Procurement: India Cranks Out The Missiles

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November 15, 2007: India is building up its arsenal of about 90 Prithvi missiles, by increasing the production rate to about twenty a year. In the last year, fifteen were built, in addition to four training missiles.

Prithvi missiles are used, in slightly different versions, by the army and air force. The army version has a range of 150 kilometers (and a one ton warhead), while the air force versions can go 250 kilometers (with a half ton warhead). The army version of the missile can hit its target within five minutes of launch. The 28 foot long, four ton missile uses liquid fuel, meaning it takes up to an hour to ready for launch. Over a hundred missiles have been delivered so far, with all the recent production being the 250 kilometer version. At least three missile units (called groups) have been formed, each with 12 mobile launchers and at least two dozen missiles. The Prithvi missile carries cluster bomb and nuclear warheads. Accuracy is thought to be quite good, using software correction and GPS to achieve under fifty meter accuracy. The missile, with non-nuclear warheads, would be used against high value targets like headquarters or fuel and ammo depots. Test firing of the Prithvi are held regularly, for training and quality control purposes.

India is also ramping up production of its PJ-10 BrahMos missiles, to fifty a year. Last July, the Indian army activated its first BrahMos cruise missile battalion. The missiles are carried, three to a truck, on a vehicle which also acts as a launcher. The BrahMos battalion has four launcher vehicles, plus support vehicles and sixty missiles. The 3.2 ton missile has a range of 300 kilometers and has a 660 pound warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the BrahMos is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 3,000 feet per second) than a rifle bullet.

India and Russia developed the weapon together, and now offer the BrahMos for export. The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The BrahMos entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the BrahMos can be fired from the air, from ships or submarines. The high speed makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.

The 29 foot long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer made a deal with India to finish the job. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The BrahMos is manufactured in Russia and India, with India as biggest initial customer. China and Iran have also expressed interest in the weapon, but only Malaysia, Chile, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have been approached with a sales pitch.

 


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