Undersea punch: India's K-15 SLBM completes development tests

Year 2013 may prove to be the landmark year for Indian armed forces as  the K-15 submarine based  cruise missile, which has  been named as B05 by Defence Research And Development Organisation, completed its test trials and has been declared ready for integration with the Arihant, India’s first indigenous nuclear powered submarine.

The scientists of DRDO will thus take India to newer heights in strategic deterrence after its final induction in Indian Navy. After overcoming many technical glitches which delayed the programme by few years, the missiles had its 12th test flight off the Andhra Coast on 27th January, 2013. This test was described as the last test and the next successful flight from an under sea platform will thus seal its design and configuration and will be cleared for series production.

Till now the K-15, also unofficially called Sagarika missile, was being tested from an underwater pontoon and it will be a real test for the missile to successfully takeoff from a submarine. According to senior scientists the test formed the part of the pre production clearance.

The missile scientists are now getting ready for the test launch from a submarine, which in fact will prove the real capabilities of the country in actually being able to launch a sea launched cruise missile from a moving under sea vehicle. Since the launch from a pontoon is done under extremely controlled manner, the submarine launch test will also prove the submarine’s capabilities to withstand the launch pressure, generated by such heavy missile.

Nuclear triad

This mating of the nuclear capable missile with the nuclear powered submarine will complete India’s nuclear triad of which the other two legs consists of the land based surface to surface ballistic missile and aircraft launched nuclear bombs. However, the Indian strategic community is eagerly waiting for the early induction of the K-15 missile which is supposed to have a range of 700 kms. The Sagarika is said to be the advanced clone of the naval version of Prithvi called Dhanush which is launched from a warship. With new cruise technologies already achieved through the Brahmos cruise missile programme, the missile scientists could achieve better results in cent percent hit capability.

Weighing 6 tonnes and 10 meter long, the K-15 is a two stage missile and one Arihant can accommodate a dozen such Sagarika missiles. As a next step the DRDO engineers are reportedly working on a longer range of 3000 kms K-4 missile. This will give real muscle to Indian armed forces.  The development of Sagarika missile was done under extreme secrecy and the top DRDO scientists rarely speak over the development programme. Unlike other missile development program like Agni and Prithvi, the DRDO never comes out with a press release on K-15 programme.

With the advancement achieved in developing the K-15 underwater launched missile, the Indian DRDO has reached a milestone in its missile technology. India has already developed and productionized the Agni series of missiles from 700 kms to 3500 kms range and has already tested the 5000 kms range Agni-5.

However the capability to launch underwater a long range ballistic missile has put India in the league of most advanced nations e.g. US, Russia, China and France.

Exulting over the launch of the K-15 missile the Programme Director of K-15 and Director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) Dr A K Chakrabarty said, “It is a fantastic system. It is very powerful and accurate system.”

As far as the Arihant is concerned, top defence sources confirmed that the reactor is under final stages of getting critical and the commissioning process is on. The reactor would reach criticality within first half of 2013 and since the harbor trial of the ship has already been completed, the ship will be ready for sea trials by the middle of this year.

Scientists claim near zero circular error capability was achieved in the latest test. Scientist also boasts that the Sagarika can be compared to the US Tomahawk missile which spewed fire in the gulf conflict in the early nineties.

Strategic capability

It is a real coincidence that along with the completion of sea trials of the Arihant, the Sagarika will also be ready for induction. The development work on K-15 commenced in late nineties, when Indian nuclear submarine project started picking up and the top DRDO brass assured the government that the missile would be ready for integration by the time the Arihant gets ready. Though the Arihant programme was inordinately delayed, the K-15 also kept pace with the slow development work.

Since India has a no first use nuclear doctrine, the submarine launched ballistic missile capability would give India a hidden undersea capability to bank upon to respond to the enemy’s nuclear attack as a second strike capability under India’s nuclear deterrence.  

Since India’s rivals are all armed with the nuclear tipped ballistic missiles, the Indian missile scientists have been given a mandate to work on the longer range version of the submarine launched ballistic missile. India’s adversaries already possess the sea launched ICBM capability, the Indian race to catch up with them would be keenly watched by the strategic observers’ world over.

India’s missile development programme, which began in 1983 with the setting up of an Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme under the able leadership of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, has yielded various categories of missiles which has elevated India’s status as a leading military power and a force to reckon with. Under the ‘K’ series of sea missiles, Indian DRDO has an ambitious agenda to acquire longer range ICBM category Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles. The dream project includes the K-4 mark 1 and 2 with a range of 3000 to 5000 kms and K-5 missile with a range of 6000 kms.

These capabilities enable Indian diplomats to bargain hard on the issues of national interest from a position of strength. The international strategic community including the Chinese media has already taken note of the K-15 launch. In an era when the focus of world military powers are on strengthening the maritime deterrence capabilities, Indian scientists have made the country proud and the mere existence of this kind of cruise missile will deter the adversary from launching any preemptive attack on Indian economic and strategic interests.