India's Nirbhay sub-sonic cruise missile (L) and Pak's Babur sub-sonic cruise missile

by Vikas SV

New Delhi: Missiles, on one hand, can wreak widespread devastation when used, but on the other serve as effective strategic deterrent. India and Pakistan have developed a wide range of missiles over the last 3-4 decades, thanks to the hostile relations between both the neighbours.

In ballistic missiles technology, India seems a tad ahead of Pakistan largely due to formidable Agni series of missiles. Agni-5 has a range of 5,000 km, and Pakistan, so far, has not come up with any missile that has longer range than Agni-5. Pakistan's answer to Agni-5 is Ababeel missile which has a range of 2,200 km. But it must be said comparisons about 'who is ahead' and 'who is behind' cannot be made just based on range of missiles. Ababeel is equipped with MIRV technology, whereas it is not clearly known if Agni-5 has MIRV capabilities. Many experts, however, do claim that India has tested Agni-5 with MIRV.

MIRV technology enables a single missile to carry multiple warheads each of which can be programmed to strike different targets.

Coming to cruise missiles, India's well known cruise missiles are BrahMos and Nirbhay, while that of Pakistan is Babur or Hatf -7 missile.

Difference Between Cruise And Ballistic Missiles:

Ballistic are launched on a sub-orbital flight trajectory and spend most of their flight out of the atmosphere. It travels well outside the atmosphere and then the warhead detaches and hurtles back to earth. Cruise missile, on the other hand, are jet-propelled pilot-less aircraft designed to strike distant targets with great accuracy. They fly close to terrain, as compared to ballistic missiles, and even speeds are much lower.

Comparison Between Babur And Nirbhay:

Babur is a short-range, turbojet-powered ground-launch cruise missile whose development began in 1990s. With a launch weight around 1,500 kg, it is capable of carrying a 450 kg payload up to 700 km.

Nirbhay is a long-range, subsonic cruise missile designed and developed in India by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. The missile has a range of more than 1000 km, weighs about 1500 kg and has a length of 6 metres.The missile is powered by a solid rocket booster for take off which is developed by Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL).

IDN TAKE: Babur also designated Hatf-7, is a short range turbojet powered subsonic cruise missile that can be launched from land or mobile underwater platforms.

Some sources suggest Pakistan's Babur cruise missile is based on the Ukrainian Kh-55SM/Korshun LACM, whose detailed production engineering data packages were bought from Kiev by Pak in 2001, which had by then been developed by Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk-based Yuzhnoye State Design Bureau or Yuzhmash. Predictably, the Babur’s IIR terminal seeker—offering a CEP of 10 metres—is supplied off-the-shelf by China's Xi’an Sicong Group. Corroborating the above, it is worthwhile to note that Pakistan has never reported a single failure of both its cruise missiles, the Babur & Ra'ad.

Both Babur and Nirbhay can carry nuclear as well as conventional warheads. When it comes to accuracy of striking targets, Nirbhay has a clear upper hand. The Circular Error Probability (CEP) of Nirbhay is as low as 1-2m as compared to 10m of Babur.

Nirbhay can be launched from all three platforms; ground, air, and water. In case of Babur, the known launch vehicles have all been mobile, land-based platforms. Some reports, however, say that Babur-III is the naval variant of the land-based Babur-II, which was tested in December 2016.

Although Pakistan claims that a that a submarine version of Babur was tested successful, Indian Navy has refuted such a claim. Babur's stealth capability, when compared to Nirbhay, is also questionable. When it comes to terrain hugging capability, Nirbhay can fly as low as 5 mts from surface and can circle over the target so as to strike with great precision.

Nirbhay can also be mounted Su-30MKI and launched from air, whereas same cannot be said about Babur. Babur does not have air force version because of smaller range and heavy weight.

Nirbhay Problem's:

Many of the tests of Nirbhay in the past have failed or have been partially successful. The first completely successful test of Nirbhay came only in November last year. The sub-sonic missile, designed to carry a 300-kg nuclear warhead, had failed during its first test in March 2013. Though the second test in October 2014 was a partial success, the third and fourth tests in October 2015 and December 2016 also flopped, leading to talk that the project may have to be scrapped.


India's most potent cruise missile is BrahMos which is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land. It is the fastest cruise missile in the world.

Last week, China claimed to have successfully test-fired a supersonic missile, HD-1, touted as a potential competitor to BrahMos missile. Reports hinted that Pakistan could be one of its buyers. China has also claimed that HD-1 is a comprehensive weapon system consisting of missile, launch, command and control, target indication and comprehensive support systems. Beijing also claimed that the new missile could be cheaper than the BrahMos.