by Palepu Ravi Shankar
The Pinaka is a multi-barreled rocket launcher capable of firing twelve 210 mm rockets in 44 seconds at a range of 38 km. In 2015, an Extended Range Unguided Pinaka Rocket was fired to a range of 55km using case bonded propellants. The rockets fell more than 500 m away from the intended target. Not good at all. It seemed like another failure. However, the Rocket was steady and impressive. ARDE had done a good developmental job. It was clear that that a guidance mechanism was mandatory to increase accuracy. We had to succeed.
Indian Army’s Artillery Directorate approached RCI, Hyderabad to fit a guidance kit on the Rocket. Even a low-end guidance would do to improve accuracy. Within a month a meeting was held between Indian Army, RCI & ARDE. RCI established feasibility of mounting a top end guidance kit on the existing rocket without modifying the basic design. A team was put together and work commenced. It was insisted that Arty Directorate take the lead and drive the system. Agreed. The only apprehension was that the team was young. The stalwarts of the missile program one knew were missing.
Thereafter, a series of meetings and reviews took place almost on a monthly basis – in RCI, in ARDE and in Army HQ. The young team brought in a lot of passion, conviction and enthusiasm. The design as it emerged became ‘Next Generation’. Young scientists unafraid to take risks came out with original ideas. Confidence developed. They were guided by the experienced wiser lot from the sidelines. It was realized that ranges up to 100 km could be achieved by manipulating the control and guidance. That was stunning. However, we remained conservative and targeted a range of 75 km. Once that was achieved, we could extend to more. Despite best effort, firing could not take place in 2016.
Early in 2017, two firings took place in ITR Chandpur. Both achieved a range of 75 km with an accuracy of about 5 meters. Fantastic. That was beyond expectation. The entire developmental cycle was less than 18 months! The Rocket was almost ready when the project was not even sanctioned! Unheard of. However some more research had to be done to confirm our results after the project got sanctioned.
In 2018 a trial was carried out in the deserts. It did not go well. The team went back to the drawing board. Disappointment spurred the young team to go at it with renewed determination. Finally, on 11 March 19, in Pokhran, three rockets were fired at the maximum permissible range of about 40 odd km. The firings were a success. This is a stupendous case which has many sides to it.
Operationally, India has a deadly guided rocket with a range in excess of 75 km(now) which will get extended to 100 km in a little while. Not a case of ‘If’ but ‘When’. It is mounted on a light and highly mobile platform. The Guided Pinaka ushers in multiple target capability. Theoretically, a salvo from a battery of six launchers can target 72 different targets with pin point precision. Huge conventional deterrent value. A lot of operational gaps will be filled on the China border. Against Pakistan? Tremendous implications. It can carry out non-contact surgical strikes a la Balakot with same effect but at lesser thresholds than a fighter aircraft. The deterrence value on terrorist camps at these distances will be huge. With a 210 mm caliber, India is a screw away from tipping Pinaka with a TNW. Pinaka outranges and out shoots NASR by a mile. Pakistan better rethink. Nuclear blackmail cuts both ways henceforth.
Pinaka is a deadly weapon system with cutting-edge technology. As an ex GOC of an Artillery Division, I can vouch for it. It is fully indigenous from tip to toe including the guided version. I am a proud Indian due to that. No more foreign buys or running around. If from now onwards, we do not induct Pinakas in time and in correct numbers we can call ourselves fools. Also, this development has shown the value of upgradation as against reinvention of the wheel. With some modifications it can be adopted for use on ships too. IN should start exploring this weapon.
The oft maligned DRDO has come up with the goods in record time. This project has seen unprecedented levels of close cooperation between ARDE and RCI. The Army drove the system and the results are there to see. In fact, it is a model for Indian Army and DRDO to study and emulate. If such results can be achieved in such record times in this case, why not in others? What went right here? Our procurement channels need to study this and replicate it elsewhere. Very importantly, youth were given a chance. They succeeded. In fact, in this project the next generation of rocket and missile scientists have been put in place. The old did well but they are fading.
Lastly, we must congratulate the entire team for this success. The TEAM includes the leadership and concerned staff of MOD, Indian Army and DRDO. We must particularly congratulate the Artillery Directorate, ARDE and RCI. Well done. The nation expects more.