The Prithvi class of ballistic missiles make up most of India’s arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles, useful for more tactical and battlefield uses. All of the missiles are road-mobile, allowing them to be deployed with maneuvering forces. The missiles have steadily improved their range from the 150 km Prithvi-I to the 350 km Prithvi-III and have progressed from liquid fueled to solid fueled over the same progression.
Prithvi at a Glance
Originated from: India
Possessed by: India
Alternate names: P-1, P-2, P-3
Class: Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
In service: 1994
The Prithvi-I is a short-range, road-mobile, liquid propellant ballistic missile. According to unconfirmed reports, India developed the missile with European assistance, and its motor and guidance system were originally based on the Russian S-75 Guideline surface-to-air missile.1
India began developing the missile in 1983. In its current configuration, the missile is 8.56 m long, 1.1 m in diameter, and weighs 4000 kg. It uses a single-stage, liquid propellant engine, which is essentially two liquid propellant motors side-by-side that provide aerodynamic control as well as thrust vectoring. This engine control allows the missile to stop climbing when it reaches an altitude of 30 km, travel horizontally at this altitude, and dive on its target at an 80° angle. The missile has a minimum range of 40 km and a maximum of 150 km.2
The missile has a reported accuracy of 50 m CEP against targets at 150 km. At present, it uses an inertial guidance system. Its payload is a single warhead weighing up to 1000 kg. Following India’s nuclear tests in May 1998, the missile was probably fitted with a range of small nuclear warheads with 1, 5, or 12 to 20 kT yields, and a weight of around 250 to 300 kg. HE penetration, HE submunitions, fuel-air explosive, and chemical warheads have likely also been fitted to the missile.3
It is launched from a Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicle. It takes approximately two hours to prepare a missile for launch due to pre-flight fueling and various support functions that must be accomplished. Two TEL vehicles require an average of eighteen support vehicles that include warhead carriers, power suppliers, fuel carriers, cranes, and others.4 Its short range and low payload prevent it from being used against strategic targets. However, the missile’s high accuracy enables it to hit enemy military targets effectively, making it a battlefield weapon.
The Prithvi-I’s first test flight was in 1988 and it officially entered service in 1994. Reports from 1999 indicate that there were 16 successful tests of this missile system. They also indicate positive flight trials from April 2003. It is confirmed that the missile was deployed with the 333rd Indian Army Missile Group. This unit was deployed with its Prithvi-I component, to the Punjab region but was rotated back to Ordinance Headquarters in Secunderabad to ease tensions with Pakistan. Reports indicate from the year 2000 on, that a second unit, the 444th Indian Army Missile Group, has been created and trained with the Prithvi-I. Some reports suggest the possible formation of an additional unit to support the missile system, called the 555th Indian Army Missile Group.5
The Prithvi-II is a short-range, road-mobile, liquid-propellant ballistic missile. Similar to the Prithvi-I in many ways, it trades a smaller warhead for a longer range.
India first tested this variant in 1996. The missile is 9.0 m long, 1.1 m in diameter, and weighs either 4,000 or 4,600 kg. It uses a single-stage, liquid propellant engine, giving it a maximum range of 250 km with an accuracy of 50 m CEP. In 2011, the Prithvi-II was tested to 350 km, suggesting some upgrades since early testing.6 It uses an improved liquid propellant over its predecessor. Its payload consists of a single warhead weighing 500 or 1000 kg. Potentially, if carrying a 1000 kg payload, the missile could probably be fitted to any of the warheads developed for the Prithvi-I, but it would have a reduced range. The missile’s primary warheads are nuclear, high-explosive, or submunitions.7
In 2002 management of the Prithvi-II was shifted from the Indian Air Force to the Indian Army, though the IAF still provides target data. The Indian Army transports and launches the missiles from Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicles.8 Its short range and low payload prevent it from being used against most strategic targets. However, the missile’s high accuracy enables it to hit enemy military targets effectively, making it a battlefield weapon.
The Prithvi-III is a short-range, road-mobile, ballistic missile that started development in 2000. This model is a departure from the liquid propulsion system of the Prithvi-I and II, as it employs a two-stage, solid propellant motor.9 The longest-ranged member of the Prithvi family of missiles, it was most likely designed for use as a tactical weapon against Pakistan and China.
Sources indicate that the missile has a range of 300 to 350 km and an accuracy of 25 m CEP. The missile has a 500 to 1000 kg payload, with up to a 10 to 20 kT nuclear warhead. It is also reported that the Prithvi-III has four fixed tail fins and uses four control fins near the nose of the missile in order to maneuver within the lower atmosphere.10
Some reports indicate that the Prithvi-III is intended to be a sea-launched ballistic missile, and is the same development program as the Dhanush missile.