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India Has A New Tactical Ballistic Missile

January 30, 2022
Via DRDO/Indian media.

The world’s news agencies still bother with habitual coverage of North Korea’s myriad test fires for its missiles. This month alone had seven different launches and these were far from controversial. They, in fact, reflect a shocking trend across Eurasia where many types of missiles are being developed far beyond the known limits of Western military technology. India is no exception and in December last year it launched an intermediate-range missile called the Agni-Prime and four days later tested the short-range ballistic missile known as the Pralay. Between them, the Pralay is the one likely to be used in combat.

The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) tested a pair of “surface to surface” Pralay missiles on December 23 at Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal. According to them the launches were necessary for establishing varied ranges and a “warhead configuration” although further details on the missiles’ characteristics were withheld. The Pralay is delivered by an 8×8 transporter mounting a single launch tube that’s positioned vertically prior to firing.

The Indian Army does possess road mobile SRBMs called the Prithvi I and II. The Pralay is unrelated to either and its sudden appearance came as a surprise. Considering the army’s current inventory of accurized battlefield rockets and even the Prahaar and Prithvi I SRBMs why the need for another model? New insights emerged after reviewing the timeline of India’s aggressive development of ballistic missile technology. It turns out the Pralay is descended from an earlier program in the 1990s for an intermediate-range submarine launched missile labelled “K-15” that had a spin off for battlefield use. This became the short-lived Shaurya MRBM the DRDO claimed had a range of 1,000 kilometers although other sources indicate it was a short-range munition.

A lot of details about the Shaurya MRBM have come to light. The missile’s airframe has a diameter of 750mm and stretches 12 meters or 39.3 feet long. It’s interesting to note the Pralay looks like it shares the same measurements and even the layout although a crucial difference is the Shaurya was tested in late 2020 with a rocket booster attached and its warhead was enclosed by a separating canister. At the time the justification for reviving the Shaurya was the sudden reversal in ties with Beijing over territorial disputes that led to military build ups on either side of the border. Yet the Shaurya may now be sidelined as the DRDO have repurposed it and created the Pralay instead whose maximum range is 700 km.

The status of the Pralay is uncertain although if it does enter service with the Indian Army it should expand the branch’s options for “precision fires” in any theater. If the reports about its range are true its closest analogs are the Chinese DF-15 and Pakistan’s own Shaheen I missiles that are both road mobile. The DF-15 in particular is estimated to have a range up to 1,000 km but it can be less as the PLA-RF have other missiles with superior flight characteristics. The Shaheen I, on the other hand, is able to deliver–in the words of Pakistan’s military–“all types of warheads” as far as 650 km. Meanwhile, Iran’s own military branch that operates the country’s tactical missiles have two models similar to the Pralay as we know it today. These are the Dezful and the Fateh Mobin that each have a range in the several hundred kilometer threshold.

The Pralay SRBM’s entry to the Indian Army’s missile arsenal is a serious improvement over the existing Prithvi I and Prithvi II’s. The Prithvi II with its 1,000 kg warhead is capable of reaching targets 350 km away but the Pralay covers twice the distance. An interesting link between the Prithvis and the Pralay is they were developed with separate naval variants–the Prithvi can be launched from a warship. But there are other missile programs under the DRDO’s responsibility including the Nirbhay subsonic cruise missile, a vastly improved Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, and a hypersonic cruise missile in the works.

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