The Prithvi-I is an Indian short-range ballistic missile with a range of 150 km. It is the first in a lineage of indigenous land and sea-based missiles which includes the Prithvi-II, the ship-launched Dhanush, and the Prithvi Air Defense interceptor. The Indian Army has withdrawn the Prithvi-I from service and replaced it with the Prahaar missile.
Prithvi-I at a Glance
- Originated from
- Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM)
- Possessed by
- Alternative name(s)
- P-1, SS-150
- Road-mobile Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL)
- 9.5 m
- 1 m
- Launch weight
- 4,600 kg
- Single-stage, liquid propellant
- 1,000 kg
- Unitary blast-fragmentation, various submunitions, nuclear
- 150 km
- In service
India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) originally conceived the Prithvi concept in the early 1970s as part of an effort to produce indigenous missile designs by the late 1980s. In 1975, the DRDO’s Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad published “A Missile Plan for 1980,” detailing five concepts for future indigenous missiles. One concept, designated the SS-150, would form the basis of the Prithvi system.1
The SS-150 concept was envisaged as a 150 km-range ballistic missile using a pair of engines adapted from the DRDO’s Devil surface-to-air missile. After conducting feasibility studies from 1980 to 1982, the DRDO formally began development in 1983, renaming the project to Prithvi. The DRDL assumed central responsibility for the effort and finalized the missile’s basic design by the end of 1983.2
The first Prithvi flight test, PE-01, took place on February 8, 1988.3 The test was reportedly successful, following the predicted trajectory and hitting a designated terminal area. After reviewing a successful flight test in 1993, the Army began user trials of the Prithvi in June 1994. In 1996, India formally inducted the missile into service.4 India reportedly flight-tested the Prithvi at least 16 times between 1988 and 1999.5 The most recent flight test took place in 2007.6
The Prithvi missile is 9.5 m long and 1 m in diameter, weighing 1,500 kg dry and nearly 4,600 kg fully fueled. The missile has a minimum range of 40 km and a maximum range of 150 km.7
The single-stage missile is powered by two liquid-fueled engines, each producing up to 3 tons of thrust. The engines operate on an open cycle, using “G Fuel”—a 1:1 mixture of xylidene and triethylamine—for fuel, and red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) as an oxidizer.The engines are directly adapted from India’s Devil surface-to-air missile, which itself was derived from the Soviet S-75 surface-to-air missile. The DRDL selected a liquid-fueled configuration for Prithvi over concerns that a solid-propellant motor could crack or debond during off-road transit in India’s humid climates.8
The Prithvi’s airframe is mostly constructed from forged and sheet aluminum, while its wings and wing bay are made of magnesium alloy. Smaller amounts of titanium, steel, and composites are used in the missile’s air bottles, fasteners, and antenna windows. Most of these components, excluding some hydraulic actuators, were produced in India. The Prithvi engine is fabricated from 1.5 mm-thick stainless steel and employs regenerative cooling to maintain its structural integrity.[Ibid., pp. 72, 389 – 393.[/note]
At its maximum range, the Prithvi missile is claimed to be accurate to 150 m circular error probable (CEP).9 Other assessments estimate the missile’s accuracy at 200 – 300 m CEP.10 The missile employs a strapdown inertial guidance system with an Intel 8086/8087-based flight computer. The missile’s mid-body wings are fixed, and a hydraulic system moves its cruciform rear fins and thrusters for flight control. With its wings, the Prithvi missile has a lift/drag ratio of 9.5.11 In a typical trajectory, the missile will begin horizontal flight at an altitude of 30 km, and will dive on its target at an 80° angle.12
The Prithvi missile can accept multiple conventional payloads of up to 1000 kg. These include a unitary blast-fragmentation warhead using DENTEX, an aluminized explosive compound, an incendiary submunition warhead, a shaped-charge armor-piercing submunition warhead, an earth-penetrating/runway denial submunition warhead, and combination incendiary/fragmentation or earth-penetrating/fragmentation submunition warheads.13 Analysts suggest that a nuclear-armed variant entered service in 1998.14
The Prithvi missile system employs a wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), launch control vehicle, and power supply vehicle to support launch operations. It takes approximately two hours to fuel and prepare a missile for launch. Two TEL vehicles require an average of eighteen support vehicles that include warhead carriers, power supplies, fuel carriers, cranes, and others.15 The vehicles are based off of the Czech Tatra 815 8×8 truck, which were manufactured under license by Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) in Bengaluru.16
The Indian Army reportedly ordered 75 Prithvi-I missiles, though only 60 have been delivered. India ceased production of the missile in 1997.17
India reportedly formed several Prithvi-equipped regiments, each equipped with 16 missiles and four TELs. These include the 222nd, 333rd, 444th, and 555th Missile Group.18 In June 1997, the Indian Army deployed the 333rd Missile Group to the Punjab region near Pakistan but later withdrew the unit to Secunderabad to ease tensions with Pakistan.19
In 2013, the then-Director of DRDO Avinash Chander said that India would begin replacing the Prithvi-I with the smaller, solid-fueled Prahaar SRBM. According to Chander, India would upgrade the Prithvi-I missiles into the Prithvi-II, which features upgraded guidance and longer range.20
- Defence Research and Development Organisation, IGMDP: Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, (New Delhi: Ministry of Defence, India, 2008), pp. 51 – 56.
- Ibid., pp. 64 – 65, 110 – 116, 283 – 284.
- Ibid., p. 91
- Ibid., p. 100
- James C. O’Halloran, “Prithvi,” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic, (Surrey: IHS, 2015), pp. 37 – 39.
- Jonathan McLaughlin, “India’s Expanding Missile Force,” The Wisconsin Project, October 20, 2020, https://www.wisconsinproject.org/indias-expanding-missile-force/.
- O’Halloran 2015, pp. 37 – 39; DRDO 2008, p. 100.
- Gaurav Kampani, “Stakeholders in the Indian Strategic Missile Program,” The Nonproliferation Review, 10, No. 3 (2003), pp. 48 – 70, https://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/npr/103kamp.pdf; DRDO 2008, pp. 70, 394.
- Ibid., p. 73
- Z. Mian, A.H. Nayyar, and M.V. Ramana, “Bringing Prithvi down to Earth: The Capabilities and Potential Effectiveness of India’s Prithvi Missile,” Science & Global Security 7, no. 3 (1998): pp. 333-360, https://doi.org/10.1080/08929889808426465, 335.
- DRDO 2008, pp. 68, 100.
- O’Halloran 2015, pp. 37 – 39.
- DRDO 2008, pp. 337 – 345.
- Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris, “Indian nuclear forces, 2012,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, No. 4 (2012), pp. 96 – 101, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0096340212451431.
- O’Halloran 2015, pp. 37 – 39.
- DRDO 2008, 376
- Mian et al. 1998, p. 336.
- Gurmeet Kanwal, India’s Nuclear Force Structure 2025, (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2016), https://carnegieendowment.org/2016/06/30/india-s-nuclear-force-structure-2025-pub-63988.
- O’Halloran 2015, pp. 37 – 39.
- Tamir Eshel, “After 17 years in service, the Prithvi I missile will give way to smaller and better Prahar,” Defense Update, July 1, 2013, https://defense-update.com/20130701_prahar_to_replace_privthi.html.