India’s Missiles Development Program

anil chopra, airpower asia, India, Missile Program

India today has developed, tested, operationalized and is developing a number of missile systems that are limited to only a handful of countries including ICBMs, ASATs, SLBMs and hypersonic weapon systems. Threats posed by enemy missile systems led to the pursuit of Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Programme. India produces most of defined MTCR defined missile technologies required to be integrated to produce most missile systems.

The use of rockets in India, for warfare, dates back to the 18th century. Mysorean rockets were the first iron-cased rockets that were successfully deployed for military use, reverse-engineered by British and introduced in the Europe as Congreve rocket. After British colonisation of India, scientific R&D in Indian dynasties was restricted and military science in India lagged. Research in missile technology resumed again after India’s independence along with weapons of mass destruction and followed with various missile programs in 70s with development of various ballistic, cruise, surface to air, anti- ballistic missile and orbital launch systems. India conducted its first nuclear test and initiated with Project Devil as an attempt to reverse engineer Soviet surface to air missile SA-2 Guideline and Project Valiant to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. However, it could not succeed and experience gained led to development of Prithvi series of short range ballistic-missiles. In early 80s, India conducted its first successful orbital launch and synchronized its research institutions under Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) and successfully developed a series of strategic missile systems.

SA-2 Guideline SAM. Image Source: Pinterest

Institution and Research Development

In 1958, the government of India constituted a team of Indian scientists – called the Special Weapons Development Team – to research guided missile weapons development. Initially, the scientists of the Special Weapons Development Team worked from MetCalfe House (New Delhi), but the establishment later shifted to Hyderabad after the state government granted them the former Nizam’s army barracks. This was the genesis of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) under Defence Research and development Organisation (DRDO), solely formed for missile technology research and development. Its first anti-tank missile was a totally indigenous product, which was successfully test-fired. The project laid the foundation of India’s missile program and many from this group went on to set up the Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Hyderabad in the proximity of the ordnance factory, which became the production agency of missiles in India. (In the 1970s, SS-11B anti-tank missiles were manufactured under license from France at the BDL).

India decided to update itself on missile technology by reverse engineering a surface-to-air missile. This project was code-named Project Devil and it worked, from 1970 to 1979, on reverse engineering the Russian SAM-2 (which Russia supplied to India). A parallel program called Project Valiant was also initiated to build a rocket engine powered by liquid propellants. V. K. Saraswat was part of the team that built the engine between 1971- 1974. Other scientists at DRDO simultaneously focused on building a missile guidance package. A platform-based inertial navigation system (INS) was developed and tested, on board an Avro aircraft, in 1974 -75. Subsequently, an INS was built for both missiles and an aircraft, and this was tested in 1979 on board a Canberra aircraft.

India’s Space launch Vehicles. Image Source:

By the start of 1980’s, DRDL had developed competencies in the fields of propulsion, navigation and manufacture of materials. This led to the birth of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program IIGMDP) and Dr. Abdul Kalam, who had previously been the project director for the SLV-3 programme at ISRO, was inducted as the DRDL Director in 1983 to conceive and lead it. He decided that DRDL would pursue multiple projects in this area simultaneously. Thus, four projects were born under the IGMDP:

  • Short range surface-to-surface missile (code-named Prithvi)
  • Short range low-level surface-to-air missile (code-named Trishul)
  • Medium range surface-to-air missile (code-named Akash) and
  • Third-generation anti-tank missile (code-named Nag).

The Agni missile was initially conceived in the IGMDP as a technology demonstrator project in the form of a re-entry vehicle, and was later upgraded to a ballistic missile with different ranges. As part of this program, the Interim Test Range at Balasore in Orissa was also developed for missile testing.

Technological Hurdles

After India test-fired the first Prithvi missile in 1988, and the Agni missile in 1989, the Missile Technology Control Regime (then an informal grouping established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) decided to restrict access to any technology that would help India in its missile development program. Some of the major technology which was denied, included, phase shifters for the phased array radars for Akash (denied by the USA). Magnesium alloy used in Prithvi’s wings (denied by Germany), servo-valves needed for the electro-hydraulic control systems of Agni and Prithvi, gyroscopes and accelerometers (denied by France), processors – Intel said it would not give India chips for the computers used in Prithvi and Agni. 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. Though this slowed down the progress of the program, India successfully developed indigenously all the restricted components denied to it by the MTCR. In 2011, the DRDO Chief V K Saraswat had stated that “indigenous content” in India’s strategic missiles had gone up to such a level, with ring-laser gyros, composite rocket motors, micro-navigation systems etc., that “no technology control regime” could derail them any longer.


The IGMDP was an Indian Ministry of Defence program for the research and development of a comprehensive range of missiles. The program was managed by the DRDO and Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) in partnership with other Indian government research organisations. The project started in early 1980s and ended in 2008 after these strategic missiles were successfully developed. The last major missile developed under the program was the Agni 3 intermediate-range ballistic missile which was successfully tested on 9 July 2007. On 8 January 2008, the DRDO formally announced the successful completion of the IGMDP. 


Prithvi Missiles. Image Source:

Prithvi SSM Series

Prithvi Missiles are tactical surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM)

Prithvi-I (SS-150)SRBMOne150 km1000 kgArmy
Prithvi-II (SS-250)SRBMTwo250 km – 350 km500 kg – 1000 kgAir Force, Army
Prithvi-III (SS-350)SRBMTwo350 km – 600 km250 kg – 500 kgArmy, Air Force, Navy
Agni Missiles. Image Source:

Agni Series

The Agni missile series started as a “Re-Entry Vehicle” project (later rechristened as Agni Technology Demonstrator) in the IGMDP. The missiles in this series include:

Agni-IMRBMOne700 km – 1,200 km
Agni-IIIRBMTwo2,000 km – 2,500 km
Agni-IIIIRBMTwo3,000 km – 5,000 km
Agni-IVIRBMTwo2,500 km – 3,700 km
Agni-VICBMThree5,000 km – 8,000 km
Agni-VIICBMThree10,000 km – 12,000 km

The Agni-I, Agni-II and Agni-III missiles were developed under the IGMDP DRDO formally announced the successful completion of the IGMDP after the third test of Agni-III on 7 May 2008.

Agni-IV was tested on 15 November 2011 and has a range of 3,000 km (1,900 mi), and can carry a warhead of 1 tonnes. It is a two-stage missile powered by solid propellant. It is 20 metres (66 feet) tall and has a launch weight of 17 tonnes. A new missile Agni-V with 5,000 km (3,100 mi) range and MIRV is being developed and was tested on 26 December 2016. Agni-V shares the similar design as Agni-III with an extra stage added to further increase the range by 1,500 km (930 mi). Agni-V will be road mobile and it has been stated that all Indian missiles developed after this will be road mobile as well. Agni-VI is an Intercontinental ballistic missile under development. Reportedly, it will be capable of being launched from submarines or from land and to strike a target of over 10,000 km (6,200 mi) with MIRV warheads. 

K-Series. Image Source:

K Series

The K family of missiles, named after Indian scientist and late President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is a family of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) developed by India to boost its second strike capabilities and thus augment its nuclear deterrence. Information about this family of missiles has mostly been kept classified. It is reported that “K” missiles are faster, lighter and stealthier than their Agni missile counterparts.

TYPERANGEWeight WarheadlengthStatus
K-15750 km10 tonnes 1 tonne10 mK-15/B-05 in series production. Land-based missile awaiting clearance.
K-43,500–5,000 km17 tonnes 1 to 2.5 tonnes10 mAs of January 2011, at least six more tests to be performed before induction in 2017.
K-56,000 kmUnspecified 1 tonneUnspecifiedUnder Development by DRDO


The Shaurya missile is a short-medium range hypersonic surface-to-surface hybrid ballistic-cruise missile developed for use by the Indian Army. Capable of hypersonic speeds, it has a range of 700–1900 km and is capable of carrying a payload of 200 kg to 1-tonne conventional or nuclear warhead.

Prahaar short-range tactical ballistic missile. Image Source:


Prahaar is a solid-fuelled Surface-to-surface guided short-range tactical ballistic missile (150 km) that would be equipped with omni-directional warheads and could be used for hitting both tactical and strategic targets. Pragati is the export version of Prahaar unveiled for the first time by DRDO at ADEX 2013 in Seoul, South Korea. Pragati has a higher range of 170 km and shares 95 percent of Prahaar’s hardware components. Another variant Pranash will have a range of 200 km. The developmental trials begin from 2021. It will be a non-nuclear powered by single-stage solid propellant which will be offered for user trials within two years’ time. India is looking for exporting the missile to friendly nations as it will come outside the purview of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which restricts range above 300 km to be exported. Pralay is a solid-fuel surface-to-surface guided short-range ballistic missile. This missile is based on the Prithvi Defence Vehicle.


Long Range Sub-Sonic Cruise Missile is under development and testing. It has been successfully test fired a few times at Balasore range in Orissa. Able to travel at speed of 0.6-0.88 Mach, it could carry a tactical nuclear weapon.

Nirbhay Long Range Sub-Sonic Cruise Missile. Image Source:


Trishul SAM

Trishul was a short range surface to air missile (SAM). The range of the missile is 12 km and is fitted with a 15 kg warhead. The weight of the missile is 130 kg. It has since retired.

Akash Missile System

Akash is a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile defence system developed by the DRDO, OFB and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). The Akash Mk I missile system can target aircraft up to 30 km away, at altitudes up to 18,000 m. Akash Mk II has a range of 35 km and altitude of 20 km. Akash NG will have a range of 50 km and altitude 20 km.

Akash Missile System. Image Source: Wikipedia

Maitri Missile 

The Maitri missile project is a next-generation quick-reaction surface-to-air missile (QRSAM) with a lethal near-hundred per cent kill probability (according to manufacturer’s claim) under development by DRDO. It is a short-range (25–30 km) surface-to-air defence missile system. The dormant project was reportedly revived specially by the request of Indian Navy for a point air defence system after stating that Akash missile defence system is not suitable for Indian warships defence. The DRDO with MBDA is planning to develop 9 short-range surface-to-air missile system (SRSAM) with 40 missiles each for Indian Navy.

Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM)

QRSAM is a missile developed by the DRDO in association with BEL and BDL for Indian Army. The missile can be mounted on a truck and is stored in a canister. QRSAM uses solid-fuel propellant and has a range of 25–30 km. The first test firing of the missile took place on 4 June 2017. The seventh-test took place on 23 December 2019 from Integrated Test Range (ITR), which included two firings of the missile. With this test, the development of the missile was declared complete. Induction is awaited.

Barak 8 LR SAM. Image Source:

Barak 8 

Barak 8, also known as LR-SAM or as MR-SAM is an Indo-Israeli SAM, designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UAVs as well as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and combat jets. Both maritime and land-based variants of the system exist. Barak 8 was jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), India’s DRDO, Israel’s Elta Systems, Rafael and other companies. BDL produces the missiles. MRSAM is the land based configuration of the missile, and has a mobile launcher systems. Each launcher will have eight such missiles in two stacks and are launched in a canister configuration. The Indian Army ordered five regiments of this version, and is expected to be deployed by 2023 with first deliveries commencing in 2020. LRSAM (Barak-8ER) is anextended range variant of the Barak 8 under development, which will see the missiles maximum range increased to 150 km. The missile is expected to equip the Indian Navy’s future Visakhapatnam-class destroyers. Barak 8 was first successfully test fired at an electronic target in 2010. On 25 December 2016, Azerbaijan successfully tested the missile. On 16 May 2017, the Indian Navy successfully test fired the missile from INS Kochi. On 25 January 2019, the Indian Navy test fired the missile from INS Chennai against an incoming aerial target flying at a low altitude. The Israeli Navy has commenced equipping its Sa’ar 5 corvettes with the system, the first re-fitted vessel being the INS Lahav. The Indian Navy has already deployed the missiles on Kolkata class stealth guided-missile destroyers.

Prithvi Air Defence (PAD)

The Prithvi Air Defence missile has been named as Pradyumna Ballistic Missile Interceptor. It has a maximum interception altitude of 80 km and is capable of engaging the 300 to 2,000 km class of ballistic missiles at a speed of Mach 5. DRDO is currently working on a missile for intercepting targets of 5,000+ km range and engaging them at altitudes of up to 150 km. The tests are expected to commence from 2010–11.

Advanced Air Defence (AAD)

Also known as Ashwin Ballistic Missile Interceptor. The Advanced Air Defence (AAD)/ Ashvin Advanced Defence interceptor missile operates at endo-atmosphere at altitudes of 20-40 kilometres (12–24 miles).


Anti-Radiation Missile

The Rudram-1 is the DRDO’s air-to-surface Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) or new generation anti-radiation missile (NGARM). It is meant for suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) that can be launched from a range of altitudes with large standoff distance for destroying enemy surveillance radars, tracking and communication systems. It is first anti-radiation missile to be developed in India and will be jointly produced by BDL and BEL. It will have a range of 125 km. Such missiles can be mounted on the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter planes.

BrahMos on Su 30 MKI. Image Source:


The BrahMos is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land. It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India’s DRDO, who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace. It is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks cruise missile and other similar sea-skimming Russian cruise missile technology. It is the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile (Mach 3) in operation. It has a range of 290 km. A hypersonic version of the missile, BrahMos-II, is also presently under development with a speed of Mach 7-8 to boost aerial fast strike capability. It is expected to be ready for testing by 2020. In 2016, as India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), India and Russia are now planning to jointly develop a new generation of BrahMos missiles with 600 km-plus range and an ability to hit protected targets with pinpoint accuracy. In 2019, India upgraded the missile with a new range of 500 km. The BrahMos-A is a modified air-launched variant of the missile with a range of 500 km which can be launched from a Sukhoi Su-30MKI as a standoff weapon. To reduce the missile’s weight to 2.55 tons, many modifications were made like using a smaller booster, adding fins for airborne stability after launch, and relocating the connector. It can be released from the height of 500 to 14,000 metres. After release, the missile free falls for 100–150 metres, then goes into a cruise phase at 14,000 metres and finally the terminal phase at 15 metres. A Su-30MKI is able to only carry one BrahMos missile. Land Attack and Anti-ship variants in service with the Indian Army and Indian Navy. The air-launched variant is in service with Indian Air Force. Sub-Launched variants under development or testing. BrahMos-NG (Next Generation) is a mini version based on the existing BrahMos, will have same 290 km range and Mach 3.5 speed but it will weigh around 1.5 tons, 5 metres in length and 50 cm in diameter, making BrahMos-NG 50 percent lighter and three metres shorter than its predecessor. The system is expected to be inducted in the year 2024. BrahMos-NG will have lesser RCS (radar cross section) compared to its predecessor, making it harder for air defence systems to locate and engage the target. BrahMos-NG will have Land, Air, ship-borne and Submarine tube-launched variants. The first test flight is expected to take place in 2022–24. Additionally, the BrahMos-NG will have an AESA radar rather than the mechanically scanned one. The missile will arm the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Mikoyan MiG-29K, HAL Tejas and later the Dassault Rafale. Submarine launched variant will be capable of being fired from the new P75I class of submarines.  The Sukhoi SU-30MKI would carry three missiles while other combat aircraft would carry one each. Missile is likely to be ready in late 2022.



Astra is a ‘Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile’ (BVRAAM) being developed for the Indian Air Force. It has an active radar homing head. Astra Mk 1 has a range of 110 km and a High Explosive pre-fragmented warhead. Astra Mk 2 will have a range of 160 km.

Astra Missile Test Firing from Su 30 MKI. Image Source:

Novator KS-172

The Novator KS-172 is a Russian air-to-air missile designed as an “AWACS killer” at ranges up to 400 km. India plans to produce this missile in India with Russian support for their Su-30MKI fighters. It uses active radar homing and inertial navigation. It is the heaviest air-to-air missile ever produced.


Dhanush is a variant of the surface-to-surface or ship-to-ship Prithvi III missile, which has been developed for the Indian Navy. It is capable of carrying both conventional as well as nuclear warheads with pay-load capacity of 500 kg-1000 kg and can strike targets in the range of 350 km with 1,000 kg warhead, and 750 km with 250 kg warhead. Dhanush is a system consisting of a stabilization platform and the missile. It is a customized version of the Prithvi and is certified for sea worthiness. Dhanush has to be launched from a hydraulically stabilized launch pad. Its low range acts against it and thus it is seen as a weapon either to be used to destroy an aircraft carrier or an enemy port. The missile has been tested from surface ships of the navy many times.

The DRDO’s Naval Anti-Ship Missile (NASM-SR) was sanctioned in 2017. This helicopter launched missile that weighs 375 kg will have a range of 55-km range.


Nag is a third generation “Fire-and-forget” anti-tank missile, also called “Prospina” for the land-attack version. It has an operational range of 500 m to 20 km. It has a single-shot hit probability of 90%. The Nag has five variants under development: a land version, for a mast-mounted system; the helicopter-launched Nag (HELINA – HELIcopter launched NAg); a “man-portable” version (MPATGM); an air-launched version which will replace the current seeker and the Nag Missile Carrier (NAMICA) “tank buster”. India’s MoD announced on 19 July 2019 that the missile was ready for production. The DRDO successfully completed the final trial of Nag anti-tank missile using a live warhead on a dud tank at Pokhran on Oct 21, 2020. The Amogha-1 is a guided anti-tank missile with a range up to 2.8 km. It is under development by BDL and is being built in Israel for the Indian military. The missile will be produced in two versions. The land version has already been tested. The infrared version of the missile uses a “thermal intelligent vision” to attack its target. The Amogha will be configured to be used on the Advanced Light Helicopter and the HAL Light Combat Helicopter. It will finally have a land version, an air-launched version and a portable version. The SAMHO Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) being developed under Cannon Launched Missile Development Programme is designed to be launched from the MBT ARJUN tank gun. The cannon launched guided missile SAMHO is intended to destroy modern and future Main Battle Tanks protected with explosive reactive armour, hardened point targets and low flying helicopters. The key feature of the ATGM is a semi-active laser homing guidance. SANT (Standoff Anti-tank Guided Missile) is a fourth generation upgraded variant of HELINA missile developed for long distance airborne anti-armour role. In November 2018, DRDO developed SANT was successfully tested at Pokhran range. The upgraded version of the missile is equipped with a new nose-mounted active radar homing seeker with an extended range of up to 15 km to 20 km. On 19 October 2020, SANT was again test fired by the DRDO at Chandipur test range. It is developed for the Indian Air Force and Army Aviation Corps with Lock-on after launch and Lock-on before launch capabilities.

HELINA Anti-tank Missile. Image Source:


Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV)

Project HSTDV is a technology demonstrator aimed to demonstrate autonomous flight of a Scramjet Integrated Vehicle using ethylene.

Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR)

It is a missile propulsion system currently being developed by the DRDO. The project aims to develop critical technologies required in the propulsion systems of future Indian long range air-to-air missiles with ranges around 300 km.

Anti-Satellite Test (Mission Shakti)

India is developing anti-satellite weapons. Following the successful Agni-V ICBM test, this looks all the more achievable. On 27 March 2019 India conducted its first ever ASAT missile test under a project code named Mission Shakti under which a modified Anti-ballistic missile was used to shoot down an Indian satellite in the Low Earth Orbit at a height of 300 km. The successful missile test makes India only the 4th country after United States, Russia and China to have this capability.

Anti-Satellite Missile

In the light of the ballistic missile threat from Pakistan, and China, India developed a double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception. The two-tiered shield should be able to intercept any incoming missile launched from 5,000 kilometres away. The system also includes an overlapping network of early warning and tracking radars, as well as command and control posts. The PAD was tested in November 2006, followed by the AAD in December 2007. With the test of the PAD missile, India became the fourth country to have successfully developed an anti-ballistic missile system, after United States, Russia, and Israel. The system has undergone several tests but system is yet to be officially commissioned. As of January 2020, the first phase of BMD program is now complete, and is ready for clearance to install the missile shield for the national capital and will take three to four years to install shield after approval. This Exo-atmospheric hit-to-kill anti-ballistic missile will have an interception altitude of 1200 km.


Image Source: CSIS
Prithvi-3SRBM300-350 kmOperational
Prithvi-2SRBM250-350 kmOperational
Sagarika/ShauryaSLBM700 km / 3,500 kmIn Development
Prithvi-ISRBM150 kmOperational
PrahaarSRBM150 kmIn Development
NirbhayCruise Missile800-1,000 kmIn development
DhanushSRBM250-400 kmOperational
BrahMosCruise Missile300-500 kmOperational
Agni-5ICBM5,000-8,000 kmIn Development
Agni-4IRBM3,500-4,000 kmOperational
Agni-3IRBM3,000-5,000 kmOperational
Agni-2MRBM2,000-3,500 kmOperational
Agni-1SRBM700-1,200 kmOperational
Summarised Status. Source: CSIS

Header Image Source:

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

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