India’s Missile Systems

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Context: Recently, an updated version of the Pinaka Missile System, named Pinaka Mark-II rocket was successfully flight-tested from the Integrated Test Range, Chandipur, Odisha.

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance
Mains: GS III-

  • Indigenization of technology
  • Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security.
  • Challenges to internal security through communication networks, the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cybersecurity; money-laundering and its prevention.
  • Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.


We frequently notice news related to ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and various missile systems of India. Memorizing names and salient features of various Indian missiles is hard without having a broader understanding of the concept of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, and major missile defense systems. It is better to give these concepts a holistic structure rather than learning them in bits and pieces.


  • The use of missiles in India began in the Ancient period, where the missile was called ASTRA.
  • The scriptures and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata have mentioned the missiles which are controlled by mantras, which can be related to modern-day missile’s mission control software.
  • The world’s first rocket was used by Tipu Sultan in the Anglo-Mysore war against the British in 18th century AD.
  • The missiles/rockets used by Tipu Sultan were made of Bamboo or steel spears, cast iron chamber as propellant and gunpowder as the warhead.
  • During British rule, the missile development technology was left behind due to various factors like colonialism, lack of resources, lack of research capabilities, etc.,


Based on Type: Ballistic Missile vs. Cruise Missile

Ballistic Missile:

  • A ballistic missile follows a ballistic trajectory to deliver one or more warheads on a predetermined target.
  • A ballistic trajectory is the path of an object that is launched but has no active propulsion during its actual flight (these weapons are guided only during relatively brief periods of flight).
  • Consequently, the trajectory is fully determined by a given initial velocity, effects of gravity, air resistance, and motion of the earth (Coriolis Force).
  • Shorter range ballistic missiles stay within the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Longer-ranged intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are launched on a sub-orbital flight trajectory and spend most of their flight out of the atmosphere.


  • Types of ballistic missiles based on the range:
    • Short-range (tactical) ballistic missile (SRBM):
      • The range between 300 km and 1,000 km.
    • Medium-range (theatre) ballistic missile (MRBM):
      • 1,000 km to 3,500 km.
    • Intermediate-range (Long-Range) ballistic missile (IRBM or LRBM):
      • 3,500 km and 5,500 km.
    • Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM):
      • 5,500 km +

Cruise missile:

  • A cruise missile is a guided missile (target has to be pre-set) used against terrestrial targets.
  • It remains in the atmosphere throughout its flight.
  • It flies the major portion of its flight path at an approximately constant speed.
  • Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high precision.
  • Modern cruise missiles are capable of traveling at supersonic or high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and are able to fly on a non-ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.
  • Types of cruise missiles based on speed:
    • Hypersonic (Mach 5):
      • These missiles would travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5). E.g. BrahMos-II.
    • Supersonic (Mach 2-3):
      • These missiles travel faster than the speed of sound. E.g. BrahMos.
    • Subsonic (Mach 0.8):
      • These missiles travel slower than the speed of sound. E.g. Nirbhay.
Mach number- It is the ratio of the speed of a body to the speed of sound in the surrounding medium.


Ballistic Missile Cruise Missile
It is propelled only for a brief duration after the launch. Self-propelled till the end of its flight.
Similar to a rocket engine. Similar to a jet engine.
Long-range missiles leave the earth’s atmosphere and reenter it. The flight path is within the earth’s atmosphere.
Low precision as it is unguided for most of its path and its trajectory depends on gravity, air resistance, and Coriolis Force. Hits targets with high precision as it is constantly propelled.
It can have a very long-range (300 km to 12,000 km) as there is no fuel requirement after its initial trajectory. The range is small (below 500 km) as it needs to be constantly propelled to hit the target with high precision.
The heavy payload carrying capacity. Payload capacity is limited.
Can carry multiple payloads (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle) Usually carries a single payload.
Developed primarily to carry nuclear warheads.

Developed primarily to carry conventional warheads.


Based on Launch Mode:

  • Surface to Surface
  • Surface to Air
  • Air to Air
  • Air to Surface
  • Surface to Sea
  • Anti-tank missiles

Based on Range:

  • Short-range missiles
  • Medium range missiles
  • Intermediate-range missiles
  • Inter-Continental ballistic missiles

Based on Propulsion:

  • Solid propulsion
  • Liquid propulsion
  • Hybrid propulsion
  • Ramjet
  • Scramjet
  • Cryogenic

Based on warhead:

  • Conventional
  • Strategic (Nuclear)
  • Based on the Guidance System
  • Wire guidance
  • Command Guidance
  • Inertial Guidance
  • Terrestrial Guidance
  • Laser Guidance
  • RF and GPS guidance

Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP):

  • IGMDP was conceived by Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam to enable India to attain self-sufficiency in missile technology.
  • IGMDP was conceived in response to the Missile Technology Control Regime that decided to restrict access to any technology that would help India in its missile development program.
  • To counter the MTCR, the IGMDP team formed a consortium of DRDO laboratories, industries, and academic institutions to build these sub-systems, components, and materials.
  • IGMDP was started in 1983 and completed in March 2012.
  • Keeping in mind the requirements of various types of missiles by the defense forces, the development of five missile systems was taken up.
    • Prithvi:
      • Short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile (Prithivi means Earth Surface to Surface)
    • Agni:
      • Intermediate-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile
    • Trishul:
      • Short-range low-level surface-to-air missile
    • Akash:
      • Medium-range surface-to-air missile (Akash means Sky Surface to Air)
    • Nag:
      • Third-generation anti-tank missile (Nag means Snake Nag slithers like a Snake to hit a tank!)
  • After its success, the Agni missile program was separated from the IGMDP upon realizing its strategic importance.

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)

  • MTCR an informal grouping established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to limit the proliferation of missiles and missile technology.
  • The MTCR seeks to limit the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
  • MTCR places particular focus on rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km.
  • The MTCR is not a treaty and does not impose any legally binding obligations.
  • India became its member in June 2016. India has been allowed to have its ballistic missiles able to deliver 500kgs payload with a range of 300kms.

Ballistic Missiles India:

Agni Missiles:

  • Ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads
  • Classified into three types viz. Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)
  • Agni-I, Agni-II, and Agni-III missiles were developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program
  • Agni IV + Agni V – high accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS) and the most modern and accurate Micro Navigation System (MINS)
Name Type Range (Km) Status Type
Agni I MRBM 700-1200 Deployed Surface to surface
Agni II IRBM 2000-2500 Deployed Surface to surface
Agni III IRBM 3000-5000 Deployed Surface to surface
Agni IV IRBM 2500-3700 Deployed Surface to surface
Agni V IRBM 5000-8000 Tested Surface to surface
Agni VI IRBM 10000-12000 Under Development Surface to surface


Prithvi Missiles:

  • Surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM)
  • Dhanush is the naval variant of Prithvi Missiles – Sea to Surface
  • Prithvi-II – 1st missile developed by DRDO under IGMDP.


Range (Km)
Prithvi I 150

Prithvi II


Prithvi III



  • A solid-fuelled Surface-to-surface Missile with a range of 150 km
  • Equipped with omnidirectional warheads and could be used for striking both tactical and strategic targets

India Sea-Based Nuclear-Armed Ballistic Missiles: Surface to Surface:

Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM):

Name Range (Km)
Dhanush 350
Sagarika  700
K4 3500
K5 600

Surface to Air Missiles of India:

Name  Feature  Range
Akash  surface-to-air  30 km
Trishul  surface-to-air  12 km
Maitri  surface-to-air  15 km

Akash Air Defence missile system :

  • Medium range Surface to air missile viz. approx. 35 km
  • Can employ multiple air targets while operating in fully autonomous mode
  • Can be launched from static or mobile platforms
  • Can carry conventional and nuclear warheads
  • It can operate in all weather conditions.
  • Developed under the integrated guided-missile development program by ISRO

LRSAM – India-Israel joint venture missile:

  • Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM) – called Barak 8 missile in Israel
  • Can take down an incoming missile as close as 500 meters away from the ship

Anti Tank Missile India:

Nag Missile:

  • “Fire-and-forget” anti-tank missile
  • An all-weather missile with a range of 3 to 7 km
  • Uses Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) guidance with day and night capability
  • Can be mounted on an infantry vehicle

NAG Missile Helina:

  • A variant of NAG Missile to be launched from Helicopter is being developed under the Project named HELINA (HELIcopter launched NAg)

Cruise Missiles India

Brahmos Missiles

  • Can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land (Cruise Missiles)
  • Presently the world’s fastest cruise missile in operation (Brahmos)
    • Brahmos – Mach 2.8 Supersonic Cruise Missile developed in collaboration with Russia – 300 km
    • Brahmos 11- Mach 7 Hypersonic Cruise Missile in development collaboration with Russia.
  • BRAHMOS is a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organisation of India (DRDO) and the NPOM of Russia.
  • Brahmos is named on the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva.
  • It is a two-stage (solid propellant engine in the first stage and liquid ramjet in second) air to surface missile with a flight range of around 300 km.


  • 1st long-range subsonic cruise missile
  • Can be launched from land, sea, and air(Cruise missile)
  • Aring laser gyroscope for high-accuracy navigation and a radio altimeter for the height determination
  • Strike range – 1000 km
  • From Integrated Test Range at Wheeler Island, Chandipur, Orissa, by SFC monitored by DRDO



Dr. Abdul Kalam Island :

Formerly known as Wheeler Island, is an island off the coast of Odisha, India, approximately 150 kilometers (93 mi) east of the state capital Bhubaneshwar. The Integrated Test Range missile testing facility is located on the island. The island was originally named after English commandant Lieutenant Hugh Wheeler. On 4 September 2015, the island was renamed to honor the late Indian president, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.


Air to Air Missile India:

  • Astra Missile – India’s 1st Air to Air (BVR)
  • Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile; smallest DRDO developed missile (3.8m)
  • capable of engaging targets at varying range and altitudes allowing for engagement of both short-range targets (up to 20 km) and long-range targets (up to 80 km) using alternative propulsion modes

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle:


  • The wheeled version of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Nishant capable of taking-off and landing using small airstrips
  • Have all the surveillance capabilities of UAV Nishant + longer endurance as it does not have to carry the airbags and parachute system as in the case of UAV Nishant.

Nishant UAV:

  • A multi-mission UAV with Day/Night operational capability, inducted in Army
  • Designed for battlefield surveillance, target tracking & localization, and artillery fire correction
  • Controlled from a user-friendly Ground Control Station + image processing system to analyze transmitted images from UAV

Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT):

  • In March 2019, India successfully tested its ASAT missile.
  • The ASAT missile destroyed a live satellite in Low Earth orbit (283-kilometre).
  • As per DRDO, the missile is capable of shooting down targets moving at a speed of 10 km per second at an altitude as high as 1200 km.

Pinaka Missile System:

  • Pinaka is an indigenous multi-barrel rocket launch system, which has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the Indian Army.
  • Its weapon system has a state-of-the-art guidance kit bolstered by an advanced navigation and control system.
  • The Pinaka Mark-II Rocket is modified as a missile by integrating with the navigation, control and guidance system to improve the accuracy and enhance the range.
  • The navigation system of the missile is aided by the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).
  • It is an artillery missile system capable of striking into enemy territory up to a range of 75 kilometers with high precision.
  • The initial version of the weapon system was called Mark I, which had a range of 40 km. The upgraded version of Pinaka Mark II has an extended range of 70 to 80 km.