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EXPLAINED: The Pralay Missile And Its Quasi Ballistic Trajectory

The missile, launched from the APJ Abdul Kalam Island, met all the mission objectives, the DRDO said. (Image: Twitter)

The missile, launched from the APJ Abdul Kalam Island, met all the mission objectives, the DRDO said. (Image: Twitter)

A surface-to-surface missile, Pralay was tested on successive days and satisfied all the trial parameters

Unprecedented back-to-back tests were conducted on successive days to add more teeth to India’s missile arsenal last week with DRDO trialling two versions of Pralay, the country’s newest surface-to-surface missile. The tests met “all the mission objectives". Here’s what you need to know.

What Is The Missile?

Described by the Defence Ministry as an “indigenously developed conventional surface-to-surface missile", Pralay is powered by a solid propellant rocket motor and features many new technologies, including a state-of-the-art navigation system and integrated avionics. It has a range of 150-500 km and can be launched from a mobile launcher.

According to ministry statements, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRD)) chief Dr G Satheesh Reddy said Pralay is “a new generation surface-to-surface missile equipped with modern technologies" and proves India’s “strong design and development capabilities in defence R&D".

Why Were Two Tests Conducted?

The two test launches, on December 22 and 23, were made from the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha to assess the performance of separate configurations of the missile. The ministry said both the tests were successful. After the first of the tests, the ministry had said that “all the sensors deployed near the impact point across the eastern coast, including the down range ships, tracked the missile trajectory and captured all the events".

The second launch the day after tested Pralay for a heavier payload and different range “to prove the precision and lethality of the weapon". This launch, the ministry said, was monitored by range sensors and instruments, including telemetry, radar and electro-optic tracking systems.

The first test, which had seen the missile find its target with “high degree accuracy, validating the control, guidance and mission algorithms", involved a “quasi ballistic trajectory". According to a report in ThePrint, a quasi ballistic trajectory means the missile flew relatively lower than would a normal ballistic missile. Further, it was said that Pralay would also be manoeuvrable during flight, which would present a distinct advantage over ballistic missiles, making it hard to intercept by missile defence systems. It quoted former DRDO scientist RK Gupta as saying that Pralay is a “game-changer", giving India “two conventional missiles with long range".

“The BrahMos will be a cruise option and this one will be the ballistic option," he said. BrahMos, developed jointly by India and Russia, is a supersonic cruise missile. It has a range of between 300-500 km, says Washington DC-based think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

What’s The Difference Between Cruise, Ballistic Missiles?

Reports say that based on the launch method, there are two types of missiles: ballistic and cruise. According to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (CACNP), ballistic missiles are powered initially by a rocket or series of rocket stages “but then follow an unpowered trajectory that arches upwards before descending to reach its intended target". Cruise missiles, on the other hand, “are unmanned vehicles that are propelled by jet engines, much like an airplane".

Ballistic missiles can carry larger payloads, both nuclear or conventional. They also travel faster than cruise missiles, but unlike these missiles, they do not have the advantage of manouevrability. At launch, a ballistic missile heads straight up into the higher layers of the Earth’s atmosphere borne by a rocket before the payload, or warhead, detaches to fall towards the target. The use of gravity for reaching its target is what gives a ballistic missile its name.

Cruise missiles “remain within the atmosphere for the duration of their flight and can fly as low as a few meters off the ground". While the disadvantage of that is higher fuel use, the low trajectory also makes a cruise missile “very difficult to detect".

“Cruise missiles are self-guided and use multiple methods to accurately deliver their payload, including terrain mapping, GPS and inertial guidance", CACNP said, adding that “as advanced cruise missiles approach their target, remote operators can use a camera in the nose of the missile to see what the missile sees", enabling manual navigation of the missile.

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first published:December 26, 2021, 14:36 IST