India's Rocket Forces would need to incorporate hundreds or rather thousands of subsonic cruise missiles plus ballistic missiles to serve as India's primary instrument of strategic nuclear deterrence, as well as meeting the requirement of long to medium precision strike
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
News reports of April 15, 2023, state that India is “moving towards” establishing a Rocket Force for the Armed Forces to thwart the Chinese threat, with plans to acquire around 250 more Pralay ballistic missiles. The Pralay ballistic missiles can take out targets at 150 to 500 km and work is on to increase the range of these missiles by another few kms, to give a stronger force multiplier capability to the Armed Forces. The Pralay missiles are extremely difficult to intercept for the enemy using interceptor missiles because they have the ability to change their path after covering a certain distance in midair.
Developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) beginning around 2015, Pralay is a quasi-ballistic surface-to-surface missile powered by a solid propellant rocket and equipped with advanced technologies, with the missile guidance system having state-of-the-art navigation and integrated avionics. The Pralay missile was successfully tested on December 21 and December 22, 2021.
Both China and Pakistan have ballistic missiles which are for tactical roles. However, according to Frank O'Donnell, Deputy Director at the Washington-based Stimson Center's South Asia Region, China is fielding precision-strike conventional missiles in its Western Theatre Command facing India. India’s inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are nuclear armed but the short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) are not even though they are nuclear capable. According to defence sources quoted in media, two more units of Pralay missiles are being acquired for the Armed Forces at a cost of over 7,500 crore. Pralay missiles are first to be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF), followed by the Indian Army.
Two more units of Pralay missiles are being acquired for the Armed Forces to give them a stronger force multiplier capability
The PLA Rocket Force (PLARF), the 4th branch of the PLA, is under the direct command of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission headed by President Xi Jinping. The PLARF comprises approximately 1,20,000 personnel and six ballistic missile "bases" (roughly Corps/Army Group level) independently deployed in the five Theatres throughout China. According to Pentagon estimates, China’s land-based missile arsenal includes 1,200 conventionally armed SRBMs, 200 to 300 conventional MRBMs and an unknown number of conventional IRMBs, as well as 200-300 ground-launched cruise missiles. Many of these are extremely accurate, which would allow them to destroy targets even without nuclear warheads. Interestingly, the PLARF “co-operates” the DF-3 and DG-21 MRBMs deployed in Saudi Arabia since establishment of the Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force in 1984.
India’s move towards creating a Rocket Force with acquisition of another 250 Pralay missiles is good news. However, establishing such an integrated force for the Armed Forces would require time and detailed coordination. The war in Ukraine is already witnessing mass employment of missiles and China also follows the concept of swarm missile attacks. Therefore, India’s Rocket Force would need to incorporate hundreds or rather thousands of subsonic cruise missiles plus ballistic missiles to serve as India’s primary instrument of strategic nuclear deterrence, as well as meeting the requirement of long to medium precision strike using conventional missiles.
According to the Washington-based Stimson Center's South Asia Region, China is fielding precision-strike conventional missiles in its Western Theatre Command facing India
Acquisition of another 250 Pralay missiles is good since these missiles are designed to be launched from mobile platforms which increases battlefield flexibility and mobility. Also, Pralay missiles can be employed both tactically and strategically since they can carry a variety of warheads, including conventional and nuclear payloads. With their advanced guidance system, the Pralay missiles are capable of hitting targets with high precision, which would make them an invaluable asset in the Rocket Force. In establishing the Rocket Force, development of “low-cost” subsonic cruise missiles would also be essential considering the contingencies where multiple missiles may have to be used even against low-end tactical targets.
India established the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) in 2003. At the moment, it is unclear whether the Rocket Force will include part of the assets of the SFC or come up as an independent entity. However, it appears certain that it will be the 4th branch of the Indian Military – akin to in the PLA. The time plot for establishment of the Rocket Force has not been announced but there are indications that the government is keen to accelerate the process of theaterisation.
In establishing the Rocket Force, development of “low-cost” subsonic cruise missiles would also be essential considering the contingencies where multiple missiles may have to be used
In terms of theaterisation, India must also closely examine China’s Strategic Support Force (SSF) which is also directly controlled by China’s Central Military Commission (CMC). The SSF oversees two co-equal, semi-independent branches: the Space Systems Department, which leads a space force responsible for space operations, and the Network Systems Department, which leads a cyber force responsible for information operations.
The SSF combines assorted space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities from across the PLA services and has two primary roles: strategic information support and strategic information operations. Understanding the new strategic roles of the SSF is essential to understanding how the PLA plans to fight and win informationised wars and how it will conduct information operations. Incorporating the merits of China’s SSF concept in our theaterisation would be good.