Indian Missile Program Updates

Explained: India’s Missile Capability


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India's missile program

Mains level: Global arms race

The Defence Minister has encouraged scientists to work towards developing hypersonic missile technology after China’s successful demonstration of hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV).

Try this question:

Q. Hypersonic missiles are nothing but weapons of deterrence. Critically comment in context of arms race development for hypersonic missiles.

History of Missile Technology in India

(1) Pre-Independence

  • Before Independence, several kingdoms in India were using rockets as part of their warfare technologies.
  • Mysore ruler Hyder Ali started inducting iron-cased rockets in his army in the mid-18th century.
  • By the time Hyder’s son Tipu Sultan died, a company of rocketeers was attached to each brigade of his army, which has been estimated at around 5,000 rocket-carrying troops.

(2) Post-Independence

  • At the time of Independence, India did not have any indigenous missile capabilities.
  • The government created the Special Weapon Development Team in 1958.
  • This was later expanded and called the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), which moved from Delhi to Hyderabad by 1962.
  • In 1972, Project Devil, for the development of a medium-range Surface-to-Surface Missile was initiated.
  • By 1982, DRDL was working on several missile technologies under the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP).

What kind of missiles does India have?

  • India is considered among the top few nations when it comes to designing and developing missiles indigenously.
  • However, it is way behind the US, China and Russia in terms of range.
  • DRDO is working on multiple varieties of missiles:

[A] Surface-launched Systems


  • Nag has already been inducted into the services. Nag is the only fire-and-forget ATGM meeting all weather requirements for its range (around 20 km).
  • Recently Heli-Nag was tested, which will be operated from helicopters and will be inducted by 2022.
  • There is also a Stand-off Anti-Tank (SANT) missile, with a range over 10 km.


  • Short-range SAM system: Akash has already been inducted in the Army and the Air Force.
  • For Akash 1, which has a seeker, the Army has already got the Acceptance of Necessity from the government.
  • For Akash (New Generation), the first tests were conducted in July this year and a couple more trials are to be done.
  • Medium-Range SAM: Production of MRSAM systems for the Navy is complete, and it is placing its order.

[B] Air-launched Systems


  • Astra, India’s Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), has been completely tested and is under induction.
  • It has a range of around 100 km, and DRDO is trying to now induct it with more IAF platforms, including the domestically developed light combat aircraft Tejas.
  • A long-range Astra is also being developed, for which initial tests have been conducted.
  • The missile uses solid fuel ramjet technology, which enhances speed, and will have an indigenously-built seeker.


  • Rudram, a New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile (NGRAM), has cleared initial tests and some more tests will be conducted soon.
  • With a maximum range of around 200 km, the missile mainly targets communication, radar and surveillance systems of the adversary, and was tested from the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet last year.
  • BrahMos, which India developed jointly with Russia, is already operational.
  • It has a 300 km to 500 km range, and is a short-range, ramjet-powered, single warhead, supersonic anti-ship or land attack cruise missile.

India’s crucial missile systems

The two most important are Agni and Prithvi, both being used by the Strategic Forces Command.

  • Agni (range around 5,000) is India’s only contender for an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is available in only a few countries.
  • Prithvi, although a short-range surface-to-surface missile with a 350 km range, has strategic uses. India also tested an anti-satellite system in April 2019.
  • A modified anti-ballistic missile named Prithvi Defence Vehicle Mk 2 was used to hit a low-orbit satellite.
  • It put India only behind the US, Russia and China in this capability.

What about Hypersonic Technology?

  • India has been working on this for a few years, and is just behind the US, Russia and China.
  • DRDO successfully tested a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrated Vehicle (HSTDV) in September 2020, and demonstrated its hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology.
  • India has developed its own cryogenic engine and demonstrated it in a 23-second flight.
  • India will try to make a hypersonic cruise missile, using HSTDV.
  • Only Russia has proven its hypersonic missile capability so far, while China has demonstrated its HGV capacity.
  • India is expected to be able to have a hypersonic weapons system within four years, with medium- to long-range capabilities.

What makes India good in missile technology?

  • Missile technology is one field in which India has made very positive and substantial progress.
  • Under the IGMP then headed by A P J Abdul Kalam, later India’s President, first came Prithvi, then Agni.
  • BrahMos, at 2.5-3 times the speed of sound, was among the fastest in the world when developed.
  • After the nuclear blast in 1998, cryogenic etc were not given to us by developed countries. Kalam and others, they made it a point that they developed it within the country.

Where do China and Pakistan stand compared to India?

  • While China is ahead of India, a lot of things about China are psychological.
  • China may have either achieved parity or even exceeded the US in land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.
  • China’s missile development is definitely a concern for us, but we will definitely evolve.
  • It has given the technology to the irresponsible hands of Pakistan. But getting technology and really using it, and thereafter evolving and adopting a policy is totally different.

Must read:

Agni V vs China’s Hypersonic Missile


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