[UPDATE on NOV 7, 12.20PM] India’s Nirbhay cruise missile was successfully tested this morning at 11.20am from India’s east coast. We’ll have a fresh post up with more details about the test.
Here’s the rest of our post from yesterday, before the test took place:
It is without question India’s most significant current land-based weapon development effort, a status that belies the precious little that is actually known about the Nirbhay cruise missile. Four years since it first flew, the programme has been beset with problems. While these were expected, given the Nirbhay is India’s first effort to fully develop the country’s first cruise missile, more than just the reputation of its makers rides on whether the weapon system can scale its current afflictions and prove itself worthy of strategic service. Starting Tuesday morning, a three-day window opens for the Nirbhay’s crucial fifth test flight from India’s east coast.
As with earlier tests, an Indian Air Force Jaguar jet will stalk and film the Nirbhay during its cruise phase over the sea.
In its last test flight eleven months ago, the Nirbhay veered dangerously off its course approximately 50 seconds into flight, forcing the launch team to flip a switch and destroy the missile over the Bay of Bengal. It was a punch in the gut to a team that had been upbeat about defeating a dogged electro-mechanical problem that had waylaid an earlier attempt.
The bad news then was that the December 2016 test was the third of four tests to end with the missile either destroyed mid-flight or failing to meet test requirements. The good news now, as the Nirbhay gets set to fly again off the coast of Odisha at India’s Integrated Test Range, is that the problems weren’t apparently major. That, at any rate, is the hope. Central to the devilry that rolled the missile dangerously off its course was a software glitch that seized the carefully calibrated actuation systems, cramping the weapon’s inertial navigation system.
The new launch window, the morning hours over three days between November 7-9, afford the Nirbhay a chance at redemption after two consecutive failures. The missile was first tested in March 2013, a test that failed owing to a component failure, throwing up quality control issues at the prototyping phase. The second test in October the following year saw the 1,000 km range subsonic cruise missile complete its mission without a glitch.
A year later, the third test ended in failure too after the missile inexplicably dived out of its path. The December 2016 test was a punch in the gut, especially since the team had been certain it had fixed issues noticed in the previous test. The missile test this week is therefore crucial — a hat-trick of test scrubs will raise serious questions on a project that counts itself in an otherwise highly successful legacy of home-grown missiles, even if the Nirbhay is a significantly more complex system with technologies that India hasn’t mastered as part of its ballistic missile programme.
This week’s test is significant also because the Nirbhay will for the first time fly with a turbojet engine, instead of the Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan that has powered its four earlier launches. As Livefist reported earlier this year, the 36MT’s intended replacement, the homegrown Manik turbofan, could power the Nirbhay in a test as early as next year.
In a text message to your correspondent, a member of the Nirbhay team in Chandipur, Odisha said, “We’re confident that we’ve been able to identify and resolve the electro-mechanical, software and some issues with the actuators. While partial successes in the past are important going forward, I can say that we are all feeling the positive pressure to prove this system. We know the country needs it.”