements for an indigenous multiple rocket launcher during the mid-1980s. The project was a collaborative effort by a handful of government research agencies (besides the DRDO, there’s the ARDE, DRDL, HEMRL, PXE, and RCI) that came to fruition by the 1990s. The awful procurement system of the Indian military saw to it the original Pinaka Mark I’s saw limited use alongside the Soviet vintage BM-21 Grads and Russian BM-30 Smerch. Since Pakistan managed to close the artillery gap with India in record time, acquiring land-based precision strike weapons with ease, the development of the Pinaka Mark II was well underway by the 2000s.

To achieve precision targeting at enhanced range the DRDO and its partners made improvements on the control, guidance, and navigation of the Pinaka’s 214 mm rockets. Like its GPS and GLONASS enabled counterparts, the Pinaka Mark II’s accuracy is guaranteed by the IRNSS orbital geomapping network. Having IRNSS means India’s telecommunications, along with its military command and control, is invulnerable to hostile disruption by an enemy. The Pinaka Mark II’s reliance on IRNSS completes its full indigenization; the launcher itself is locally made and carried by an 8×8 truck (licensed from TATRA) manufactured by state-owned Bharat Earth Movers Ltd.

The Indian Army’s plans for the Pinaka Mark II are unclear at the moment but its success bodes well for India’s ground forces. This decade has seen steady progress in the evolution of surface-to-surface weapons that give the army better options than its current selection of towed and self-propelled howitzers. Since 2011 two other long-range missiles are being readied for the army’s conventional/nuclear land-based strike missions. A work in progress, the Prahaar is a large diameter 420 mm ballistic missile with a range of 150 km and carried in a six-tube launcher by a TEL. It complements the Prithvi II, another SRBM whose performance is comparable to the Russian Iskander, that’s meant for neutralizing the enemy’s critical infrastructure within 350 km.

The multi-layered strike options when fielding the Pinaka Mark I/II together with the Prahaar and the Prithvi II must appeal to the army’s current leadership. But at the current pace of the DRDO several years might pass until its latest tactical weapons are declared operational. It’s possible for requirements to change and domestic technology is ignored in favor of a foreign alternative. Still, the benchmarks fulfilled by the Pinaka Mark II is an impressive achievement.

Below is a listing of large caliber rocket artillery systems that are manufactured in Asian countries:

CHINA PHL-03 300 mm 70 (unguided)
PHL-16 370 mm 200 (est.)
SR5 multi-caliber / 220 mm 120
IRAN Fajr-3 240 mm 70 (unguided)
Fajr-5 333 mm 130
Nazeat-10 457 mm 130
Zelzal-2/3 616 mm 200
INDIA Pinaka Mark II 214 mm 75
Prahaar 420 mm 150
ISRAEL Extra 300 mm 150
KOREA, NORTH M1991 240 mm < 50 (unguided)
KN-09 300 mm 200 (est.)
“Super Large” 400 mm 200 (est.)
KOREA, SOUTH Chunmoo multi-caliber / 239 mm 40 (unguided)
PAKISTAN Nasr 400 mm 60-150 (est.)
Fatah ? 140 (est.)
TAIWAN Ray-ting 2000 multi-caliber / 230 mm 45 (unguided)
TURKEY T-300 300 mm 90 / 120

There’s no doubt the pace of India’s localized weapons development is frustrating when even the humblest efforts can fail to materialize. (The OFB’s unrecognized attempt at a battle rifle comes to mind.) This is in stark contrast with India’s looming rival China whose state-owned military-industrial sector is overproducing weapon systems. But the technological base directly controlled by Delhi is advanced enough and, with regards to land-based precision weapons, the Indian military has an emerging suite of options its neighbors should take note of.

By the way, the Pinaka Mark II, as with many successful DRDO projects, is being readied for export abroad.

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