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September 7, 2013

Tactical gap- Prithvi


Indian Army yet to find a role for surface-to-surface missile, Prithvi
It stands 8.5 m tall. Its 1,000-kg warhead packs a formidable punch. And it can hit targets at a distance of 150 km with uncanny accuracy. It is the Indian Army's latest gizmo. And yet, like truculent children, the generals are unhappy with Prithvi, the home-made, single-stage, liquid-fuelled battlefield support surface-to-surface missile (SSM), developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
While the Jalandhar-based 60 Heavy Artillery regiment is gearing up to induct the new weapon system and master the launch sequence, the fact is the army had not even asked for Prithvi. Indeed, the top brass is still debating the deployment and operational role of the Scud-like missile.
"They have given us a glove that doesn't fit our hand," says a former general who inducted the nuclear-capable SSM into the army. DRDO, however, touts the missile- designated the SS-150 with a variable 40 km-150 km range and costing Rs.1.50 crore-as an ideal weapon to "take out" large enemy troop concentrations, devastate air bases, hit ammunition dumps, and headquarters well behind the border, DRDO officials claim that with a choice of three types of warheads-a monolith high-explosive, pre-fragmented and sub-munition cluster-Prithvi is versatile enough to strike all these. And, with a lighter warhead, of about 500 kg, its range can increase to 250 km. This version, designated SS-250, was test-fired on August 18.
In fact, during the Iran-Iraq war, even when they were not tipped with mustard gas, Scuds-a primitive version of Prithvi-were regarded as weapons of terror, especially by the civilians trapped in cities. Such missiles have also shown their effectiveness in military encounters, particularly in the Afghan imbroglio.
While India may not target Pakistani cities, Prithvi, even with a conventional warhead, could become a terror weapon. With a great element of surprise, and hardly any counter to it, the independent SSM battery could be used with devastating effect during war. It could augment artillery as well as air strikes. Or it could be used independently to disrupt the enemy war machine.
In fact, according to defence analysts, many of Pakistan's strategic military targets are vulnerable to the Prithvi SS-150. These include the crucial Kamra and Chaklala air bases, the Lahore airfield, the command head quarters at Bahawalpur and the Suk-kur Barrage. In addition, the radar station at Badin can be rendered inoperative, giving Indian forces a dramatic edge in any future conflict (see map). But despite nine test launches-with just one failure-the successful deployment of Prithvi by next year appears to be a remote possibility. It has yet to undergo user trials.
However, even if it were deployed as scheduled, the army would not be able to use it effectively. Mainly because the means of getting real-time information about targets 100 to 150 km behind enemy territory are still limited. For instance, the country has no exclusive military satellites which can be used to spy on troop movements, nor a remotely-piloted vehicle (RPY), which could fly behind enemy lines and relay television pictures of troops build up. Only the air force, with its six MiG 2 5 Rs.and few other' spotter' aircraft, is capable of conducting deep aerial reconnaissance missions. Hence, optimally to employ the Prithvi battery, there would have to be a targeting collaboration between the army and the air force.
The army is also uncomfortable with the liquid propulsion of Prithvi. Unlike a solid-propellant engine which is ready to fire and can be stored indefinitely, liquid propellant has to be filled up close to the time of the launch. The army is also wary of handling the highly toxic liquid propellant so close to the border during wartime. Many officers have wondered why DRDO did not go in for a solid-propellant engine. "We were looking for a thrust vector control and are using liquid engines, at least until our solid thrust vector control is ready," says former DRDO chief, Dr V.S. Arunachalam. In fact, according to DRDO officials, a solid fuel version of Prithvi is also on the anvil.
Moreover, after the controversial exit of the high-profile Dr V.S. Arunachalam and the elevation of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as DRDO head, the army is worried that the missile programme could retard, leaving the service with an under-developed weapon. And with the US extending the Missile Technology Control Regime to cover Prithvi in June this year, Bharat Dynamics Limited, which is slated to manufacture the SSM, may fail to churn out the required numbers due to the restrictions on some critical components.
Experts estimate that to make Prithvi viable, the army should maintain a stockpile of at least 300 missiles, to cater for war wastage reserves and to sustain at least a 15-day operation. Prithvi also pinches the army's already squeezed budget. According to one estimate, the cost of raising the specialised equipment to support one battery-including the quartet of Tatra 8x8 tractor, erector, launcher (TEL) vehicles, the liquid propellant refill vehicles, the high pressure vehicle, the missile reload vehicles and an assortment of computer-based command and control systems-alone would cost Rs.10 crore. The missiles would cost another Rs.400 crore.
But even at that cost, it is cheaper and, perhaps, more effective than a squadron of modern deep-penetration bombers. Says Major Shankar Bhaduri of the Indian Defence Review: "The cost is not important. As a piece of technology, you have to give it full marks. It is now the army's job to fit it in its arsenal and have a clear concept of how to use this weapon system." And that is one challenge that the men in uniform are still to rise up to.

India Today


1 comment:

  1. Hasn't the MIG 25 been retired from the IAF, since 2006.

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