NEW DELHI — India's equivalent of the United States' Tomahawk Land Attack Missile — the Nirbhay cruise missile — has received an extension of 16 months for further development, despite failing its fourth test.
"After a review of the Nirbhay program last week, defense minister gave further time till June 2018 to allowed Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) to do their best on the program," a Ministry of Defense official said.
However, analysts suspect that technical snags will hold back the Nirbhay program throughout its extension.
The fourth test of Nirbhay failed Dec. 21 "because the engine lost its thrust minutes after takeoff and the flight control system and other software failed as well," a DRDO scientist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Nirbhay faces problems "with TERCOM, or terrain contour mapping. It tends to rise up periodically while following the predetermined route. It could be that the radar altimeter and the computer are not talking on a regular basis," the scientist added.
There have been repeated component and hardware failures as well. "Stability of the flight over long range has been the main problem," according to the DRDO scientist.
The subsonic nuclear-capable cruise missile boasts a range of 1,000 kilometers and has been under development since 2004 by DRDO.
The Nirbhay was to be inducted in 2016, but testing so far has not gone as expected.
Bhupinder Yadav, a retired Indian Army major general and defense analyst, said that although development projects have "no surety of positive outcome," DRDO projects ought to be put up for review.
"In our context, most of the DRDO projects are similar exercises to reinvent the wheel over stretched timelines and resources. It is time someone questions the logic in continuation and decides to put a break to non-performing public monopolies and seek alternatives," Yadav said.
An Indian Army official, however, argues that the Nirbhay project should not be scrapped. "Turbofan technology, which still has not been mastered, needs to be refined by India and used for this missile successfully. If we could develop the cryogenic technology for Geostationary [Satellite] Launch Vehicle, then we certainly can master this turbofan technology also, given some more time," the official said.
Nirbhay is a two-stage cruise missile developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment laboratory of DRDO. It can carry nearly two dozen different warheads, per the requirements, and can be launched from multiple platforms including air, land and sea.
Another DRDO scientist, while making a case for not scrapping Nirbhay, said its the laboratory that should be changed. "Good program with wrong laboratory."
The Nirbhay can carry a nuclear payload and is designed to reach its target by flying on tree-top level, as opposed to the Indo-Russian BrahMos cruise missiles, which flies at high speed but not as low as the Nirbhay.
India has already decided to increase the range of Indo-Russian supersonic cruise missile BrahMos from 290 kilometers to 600 kilometers, which could be one of the considerations for scrapping the Nirbhay missile.
However, some consider the Nirbhay program of prime importance, especially because both China and Pakistan have already inducted such a system.
"India has ballistic and tactical missiles of different capacity, but not land-attack cruise missiles [to counter] Pakistan and China, that have such systems with range varying from 400-1,500 kilometers, respectively," Yadav said.