On December 19 the Pinaka Mark-II underwent test launches in the Odisha coast to prove the range of its new guidance system. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) revealed its 30 year old work-in-progress is now capable of hitting targets 75 kilometres away, doubling the original Pinaka Mark-I’s range with unguided munitions. Although the Pinaka Mark-II has yet to enter service its track record of launches earns it a place among the world’s advanced medium-range rocket artillery weapons such as the US-made HIMARS and the Israeli-made Extra.

The Pinaka Mark-II’s success joins an unmistakable trend across Asia where militaries are pushing the limits of conventional battlefield rockets.

As part of its arms race with Pakistan in the late 20th century the Indian Army drew requirements for an indigenous multiple rocket launcher during the mid-1980s. The project was a collaborative effort by a handful of government research agencies (besides the DRDO, there’s the ARDE, DRDL, HEMRL, PXE, and RCI) that came to fruition by the 1990s. The awful procurement system of the Indian military saw to it the original Pinaka Mark-I’s saw limited use alongside the Soviet vintage BM-21 Grads and Russian BM-30 Smerch. Since Pakistan managed to close the artillery gap with India in record time, acquiring land-based precision strike weapons with ease, the development of the Pinaka Mark-II was well underway by the 2000s.

To achieve precision targeting at enhanced range the DRDO and its partners made improvements on the control, guidance, and navigation of the Pinaka’s 214 mm rockets. Like its GPS and GLONASS enabled counterparts, the Pinaka Mark II’s accuracy is guaranteed by the indigenous Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) orbital Geo-Mapping network. Having IRNSS means India’s telecommunications, along with its military command and control, is invulnerable to hostile disruption by an enemy. The Pinaka Mark-I’s reliance on IRNSS completes its full indigenisation; the launcher itself is locally made and carried by an 8×8 truck (licensed from TATRA) manufactured by state-owned Bharat Earth Movers Ltd.

The Indian Army’s plans for the Pinaka Mark-II are unclear at the moment but its success bodes well for India’s ground forces. This decade has seen steady progress in the evolution of surface-to-surface weapons that give the army better options than its current selection of towed and self-propelled howitzers. Since 2011 two other long-range missiles are being readied for the army’s conventional/nuclear land-based strike missions. A work in progress, the Prahaar is a large diameter 420 mm ballistic missile with a range of 150 km and carried in a six-tube launcher by a TEL. It complements the Prithvi-II, another SRBM whose performance is comparable to the Russian Iskander, that’s meant for neutralising the enemy’s critical infrastructure within 350 km.

The multi-layered strike options when fielding the Pinaka Mark I/II together with the Prahaar and the Prithvi-II must appeal to the army’s current leadership. But at the current pace of the DRDO several years might pass until its latest tactical weapons are declared operational. It’s possible for requirements to change and domestic technology is ignored in favour of a foreign alternative. Still, the benchmarks fulfilled by the Pinaka Mark-II is an impressive achievement.

Below is a listing of large calibre rocket artillery systems that are manufactured in Asian countries:

CHINA PHL-03 300 mm 70 (unguided)
PHL-16 370 mm 200 (est.)
SR5 multi-calibre / 220 mm 120
IRAN Fajr-3 240 mm 70 (unguided)
Fajr-5 333 mm 130
Nazeat-10 457 mm 130
Zelzal-2/3 616 mm 200
INDIA Pinaka Mark II 214 mm 75
Prahaar 420 mm 150
ISRAEL Extra 300 mm 150
KOREA, NORTH M1991 240 mm < 50 (unguided)
KN-09 300 mm 200 (est.)
“Super Large” 400 mm 200 (est.)
KOREA, SOUTH Chunmoo multi-calibre / 230 mm 40 (unguided)
PAKISTAN Nasr (Chinese supplied Weishi-2) 400 mm 60-150 (est.)
TAIWAN Ray-ting 2000 multi-calibre / 230 mm 45 (unguided)
TURKEY T-300 300 mm 100 (est.)

There’s no doubt the pace of India’s localised weapons development is frustrating when even the humblest efforts can fail to materialise. (The OFB’s unrecognised attempt at a battle rifle comes to mind.) This is in stark contrast with India’s looming rival China whose state-owned military-industrial sector is overproducing weapon systems. But the technological base directly controlled by Delhi is advanced enough and, with regards to land-based precision weapons, the Indian military has an emerging suite of options its neighbours should take note of.

By the way, the Pinaka Mark-II, as with many successful DRDO projects, is being readied for export abroad.