by Hemant Kumar Rout

BHUBANESWAR: India’s own cruise missile project Nirbhay has got an extension of 18 months amid speculations over the weapon system’s operational capabilities. Launched in 2004, the projected date of completion for the prestigious project was December 31 last.

At a recent review meeting, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar gave green signal for the extension. Ministry of Defence sources said the Nirbhay team has been asked to deliver their best by June, 2018.

Under developmental trial since 2013, the missile is yet to perform as per the expectations. Of four tests in as many years, the indigenously developed weapon had failed three times though it could cover the intended range once in 2014. 

Meanwhile, an independent technical committee has been formed to identify faults in the system that led to failure of the missile during its fourth trial on December 21.

The probe committee led by founder director of ISRO Inertial Systems Unit Dr Nagarajan Vedachalam will not only ascertain the faults but also recommend possible measures to make the system robust.

Like in its maiden trial and third test, the missile had veered off the trajectory minutes after take off during the last launch and the mission had to be aborted mid-air.

An official associated with the project, however, informed that the blame game between two laboratories of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) cost the project more than the faults in the system.

While Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), which has designed the missile, has been blaming Research Centre Imarat (RCI) for supplying defective hardware, the latter points fingers at ADE-developed software for recurring failure of the missile.

‘’The probe committee will ascertain which is defective, the software or hardware. It may also inspect metallurgical deficiencies,’’ the sources said.

Having a strike range of around 1,000 km, Nirbhay is first homegrown subsonic cruise missile project. According to DRDO, the missile can challenge weapons of its class. 

Nirbhay blasts off like a rocket and unlike a missile, it turns into a vehicle akin an aircraft. Flying at tree-top level, it can deceive enemy radars making it difficult to be detected. Unlike other ballistic missiles, this cruise missile has wings and distinct tail fins. After reaching near the target area, it can hover around, hitting at its will from any direction.