Sagarika, the Secret New Missile

India Today assistant editor Sandeep Unnithan has written an excellent box item on the hush-hush Sagarika missile programme (part of a very readable larger piece on the Agni-3 by Managing Editor Raj Chengappa) in the April 30, 2007 issue of the magazine. Unnithan refers to comments made by DRDO chief M Natarajan after the Agni-3 launch, an interaction which I attended as well. I reproduce here excerpts of the text (the full version is sourced here) of the box item:

The Secret New Missile
Revelations indicate that India is quietly building an SLCM to complete its nuclear triad

Indias strategists have for long regarded nuclear-tipped Submarine-Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMs) essentially, it requires arming a submarine prowling undetected under the oceans, the survivable platform most suited to the nations second-strike doctrine. Recent revelations about a secret cruise missile programme, aptly titled Sagarika (Oceanic), give the first indications of the elusive third sea-based leg becoming a reality.

Hours after the Agni 3 splashed into the Indian Ocean on April 12, an elated M. Natarajan had obliquely hinted at the possibility. We have had three successful tests in the last few daysthe Dhanush (a ship-launched version of the Prithvi ballistic missile test fired on March 30), the Agni 3 and, in between, a strategic system I cannot talk about, the DRDO chief had said. That, say insiders, was the confirmation of a test of the Sagarika from a submersible pontoon launcher. Indigenously-built, with a range of nearly 1,000 km and a 500-kg warhead, the cruise missile has two variants capable of being launched from aircraft and submarines. Still under development, the vertically-launched missile is at least five years away from induction. One of the key challenges in fielding a nuclear-tipped variant of the Sagarika would be to miniaturise a nuclear warhead to fit the around 6-metre-long missile.

Cruise missiles are low-flying, intelligent, pilotless aircraft. Powered by turbo-jet engines, and guided by onboard computer and pre-fed terrain maps, like the US Tomahawk, they can hit targets with pinpoint accuracy. Such missiles can be fitted with a tactical nuclear warhead or a conventional payload. Fitted on nuclear submarines capable of traversing the globe, they become lethal force multipliers. While Sagarika is the primary armament for the long-delayed indigenous nuclear submarine, the Advanced Technology Vessel, the IAF is believed to be considering equipping a medium transport aircraft with the stand-off missile in the interim.

Cruise missiles are more difficult to detect and, hence, less vulnerable to anti-missile defences which can track and destroy ballistic missiles. Pakistans Babur cruise missile, that can carry a 500-kg warhead across 500 km, is seen as a response to Indias proposed missile shield. Strategic cruise missiles with their high survivability will add to the flexibility of Indias minimum credible deterrent, says K. Santhanam, coordinator for the Pokhran-II tests.

Yet, what is it about the Sagarika that inspires the cloak of secrecy? Senior DRDO scientists wax eloquent about the Agni 3 but maintain a studied silence about the Sagarika.

Two years ago, then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee had confirmed the programme: This is a DRDO project but we would not like to make a premature advertisement. Later, in Parliament, he denied the project even existed. One reason for the secrecy is the possible adverse impact on the Indo-US nuclear deal. The secrecy is understandable. It would be unwise to talk of fielding a new strategic capability when we are developing partnerships with the US, says Air Marshal (retired) Kapil Kak of the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Started in the early 1990s as a 350-km, short-ranged submarine-launched ballistic missile, Sagarika was initially designed as a solid-fuelled version of the Prithvi. But the idea was shelved after the navy indicated its preference for a cruise missile. Sagarika will not be the only strategic cruise missile. The Indo-Russian BrahMos Aerospace plans to field Brahmos 2 by 2010: a hypersonic cruise missile that can cover more than 1,000 km at Mach 8, or nearly eight times the speed of sound.

Copyright 2007 India Today

18 thoughts on “Sagarika, the Secret New Missile”

  1. I think the whole affair is a symptom of too much over-imagination. The poor guy from DRDO uttered something which he ought not. Linking that to Sagarika may be an investigative-journalist’s cerebral over-stretch. The DRDO guy might be just referring to any thing under the sun. Unless one can prove it, it is better to keep quiet. But that is what investigative journalists are not programmed to do. It’s their bread-n-butter!

  2. Admiral Prakash was not willing to comment on the SLCM programme, but has left us this comment: “let me point out to you that at the heart of a cruise missile is an ultra-light-weight turbo-jet engine, which can propel the missile at sub-sonic speeds for prolonged durations. Such a tiny, high performance engine would encompass many advanced materials as well as cutting edge technologies. To the best of my knowledge, very few countries possess these technologies, and we are not one of them (or we wouldn’t have faced such a long gestation period for the Kaveri engine). Pakistan, is of course well known for “borrowing” technology and hardware from its friends and then claiming to have invented it overnight! Our strengths lie elsewhere, and we must capitalize on them.” Adm Prakash (Retd)

  3. I am reminded of a piece by Prasun Sengupta in Force, April 2006 issue where he hinted at heavy Israeli participation in Sagarika. Is that where “our strengths lie”? And Shiv, btw do you happen to be co-habitating with the admiral these days? You seem to come up with a comment from him every now n then!

  4. xtrak, haha, no i’m very much in delhi, while the admiral is based out of clement town (dehradun). i sent him a long questionaire and he replied to the questions one by one because he’s so busy with his other writing and editorial commitments. about israeli participation in sagarika, i’m quite certain i have a document somewhere among my DRDO files about project nirbhay and its attendant spin-offs for the SLCM programme — much of it israeli. will put it up as soon as i find it.

  5. Xtrak – The missile in that link is the sea-launched version of Brahmos. Sagarika is a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile. Thanks

  6. Xtrak – The missile in that link given by you is the sea-launched version of Brahmos. Sagarika is a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile. Thanks

  7. Shiv Aroor said…
    Admiral Prakash was not willing to comment on the SLCM programme, but has left us this comment

    Well Shiv, thats nice, but how you link that one(SLCM) to Sagarika? He doesnt mentioned it as Sagarika ? did he ?


  8. >>The secrecy is understandable. It would be unwise to talk of fielding a new strategic capability when we are developing partnerships with the US, says Air Marshal (retired) Kapil Kak of the Centre for Strategic Studies

    I’m quite unable to grasp this logic. Is US against India developing stragetic capability ?
    Then for what the F****** did they mentioned to make India super power? Wht difference it makes with puny 1000km compared to 3500km range Agni strategic missile. Dont give me the rotten answer it is stealthy. Under the eyes of AESA nothing is stealthy, which uncle mastered.


  9. Shiv..wht happened to “Project nirbhay”. Very curious… Could you share with us, alteast some of the snippets..


  10. Shiv..lately i started to believe what you said about Sagarika is true..and i pretty much have reason to believe this…

    This is the comment from Natarajan recently, “It’s a strategic missile, so I can’t talk much about it. But yes, definitely we have done a lot of work in the propulsion system of such a missile, control and containerisation of these missiles, and I think these elemental technologies are very vital. I am sure that at an appropriate point of time the country will reveal it”

    There is enough information here to conclude with yours…

    This time you really done a good job, I should say..


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