The successful test-firing of Dhruvastra is a major milestone for India’s indigenous missile development programme. The missile system is expected to be inducted into the Indian Army and IAF soon after the user trials are over. The recent approval of the Dhruvastra missile system by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) is a major boost for India’s self-reliance in defence

by Girish Linganna

On Friday (September 15, 2023), India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, cleared nine capital acquisition proposals of various weapons systems and platforms under the ‘Make in India’ initiative—including fighter jets, missiles and aircraft upgrades worth around Rs 45,000 crore.

Among the nine proposals, the procurement of the Dhruvastra short-range air-to-surface missile as a potent indigenous precision-guided weapon for the indigenously built DHRUV MK-IV helicopters was cleared by the DAC. It was also decided to procure 12 Su-30MKI aircraft with associated equipment from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The Dhruvastra missile system will enhance the combat capabilities of the Indian Army and Air Force against enemy tanks and armoured vehicles. The Su-30MKI aircraft will augment the air superiority and strike capabilities of the Indian Air Force. The Defence Minister stated that it was time to upgrade India’s ambitions towards indigenization and aim for a minimum 60%-65% indigenous content for indigenously designed, developed and manufactured (IDDM) projects.

India has successfully test-fired the indigenously developed helicopter-launched, anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) system, Dhruvastra, in the Pokhran range of Rajasthan. The missile system, earlier known as Helina, is a variant of the Nag missile that can be fired from land and air platforms. Dhruvastra has been designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP).

Dhruvastra: Features & Capabilities

Dhruvastra is a third-generation, fire-and-forget ATGM system that can engage and destroy enemy tanks and armoured vehicles in both direct hit mode and top attack mode. The missile has a minimum range of 500 metres and a maximum range of 7 kilometres. It can be launched from an altitude of up to 4 kilometres and can hit targets moving at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour.

Dhruvastra has an imaging infrared-seeker that guides the missile to the target based on its heat signature. The seeker can lock onto the target before or after launch of the missile. The missile has a special warhead that can break through the armour of enemy tanks, whether or not they have regular or explosive reactive armour. It works in all kinds of weather, during the day or night, and in various types of terrain, such as deserts, plains, hills and forests.

Regular armour is the standard protective armour on tanks, while explosive reactive armour (ERA) is an additional layer that explodes when hit to reduce the impact of incoming projectiles. An infrared imaging-seeker (IIS) is a sophisticated system that uses infrared technology to detect and track targets. It can identify heat signatures emitted by objects, even in darkness or adverse weather conditions, making it valuable for guiding missiles accurately to their targets.

Dhruvastra is mounted on the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, which is also indigenously developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The ALH Dhruv can carry up to eight Dhruvastra missiles in four twin-launchers. The helicopter is equipped with a helmet-mounted sight that allows the pilot to aim the missile at the target by looking at it. The helicopter also has a data link that transmits the target information to the missile.

Significance And Future Prospects

Dhruvastra is a significant achievement for India’s self-reliance in the field of missile technology and defence equipment. The missile system will enhance the combat capabilities of the Indian Army and Air Force against enemy tanks and armoured vehicles. The missile system will also provide an edge to India in its border disputes with China and Pakistan, which have large numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles.

The DRDO has also developed a man-portable version of the Nag missile, called Man-Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM), which can be carried and fired by infantry soldiers. The MPATGM has a range of 2.5 kilometres and can be used for short-range anti-tank missions. The DRDO is also working on developing a longer-range version of the Nag missile, called SANT, which will have a range of 15-20 kilometres and can be launched from helicopters and drones.