Why does the desi anti-ship missile matter? It’s smaller, slower, and more lethal than the BrahMos

The Indian Navy declared on Wednesday that it has successfully tested the country’s first indigenously developed desi anti-ship missile. A Sea King helicopter fired the ‘Naval Anti-Ship Missile’ off the missile test range in Balasore, according to the Indian Navy.

The test was conducted in collaboration with the DRDO, which developed the weapon, according to the Indian Navy. “This launch is a critical step toward self-reliance in specialised missile technology and reinforces the Indian Navy’s commitment to indigenisation,” it said in a tweet. The missile test, according to the DRDO, was successful.

What information do we have on the new weapon?

When then-Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman published a list of new DRDO projects in the technology demonstration phase in 2018, she alluded to a new indigenous anti-ship missile. A ‘Naval Anti-ship Missile-short range’ was put on the list. Since then, the project has been referred to as NASM-SR. Sitharaman’s document revealed a fund allocation of Rs 434.06 crore for the project.

The DRDO displayed schematics of the NASM-SR at DefExpo 2020, which revealed more specifics about the new weapon. The missile that was tested on Wednesday resembled the NASM-SR in appearance. The proposed weapon, according to the DRDO’s statistics, weighed 380 kilogrammes and had a range of up to 55 kilometres, and was designed to be launched from helicopters. The weapon, according to the DRDO, would travel at 0.8 Mach (slower than the speed of sound) and feature an imaging infrared seeker that would zero in on its targets’ heat emissions.

The missile would feature a 100kg payload that could sink patrol boats and do damage to larger warships. The NASM-SR can cruise at barely 5 metres above sea level as it approaches its target, making it impossible for adversary radars to identify, track, and shoot down with surface-to-air missiles or guns. Sea skimming is the low-level capability of anti-ship missiles. The DRDO has been rumoured to be working on newer NASM variants with higher ranges, which might make the weapon effective for targeting ground targets.

Why is the new weapon important?

The Indian Navy is no stranger to anti-ship missiles launched from helicopters. In the 1980s, it fitted its Sea King helicopters with British-built Sea Eagle missiles. The radar-seeking Sea Eagle had a range of roughly 100 kilometres and weighed around 600 kilogrammes. The missile’s higher weight would raise the Sea King helicopter’s take-off weight, lowering its flight range. In comparison, the Sea King and similar helicopters face a smaller weight penalty under the NASM-SR.

Furthermore, because the NASM-SR uses an IIR seeker instead of a radar to track its target, it is immune to enemy warship radar jamming and less likely to be discovered on approach. While the Indian Navy’s primary anti-ship missile remains the supersonic BrahMos, the Russian-made weapon is limited by its weight of over 2 tonnes.

While India and Russia are working on a lighter version of the BrahMos for fighter jets, the missile is still too big for a helicopter or even a small ship to carry. Missiles like the NASM-SR can be easily converted for launch from land-based vehicles and small ships, in addition to helicopters.

It might be a significant boost for the Indian Navy’s fleet of offshore patrol vessels, which currently lack anti-ship missiles. The Marte missile, an Italian-designed weapon of comparable weight, has been developed for use on helicopters, aeroplanes, ships, and land-based weapons.

What about a ‘lightweight’ warhead?

The NASM-lighter SR’s warhead is capable of causing severe damage. The recent sinking of the Russian warship Moskva in the Black Sea, as well as the loss of British warships in the 1982 Falklands War, demonstrate that modern navy ships have enough flammable material on board (fuel, wiring, weapons, electronics, and so on) to magnify the damage caused by even small anti-ship missiles.

With China rapidly expanding its navy and the Pakistan Navy restocking its surface fleet, a weapon like the NASM-SR would provide the Indian Navy with a powerful choice.

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