HomeIndia closer to Integrated Missile Force to counter China and PakistanPralay Power: India closer to Integrated Missile Force to counter China and...

Pralay Power: India closer to Integrated Missile Force to counter China and Pakistan

Pralay Power: India closer to Integrated Missile Force to counter China and Pakistan
Pralay Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)

by Girish Linganna

The recent test-firing of the Pralay surface-to-surface ballistic missile and its placement on the final list compiled by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has contributed to an increase in the likelihood of forming an Integrated Rocket Force (IRF). When constructed, the force will fulfil two requirements: demonstrate India’s ability to wage non-contact war and establish an effective deterrent via denial against China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In his most recent press conference, conducted on 12 January as part of the annual Army Day celebrations, Army Chief of Staff General Manoj Pande said the unpredictable situation in the northern frontiers is stable and under control. The Army Chief was referring to the aggressive deployment of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.

Along the 3,400-kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC), India faces a dual challenge: develop options for deterrence through denial operations against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) without using stronger conventional forces and keep the fight localised. The second objective is to conserve sufficient long-range combat weapons that can be utilised to create localised asymmetry.

A Combined Rocket Force (CRF) provides both of these functions. The concept of IRF is timely since the Indian Armed Forces are increasingly aware that the future of warfare will depend on the effective application of non-contact warfare principles in designing any military campaign operations. As stated by the late General Bipin Rawat at an interaction with a limited group of journalists in September 2021, India must operationalise a missile force for this purpose. The force’s command and control can be initially vested in a single service, such as the Indian Army, and later made rotational.

A rotation system will necessitate a standardised professional military education (PME) system, the study of which is outside the scope of this work. There are numerous causes for this. First, the basis for assembling a long-range vector force along the lines of the Chinese PLA Rocket Force must be established (PLA RF). The assertion that there is a non-nuclear operational area between nuclear-armed competitors to conduct warfare has been bolstered as a result of the attacks that took place in Uri and Balakot, as well as the actions that took place at the Kailash range. Such activities have demonstrated that the stability–instability paradox does not hold in India–Pakistan and India–China dyads. There is currently a “window of opportunity” for precise surgical attacks to maintain strategic stability.

India can conduct war against its foes with missiles, particularly when it comes to shallow strikes against obvious military objectives. Reasons include precision, response speed, and the capacity to elude discovery with minimal loss of human life. In contrast to the deployment of manned aircraft, which, if employed, might be viewed as a step up the escalation ladder, missile attacks can be used to either send a message or gain the upper hand in a localised war due to their accuracy and efficacy.

One must also consider the cost-effectiveness of a missile in comparison to a fighter jet. A system-of-systems platform, an Air Force jet incurs costs for pilot training, EW suites, missiles, radars, and other related technology. The production of aeroplanes is arduous and time-consuming, and only a small number are manufactured each year. Additionally, any increase in the number of aircraft results in an exponential rise in the training expenses and time required for each additional pilot, hence multiplying the marginal costs of training and administration. Therefore, more missiles may be manufactured and deployed with the same expenditure.

Even though unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been demonstrated to offer certain advantages in conflicts, their most effective use has been in the intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) domains.

Studies have also indicated that using UAVs augments a side’s advantage on the battlefield. Drone swarms, expected to alter the game, are still in the experimental phase.

There is also the issue of localisation. India is confronting difficulties in mass-building fighter aircraft. Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is still conceptualising, whereas the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme has just begun production. The need for indigenous jet engine technology is the primary challenge. In contrast, India already possesses exceptional experience in producing both conventional and nuclear-tipped missiles. Agni, Prithvi, BrahMos, Akash, Nag, Pradyumna, Pralay, etc., are examples of both medium and long-range missiles manufactured domestically.

IRF Is Likely To Have Originated In Pralay

Pralay is a quasi-ballistic, surface-to-surface missile built on subsystems from various previously tested DRDO missiles, including the Exo-Atmospheric interceptor missile PDV (Prithvi Defence Vehicle) and the Prahaar tactical missile. The composite fuel originates from the Indian Navy’s Sagarika missile family. Pralay can strike in a range between 150–500 kilometres, and its recent successful test launches and the introduction of 120 missiles are anticipated to form the core of an Indian IRF. In addition to the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, this is the only conventional tactical combat missile India is likely to deploy.

India must establish a Rocket/Missile force independent from the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) to create conventional deterrence and utilise tactical and operational windows of opportunity. Pralay is anticipated to be one of the primary fulcrums for the yet-to-be-formed force, which can provide the Indian Army with preemptive and reactive options against China and ensure that the nuclear threshold is neither reached nor breached.

The missile munitions, which include Penetration-Cum-Blast (PCB) and Runway Denial Penetration Submunition (RDPS), as well as high explosive pre-formed fragmentation warheads, ensure that the Army maintains the flexibility to target hard targets such as communication centres, bunkers, and runways at the operational ranges of up to 500 kilometres. Due to the proximity of the PLA deployments in Eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, this distance will yield the best results.

The Pralay missile bridges the gap between the extreme ranges of the Indian artillery’s guns and rockets and conventional intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strikes. While artillery weapons range between 20 and 50 kilometres, the Indian Army’s rocket systems have a maximum range of 90 kilometres. The 150–500 km operational range of the Pralay will put at risk critical PLA military infrastructure that was previously unreachable without the use of long-range ballistic missiles. These had the problem of being part of the SFC, which is also responsible for preparing for nuclear warfare operations. When deployed, the Pralay missile will extend the range of the Indian strike capability beyond the 90 km mark, providing it with critical deterrent capabilities by bringing several Chinese garrisons, surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, communication centres, and other critical infrastructure within range, while steadfastly adhering to the conventional warfighting paradigm. The IRF may be organised along the lines of six sector-based rocket missile units – one meant for Pakistan, four for China, and one serving as a reserve. Rockets and tactical missiles will form the forefront of a new and formidable Indian non-contact combat capacity, replacing the conventional conception of artillery as support to infantry-dominated operations. It is essential to determine how a plausible IRF structure may arise. The organisation, structure, and objectives of the PLA RF may serve as one of the models.

Organisation And Disposition Position of The PLA’s Radio Frequency Relevant To India

The PLA RF consists of nine bases classified as Corps or Corps Deputy Leader grade. Bases 61 to 66 are designated for ballistic missile operations, while Bases 67 to 69 are designated for support activities. While Base 67 is in charge of the nuclear arsenal, Base 68 is responsible for engineering and physical infrastructure. The newest base, 69, is concerned with staff training and missile testing.

Most operational missile bases face east, and most missiles are aimed at Taiwan, with longer-range missiles threatening Guam-based American military stations. Base 64, situated in the western Chinese city of Lanzhou, serves the northwestern and central northern regions of China. It comprises seven missile brigades, at least four of which are road-mobile nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) brigades, one a dual nuclear-conventional intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) brigade, and two of undetermined missile type.

The bases of the brigades are Korla, Xining, Yinchuan, Hancheng, Hanzhong, and Tianshui. The missiles include the DF-26 IRBM (range 5000 km), the DF-31 (range 7200–8000 km), the DF-31 AG (likely range 11200 km), the DF-41 (range 12000–13000 km), and some unknown missile types, all of which can cover the whole LAC frontage against India.

PLA RF controls all tactical and strategic ballistic missiles stationed on land. For nuclear-tipped missiles, command and control flows straight from the Central Military Commission (CMC) (now led by Chinese President Xi Jinping) to the PLA’s RF Headquarters in Qinghe, Beijing, to the Rocket Bases, Brigades, and then to the launching units. In the case of conventional missiles, the bases appear to have greater independence. According to a Jamestown Foundation analysis, however, for conventional operations, most rocket bases are to be assimilated under the respective theatre commands, eliminating the requirement for a theatre rocket force. All of the PLA RF’s brigades of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) are anticipated to be under the direct command of the theatre commands, thereby enhancing its combat firepower and allowing for coordinated operations.

Ideal IRF Organization

There are potential command and control structures for a growing IRF in India. As the PLA’s design exemplifies, all conventional and nuclear missile forces are centralised inside a single service. Individual services possessing their missile forces is another paradigm; however, this model may not be sustainable when theatre commands are established. The third paradigm is integrating missile units into theatre commands, with rocket and missile forces grouped as a fourth component. Here, operational command and control will sit with the corresponding service component to support joint operations planning inside the theatre command.

Depending on the makeup and responsibilities of the theatre commands, the relevant missile launch systems may be selected. Personnel from the Corps of Artillery can initially form the core group for conducting realistic initial command and control, operational training, and exercises, which will go a long way toward inculcating skill in long-range precision fires inside the other two services. Included micro and tiny UAVs can function as force multipliers for ISTAR and post-strike damage assessment (PSDA). The PLA used a similar tactic during its manoeuvres in the Taiwan Strait. Command and control (C2) systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can successfully match targets to delivery platforms.

The Corps of Artillery, which now oversees the deployment and training of the majority of India’s missile and rocket systems, is well-suited to serve as the nucleus of the new IRF. It has substantial training expertise and has conducted numerous firing tests and deployment exercises with these systems for an extended period. With the cross-pollination of people from the SFC and direction from the Corps of Artillery, the IRF can become India’s solution to extending its conventional deterrent posture beyond the artillery’s traditional range.

In addition to operational command and control, there must be a clear separation between rocket and missile forces’ launch platforms. In the fourth vertical, while Army units can staff all ground-based launchers, the Indian Air Force (IAF) should have sole control over air-launched vectors. The Indian Navy will be responsible for coastal defence and submarine-launched missiles. This will achieve two goals: maximising the operational expertise of each Service and optimising operational logistics. Storage capabilities and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) issues will be simplified.

A clear separation of assets between the IRF and SFC will also alleviate the concern of some security studies experts regarding India’s “counterforce temptations.”

India’s stated policy has persistently remained non-first-use (NFU), which views nuclear weapons as political instruments. To prevent any actor from misidentifying conventional strikes as nuclear or ‘bolt-from-the-blue,’ it is essential that delivery platforms be distinguished. The traditional view of deterrence strategically combines the three Cs, namely capability, credibility, and communication. Communication requires signalling, particularly to the opponent. There should be no ambiguity regarding the distinction between conventional and nuclear missiles. The SFC was established primarily to operationalise India’s “massive retribution” atomic doctrine. It is crucial that the commissioning of Pralay coincides with establishing IRF as a separate entity from SFC, followed by the transfer of rocket assets into IRF.


The Chinese menace along the LAC needs a fundamental shift in India’s defensive posture. While a beginning has been made with the deployment of unmanned systems and advanced sensors, the challenge of creating a deterrent threat with two goals remains: create a window of opportunity for undertaking kinetic actions without climbing the escalation ladder, putting the onus of escalation on the other side; and create an indigenous solution that can be scaled up rapidly and is not limited by the foreign policy constraints of any country. The incorporation of Pralay may mark the beginning of an Indian IRF that addresses both of these objectives.

Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defence at Frontier India



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