|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
One positive consequence from the Chinese aggression in Ladakh is it has shaken up the governmental defence-industrial complex out of slumber, perhaps on receiving a jibe from the government. A spate of missile tests have been conducted in the recent past including the 400-km extended range BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the Shaurya hypersonic missile, a low skimming subsonic Nirbhay cruise missile, SMART long range torpedoes, and RUDRAM anti-radiation missile. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is also developing the 5,000 km version of the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
On November 4, 2020, an advanced version of the DRDO-developed Pinaka rocket was successfully flight tested from Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur off the coast of Odisha. A total of six rockets were launched in series and all the tests met complete mission objectives. According to DRDO officials, “All the flight articles were tracked by range instruments such as telemetry, radar and Electro-Optical Tracking Systems which confirmed the flight performance.” The Enhanced version of the Pinaka rocket would replace the existing Pinaka Mk-I rockets which are currently under production. The enhanced range version of the weapon can destroy targets at a distance beyond 45 km. Interestingly, a group of fishermen from Kharasahapur in Balasore district fishing in the deep sea on Panchubisa river found part of the Pinaka rocket in their net on November 5, the rocket having been flight tested a day earlier.
The DRDO started developing Pinaka in the late 1980s, as an alternative to the Russian make multi-barrel rocket launching systems (MBRLS) like ‘Grad’ and ‘Smerch’, which are still in use. After successful tests of Pinaka Mark-1 in the late 1990s, it was successfully used during the 1999 Kargil Conflict. Pinaka is the first indigenous rocket system designed, developed, and produced by DRDO with the help of private industries. Carrying different types of warheads it can be deadly for the enemy as it has the capability to destroy solid structures and bunkers. The Pinaka MBRLS consists of Rocket, Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL), Battery Command Post, Loader cum Replenishment Vehicle, Replenishment Vehicle and Digicora MET Radar. It can fire a salvo of 12 rockets over a period of 44 seconds. One battery of Pinaka system consists of six launch vehicles, accompanied by the loading system, radar and links that are network-based systems, and a command post. One battery can neutralise an area of one km by one km.
Earlier, ammunitions for this class were imported or manufactured by the public sector. However, successful testing of the Pinaka on November 4 now symbolises another major achievement of the ‘Make in India’ campaign. These rockets flight-tested have been manufactured by Economic Explosives Limited, Nagpur to which the technology has been transferred. The quick reaction time and high rate of fire of the system will give an edge to the Armed Forces during conflict situation.
It may be recalled that in August 2020, the Mnistry of Defence (MoD) had signed contracts worth Rs 2,580 crore for six new regiments of the Pinaka rocket systems, which have an original strike range of 35 to 40-km. The contracts were signed with defence public sector undertaking (DPSU) Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) and private sector companies, TATA Power Company Ltd (TPCL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). These six new regiments will comprise 114 Launchers with automated gun aiming and positioning system and 45 command posts to be procured from TPCL and L&T, along with 330 vehicles from BEML. These regiments are planned to be deployed along our borders with China. Induction of these Pinaka regiments is planned to be completed by 2024. As mentioned above, enhanced version of the Pinaka will eventually replace the existing Pinaka Mark-I rockets, which is currently under production.
Media reports of November 10 have quoted a DRDO official saying that development of the ‘Guided version of Pinaka’, which will almost double the original range, is nearing completion. In addition to the Pinaka Mk-II which has a range of around 60 km, DRDO has also developed and successfully tested the Guided Pinaka system which has a range of 75 km and has integrated navigation, control and guidance system to improve the end accuracy and enhance the range. The navigation system of Guided Pinaka missile is also aided by the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). The Guided Pinaka is transition from its original rocket to a missile system.
Eventually the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system (MRLS) will have both guided and unguided versions of ammunition. Multiple trials conducted have resulted in improvements making the system more lethal. The unguided rocket system can neutralise large areas with rapid salvos. It provides a unique capability to accurately deliver a devastatingly lethal and responsive fire against a variety of area targets such as exposed enemy troops, armoured and soft skin vehicles, communication centres, air terminal complexes, fuel and ammunition dumps. The Guided Pinaka is designed to destroy the chosen targets avoiding any collateral damage.
All the versions of Pinaka MBRL (Pinaka Mk-1, enhanced Mk-1/Mk-II and the Guided Pinaka) are likely to continue with the Army for many years in the required proportion. These will provide a solid punch in the conventional battle space for destroying the enemy especially before the infantry and mechanised elements close in with enemy locations. Capability to hit enemy at longer ranges is advantageous in battle. China has equipped Pakistan with 236 x 155mm wheeled self-propelled guns SH-15 compatible with all NATO standard 155mm ammunition and Chinese ammunition developed by for export. The maximum range of fire with the use of an active-rocket projectile is reportedly 53 km, as in the SH-1 system.