Pinaka in Conventional Non-contact Deterrence

By Lt Gen PR Shankar (R)


A View from Pakistan

Recently on December 19 a test firing of the Pinaka was carried out using an operational launcher. Daily Pakistan has this to say “Pinaka is an artillery missile system capable of destroying 900 square metres at a 20-80 kilometre range by firing a salvo of 12 rockets within 48 seconds. The Pinaka Mk-II rocket is modified as a missile by integrating with the navigation, control and guidance system to improve the end accuracy and enhance the range. It is believed that the guided version of the Pinaka system is being developed in order to deliver nuclear warheads at short ranges”. They are clearly worried. They forgot to add that Pinaka also has a range of deadly warheads – anti tank, anti-personal and incendiary.

Trends and Developments in US

The Army Futures Command of US has six modernisation programmes. The top priority programme is Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF). Extending range of GMLRS is part of this high priority programme. There is an emerging worldwide trend of increasing standoff range through artillery with a high degree of lethality and precision using conventional warheads. There is heavy stress on non-contact warfare as part of multi domain operations.

Pinaka – the Critical Midfielder

The Pinaka system must be seen in this emerging context. With a range of about 37 km the unguided ammunition can carry out destruction roles in the tactical sphere. With a range of up to 80 km the Guided Pinaka can carry out tasks in the operational depth. The accuracy of the system enables surgical strikes to be carried out. For instance, the Balakot strike could well have been carried out by a Pinaka launcher with equal effect and less fuss. In conventional scenarios it will enable deterrence, interdiction and dislocation through its plethora of warheads – anti pers, anti-tank and incendiary. The 210 mm calibre also lends itself to being nuclearised if needed. Internationally there is clear understanding that guided artillery with extended ranges combined with unmanned systems will provide great complementarity to air delivery of firepower. Artillery engagements lend themselves to better control of escalatory dynamics. There are also circumstances when air operations are not possible. These circumstances could be political in nature, dense air defence environment or simply inability to fly due to vagaries of weather. Cost effectiveness also plays a part. Overall it emerges that the Pinaka system can be employed in multiple roles. In fact, its role is very much like a midfielder in football and a middle order batsman in cricket. Anyone who has played these games will know that control of the midfield field/order is often the difference between victory and defeat. The Pinaka is similar. It is a weapon system which allows the operational commander to control the midfield battle. As non-contact battle becomes the norm, the midfield assumes greater importance.

The Chinese Context

In our context, the Chinese border is inaccessible in many places due to poor road infrastructure. In such places it is out of reach of conventional tube artillery either due to range or mobility factors or both. The only way to fire across the Line o Actual Control (LAC) in many places is by long range guided rocket artillery with any degree of certainty. In case we must deter China by “denial” we need to have credible and accurate long-range fire capability. This capability should be available in adequate quantity for simultaneous and non-linear engagement effectively. This means devastating multi layered fires delivered from a compact of tube artillery, rocket artillery, cruise missiles and fighter aircraft. Further, in Himalayas, air operations are fickle since they are dictated by weather conditions. Hence reliance on long range guided rocket systems for depth engagements and interdiction will be high. The key for effective deterrence will be long range guided rocket artillery in the form of PINAKA.

The Pakistani Case

Against Pakistan we need to practice deterrence by “Punishment”. To execute such a game plan, we need to have a capability to cause damage in depth by conventional methods while keeping the fragile Indo-Pak escalatory dynamics in view. Further we need to have a counter battery ability to destroy the much-touted NASR which has a nuclear tip. We simply need to hunt for the NASRs. The overall stance against Pakistan should be a declared conventional capability with an implied nuclear capability. The key for this again lies with an effective long-range guided rocket system – PINAKA.

Non-Contact Capability Compact

To this end a credible non-contact fire capability compact is being put in place with the induction Rafale in addition to the existing Su-30s, the BrahMos, the Pinaka MBRL and a slew of 155 mm Guns like the ULH, Dhanush, K9 Vajra and Sarang. This is in consonance with the line of thought outlined earlier – credible firepower in depth to have a non-contact deterrence capability deep into adversary territory. While there is clarity on the rest of the systems, it is the Pinaka MBRL, our emerging strength which needs a sharper focus.

Pinaka MBRL

The Pinaka MBRL is a successful indigenous system. It entered service nearly a decade ago. It is a proven system which took two decades of back breaking development. It has proven itself. It is light weight and devastating. However, the first version had limited range of about 37 km. Hence a range upgrade to 50 km was pursued. The range increment without guidance was inconsistent and inaccurate. Hence, we embarked on fitting it with a guidance system. Our effort bore fruit in record time. Within a matter of 10 months we were able to design and develop a guidance kit for the rocket and fire it. The initial firing indicated a range of 70 km with perfect accuracy. All this even without a project being sanctioned! Subsequent trials have proven that the Extended Range Pinaka System is fine. In March 2019, I analysed it as an example of success in an article with great pride. It was a model to emulate to beat the “System”. However, our “System” has caught up with it as it appears.

Three Track Progress

The project should have progressed on three tracks in parallel. One track to continue with the formalities of completing balance trials. The second track to go in for a provisional set of numbers and set up production facilities. The third track should have been to look ahead to develop variants to extend the engagement ranges further as also to incorporate a seeker head to have pinpoint capability. Parallel progression will enable time compression. In turn it enables enhancing operational capability at least cost. What seems to be happening is that these actions are being done in series. Complete the trials, then start production, and then start thinking of pinpoint accuracy. The lessons we learnt from this programme itself and the Dhanush 155 mm gun programme where trials and setting up of production went hand in hand seem to have been lost. Result. We are clearly getting behind in the capability curve. By now we should have been seriously discussing the time frames of pinpoint accuracy and if we could nuclearise the warhead. Everyone in the ”System” – the users, the developers, bureaucrats and experts – feel that the Extended Range Guided Pinaka is a game changer. However, when asked why it has not progressed as planned, the short answer is that it is hostage to our “System” and its myriad procedures. The procedures seem to have taken over the operational necessity. The Chinese and Pakistanis will be very happy with our “System” if we cannot do something sensible.

Inverted Planning

Let us look at the numbers. Initially it was planned to procure 22 regiments of Pinaka as per the Arty Profile 2027. However, after some “thinking and operational reassessment” beyond logic, the number of Pinaka Regiments were reduced by 12. We have correspondingly increased the number of 155 mm gun (max range 40 km) regiments by 12! These will come at the tail of all other orders after 15-20 years. It is flummoxing that; we have decreased our requirement of a fully indigenous and devastating rocket system with 70 km range from 22 to 10. So much for “Make in India”. This inverted planning is happening in an era where the international trend is to go in for long range precision fires. Just imagine deployment of another 12 regiments of Pinaka with its plethora of warheads on the LAC and the deterrence effect it will have on our adversaries. The system also has the potential (with some ingenuity) to be converted into a common launcher of multiple caliber and longer-range Rockets/Missiles. Is this fallout of “Infantilisation” of the higher echelons of Army leadership and marginalisation of artillery and mechanised forces officers? An erstwhile GOC in C, Western Command has alluded to this and this is being reflected by on ground actions without understanding long term implications. If this continues there is no way we will be able to defend our nation with some sense of assurance and that too at times when budgets are going to be tight. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) keeps talking of “Realm of Non-Contact Warfare”. It will soon sound hollow when matching on ground thinking is absent. In my opinion the way we have handled this gem of an indigenous equipment is reflective of what ails our increasingly infantry oriented operational and defence planners – missing the woods for trees.

Protecting Tomorrow – Today

I will end this article with credo of The Army Futures Command. The home page of its website says – “At Army Futures Command, we believe in utilising the best expertise, whatever the source, to create innovative solutions faster and better. We’re on a quest to modernise the way the Army does business by creating a space of endless possibilities to explore, develop, and test new methods, organisations, and technologies. Above all else, we want to make sure soldiers have what they need, before they need it, to protect tomorrow… today. The US Army Modernisation Strategy (AMS) describes how the Total Army — Regular Army, National Guard, Army Reserve, and Army Civilians — will transform into a multi-domain force by 2035. The US Army’s reform efforts have reduced bureaucracy and realigned funding towards our top priorities to enable these modernisation efforts.

I do hope at least one among the PM, RM (Defence Minister), NSA, the new CDS, Chiefs and Defence Secretary take note of this approach and pay special attention to the sentence – we want to make sure soldiers have what they need, before they need it, to protect tomorrow… today. All I will ask from these gentlemen is that to ensure what the soldier needs today is given to him at least by day after tomorrow. Having put heart and soul into making sure India has cutting edge capabilities of indigenous nature in the form of Pinaka, I am apprehensive that efforts are likely to go down the belly of our serpentine “System”. Our “System” is the biggest threat to India’s five trillion-dollar dreams. Clearly the System is out of balance!


I also do not understand as to why IAF and IN are not adapting this system to their needs. There is plenty of scope, it will tremendously be a low cost effective system.