Prithvi is India’s first ‘Made-in-India’ and ‘Made-by-India’ ballistic missile

The Prithvi was India’s first indigenously developed ballistic missile to result from this program. The Prithvi is not a particularly sophisticated missile, incorporating propulsion technology derived from the Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile.  Prithvi-I (150 km/1,000 kg) in army service, is capable of striking about a quarter of Pakistani territory, including Islamabad and most other major cities. Prithvi-II (250 km/500 kg), in Air Force service, could strike at least half of Pakistan, including almost all military targets of importance and all major cities. Development of a longer-range, reduced-payload Prithvi-III (350 km range) is suggested by some sources. The Prithvi-lll is apparently the naval version of the missile.

However, there’s one area where India can proudly boast of attaining indigenous mastery – ballistic missile technology.

In 1983, India launched its missile programme which gave birth to the Prithvi, the first of a series of three ‘Made-in-India’ and ‘Made-by-India’ nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Development of the Prithvi-I

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.

The programme, overseen by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), proceeded under the leadership of former President APJ Abdul Kalam.In 1988, India test-fired its first homemade ballistic missile, the Prithvi-I.Since then, India has developed three versions of the Prithvi.


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.It was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1994 and is capable of targeting around a quarter of Pakistan’s territory, including capital Islamabad.

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In 2013, the DRDO said it was planning to withdraw the Prithvi to replace it with the latest and more accurate Prahaar missile.


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.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.

The Prithvi-II comes with an improved inertial navigation system, greatly improving its accuracy and allowing it to evade anti-ballistic missiles.The missile is in service with the Indian Air Force and is capable of targeting all major Pakistani cities and military installations.


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.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.

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Prithvi-III can be launched off Indian Navy ships.The Prithvi-III, also called Dhanush, is a ship-based naval variant of the missile that began development in 2000.

They may not be used for striking strategic targets but their mobility and high accuracy make them a deadly battlefield weapon against enemy military formations and bases.

A single conventionally-armed Prithvi missile can destroy what might take several smaller air-delivered bombs, cruise missiles, and artillery.

The Prithvi-III can particularly be used to decimate enemy ports.

Lasting legacy

Humble Prithvi missile gave birth to India’s mighty missile infrastructure
When first tested in 1988, the modest 150-km ranged Prithvi wasn’t the most sophisticated ballistic missile.

Its success lies in the fact that it spurred the creation of India’s self-honed research and development infrastructure and industry that gave birth to India’s sophisticated and longer-range Agni, K-series, BrahMos and Nirbhay ballistic and cruise missiles.

Eventually, these formed the backbone of India’s nuclear and conventional arsenal.




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