India’s missile arsenal plays a crucial role in New Delhi’s defense strategy, primarily serving as a nuclear deterrent against its main adversaries, Pakistan and China. The necessity to counter these threats has driven India to enhance its capabilities, leading to the development of longer-range missiles and the exploration of diverse delivery platforms beyond mobile land-based systems. Notably, India is actively working on ship- and sub-launched ballistic missiles and has engaged in collaborative efforts with Russia in cruise missile development.
While these advancements ostensibly align with India’s minimum deterrence doctrine, the evolving missile arsenal may signal potential shifts in the country’s nuclear doctrine. This evolution is exemplified by India’s investments in cutting-edge technologies such as multiple independently-guided reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology.
Some of the Prominent Missiles Currently in Use By India
Akash Missile System:
India’s defense strategy is significantly bolstered by the Akash missile system, a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile developed through collaborative efforts involving the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories Board, and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). This indigenous system is designed to target a range of threats, including aircraft, cruise missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and ballistic missiles, with a remarkable engagement capability extending from 30 to 60 km and altitudes reaching up to 18,000 m. The evolution of the Akash system is evident in variants such as Akash-1S and Akash-NG, which demonstrate extended ranges, heightened accuracy, enhanced mobility, and reduced reaction times.
Agni Missile Series:
Originating as a “Re-Entry Vehicle” project within the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP), the Agni missile series has become a cornerstone of India’s ballistic missile capabilities. From Agni-I to Agni-V, these missiles were developed under the IGMDP, each serving specific roles in India’s defense strategy. The later variants, Agni-IV and Agni-V, have intercontinental ranges and incorporate Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology. The recent testing of Agni-P, an upgraded successor with maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) capability, exemplifies India’s commitment to advancing its ballistic missile capabilities. Furthermore, reports on the development of Agni-VI, an intercontinental ballistic missile with potential applications from submarines or land, underscore India’s aspirations to extend its reach, capable of striking targets over 10,000 km away with MIRV-ed warheads.
BrahMos Missile System:
The BrahMos missile system stands as a testament to international collaboration between India and Russia. Recognized as a supersonic to hypersonic cruise missile, BrahMos offers versatility with land attack, ship and submarine-launched, and air-launched versions. Notably, BrahMos holds the distinction of being the world’s fastest cruise missile in operational use. Ongoing developments within the BrahMos program include the creation of longer-range, hypersonic, and air-launched versions, showcasing India’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of cruise missile technology.
Nirbhay Cruise Missile:
Nirbhay, India’s long-range subsonic Cruise Missile, is currently in the developmental and testing phase. Anticipating its air and submarine-launched versions post-trials, the missile demonstrated its capabilities successfully during a test firing in Balasore, Orissa. With the ability to travel at speeds ranging from 0.6 to 0.9 Mach, Nirbhay faced a setback on October 12, 2020, due to a technical snag, but it has previously undergone successful tests. Despite the 2020 China-India standoff, limited deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been initiated since 2020. The missile received approval for limited production in 2020, and an upgraded version is reportedly in development.
Astra Air-to-Air Missile Series:
Astra represents India’s fifth-generation beyond-visual-range active radar-homing air-to-air missile series. The current operational version boasts a range from 10 km to 110 km, comparable to the AIM-120 AMRAAM. Ongoing efforts include the development of versions with extended ranges, reaching up to 350 km, and intermediate ranges. A surface-to-air missile variant, VL-SRSAM, has been derived from Astra to replace the Indian Navy’s Barak 1 missile. When integrated with supplementary Akash missile systems, it forms a comprehensive surface-to-air missile system, drawing parallels to the American NASAM 2.
India’s missile capabilities continue to advance with the development and deployment of systems like Nirbhay and Astra, showcasing the nation’s commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities across various domains.