Missile testing ranges of India

Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) wanted to test their first missile project, the first place they looked for was obviously, “the neighborhood.” During 1960’s, the large tract of land from the present day DRDL location was totally open, except a dargah on a elevated place. With a reverence and a prayer at dargah, adjacent area was good enough post to launch the first ever Indian indigenous anti tank missile (ATM) for trials. No problem to start firing ATM, with only booster motor in ballistic mode. Sustainer motor was still on drawing board.

Under an exchange program, Dr. H S Rama Rao who had just completer special weapons course at IAT in Pune, was deputed to Royal Aircraft Establishment, Faranbrough, UK. His main task was Missile Flight Data Processing. With a lot of patience and polite tongue, he could visit UK missile testing range at Aberporth, Wales.

When he returned to DRDL, he was the only person who had seen a missile testing range. A host of Cameras were procured and the ground was marked for a flight corridor of 2 kms.

However, with the ATM sustainer when integrated, the ATM used to drift to the neighboring villages adjacent to dargah. DRDL had to start search for a new testing range.

Imarat Kancha

DRDL scouted around the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, yet they settled for neighborhood land. It was on south, on the way to Srisailam, a vast stretch of state government land. DRDL installed a telemetry room, elevated platforms for cameras, a huge steel plate with a tanks picture and of course “A real battle tank!” This was Imarat Kancha. With closure of ATM project, the land was reverted to state government but a portion of the land was retained, which today is called Research Center Imarat.

Sriharikota

After ATM project, “The Devil” project came up. DRDL was working on a plan to set up an exclusive range facility with huge investments without homing on any particular site. At the same time, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had acquired SrihariKota Island, north of Chennai, for their equatorial launches. The equatorial launches required east coast facilities in India. It was then decided to share the Sriharikota Space Center (SHAR) with DRDL. This range had all previous equipment and additionally Kinetheodolites (KTL). KTL is an optical system to photograph the missile in flight. KTL had unwittingly solved the RH 560 development flight problems which was ISRO’s project. Since then ISRO and DRDL relations became cozier in SHAR. It was no more “DRDL using ISRO facilities” but more of shared relationship.

Change in name

“Hey!… look… what is that…? Was the keen observation made by one of the foreign VIP dignitary at SHAR. The object, a truck, conspicuous with its olive green color, while SHAR had all whites! Thought process triggered and the result was change of name game “Rocket Test Range” (RTR) instead of DRDL cell. Subsequently more facilities were added, like the ground telemetry, receiving station, high speed cine cameras, photo-processing, integration facility, and certain communication systems. Aircraft and System Testing Establishment (ASTE), Bangalore, brought their airplane and Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) brought in their Fluffy pilot less aircraft for testing. The Devil Missile project needed propellants storage, filing systems, special launch pad complex etc.

Air Force station Surya lanka

DRDL had SAM missile testing facilities at Air Force Station Surya Lanka, where other SAM’s were tested at regular intervals.

DRDL wants more

It was the vision of DRDL in 1980’s, to develop several missile systems like SS-150, 9M33, ATM III and SS-250’s for multiple users. In spite of new facilities being created at Sulurupeta, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) hard look at the possibility of an independent range. Integrated Missile Development Programme brought in many missiles for trials. System “L” was the first one. The maiden test flight of system L was scheduled at SHAR. The usual flight test format document was sent to SHAR. They scrutinized and came to know that there was no tele command in”L” system and SHAR insisted on having one. Admiral Mohan intervened and SHAR sympathetically cleared the launch. Next day, the system “L” took off straight towards the east then changed its course towards the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) launch pad, where an important integration activity was taking place. However “L” kept turning south before crashing into south KTL premises. SHAR banned any more “L” launches without tele command destruct system. Subsequently SHAR had to be convinced that the next launches will not repeat the first launch, as the missile has restrictions in guidance, which will not let it turn any other direction except the straight course.

National Testing Range (NTR)

As a national policy, to create an independent testing range for missiles. Baliapal in Balasore district, Orissa, attracted both ISRO and DRDL. There was opposition from local farmers and other sectors. Hence, DRDL scrutinized the map again and homed on to North Balasore for putting up its facilities. It conflicted with none.

Interim Test Range (ITR)

Without waiting for the prolonged land acquiring process, DRDL chose Chandipore, availing the land of another DRDO unit, Proof & Experimental Establishment (PXEE). This was called Interim Test Range (ITR).

The range activities were taken over by a full time director. The rage was built with the Chief Engineer MES Calcutta and MEACON. The selection of Electro Optical Tracking system (EOTS) as instrumentation for ITR has an anecdote. EOTS had two version “man on the mount” and computer based state of art “man on the mount” system. DRL selected the “Man on the mount system.” Lt. Gen Swaroop committee was appointed to look into the technical system. When he was flying an Indian Airlines plane he peeped into the cockpit to find the captain sitting relaxed with a fag! Chatting with the pilot, the general was told that modern gadgets and computers does not need much interference compared to old ones….. Lt. Gen Swaroop, then recalled his thoughts to “man on the mount” lobbyists and asked them why they are hesitating to use computer based system. Dr. H S Rama Rao told Gen Swaroop “ If such is the case, let Indian Airlines takeoff without pilot, then I would accept the EOTS without the “man on the mount.”

Launch Complex (LC) I was the only one contemplated. However, the Prithvi programme which had special features and multiple testing of missiles made it necessary for LC II. LC II had special storage and integration facilities. Agni launch which was to be conducted at SHAR, was shifted to ITR for tactical reasons. LC III was built, it’s called ELSEETHREE. Tracking and surveillance radar selected from USA came under embargo. Navy offered particular ship radar for the job, but I did not work. At this point Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) stepped in to make PCMC radar. A satellite terminal was also installed.

Today, Integrated Test range Balasore is a state of art missile and weapon testing establishment which is a independent work center with ISO certification.

Mission Statement of ITR reads “To provide safe, reliable and precision launch facility with tracking and telemetry coverage including data acquisition, analysis and display of test results.”

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