BHUBANESWAR, India --- India’s first home-grown subsonic cruise missile, Nirbhay, failed ‘miserably’ during a trial on Wednesday with the weapon system deviating from the pre-designated trajectory, forcing the development team to abort the mission mid-air.
Indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), this long-range nuclear-capable missile was test-fired from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) off the Odisha coast at about 11.46 am.
The missile, which is compared with America’s Tomahawk missile, blasted off from a mobile launcher specifically designed for Nirbhay by the Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (VRDE). It was the fourth trial of the weapon system since 2013.
A reliable source said the weapon system developed snags in its flight control software and veered off the intended trajectory. The destruction command was given in less than four minutes post launch, and the missile plunged down into the sea.
“The engine lost its thrust a couple of minutes after takeoff. The flight control hardware and software failed to actuate the control surfaces,” the source said.
As per the programme, the missile was to fly nearly for one hour and cover the full strike range of 1,000 km. A Su-30MKI aircraft was deployed to track the missile.
Prior to the test, The New Indian Express had raised doubts on the outcome of the test and reported that the missile was pushed [to] trial even as the problems in the flight control and navigation software were not sorted out properly.
Last year, the missile performed in a similar manner and the mission was aborted mid-air after 700 seconds, following which an inquiry committee led by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) Director Shyam Chetty was set up to probe the fiasco.
“The committee had recommended to go for further trials after fixing the snags. But it seems the recommendation was not adhered to. The Nirbhay team was not ready for the fourth trial because some sub-systems and software were not foolproof. The test was, in fact, conducted in a hurry even as all software designers had advised not to go for it,” the source informed.
The missile has undergone four tests in the past four years, but it is yet to perform as expected. During the first test on March 12, 2013, the missile had swerved from its path, prompting defence authorities to destroy it mid-air. The Second test on October 17, 2014 was however claimed to be a success by DRDO though the missile could not maintain low altitude as intended.
The recurring failure has put top DRDO scientists, who were pushing for the test despite shortcomings in the system, in a tight spot. ITR authorities were tightlipped, and Director General of DRDO Selvin Christopher, who witnessed the launch, did not respond queries from Express.
The two-stage missile has a length of six metres, diameter of 0.52 m, wing span 2.7 m and a launch weight of about 1,500 kg. While the Bengaluru-based Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) has designed the missile, its solid rocket motor booster has been developed by Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL).