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. First test-fired on February 25, 1988, two versions of this single-stage, liquid-fuel missile are now in service and a third may be in development. 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. (1) The Prithvi-lll is apparently the naval version of the missile.
The Prithvi-I is small (8.55 m) and was paraded in mobile launchers during India's Republic Day parade in January 1996. (2) The Surface-to-Surface Missile 'Privthi' developed under the integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, was successfully test launched, for the 10th time on February 7, 1993. The Prithvi-I has been test fired at least twice from mobile launchers by artillery personnel. The mobile launcher, mobile launch control and user version of the ground system including software, have been validated. Reportedly, the Prithvi-I can be armed with five different types of conventional warheads. A prefragmented warhead has been developed which has performed satisfactorily in dynamic and static trials. In May 1997 India's Junior Defence Minister V.M. Somu told Parliament that development of the 150 km-range Prithvi for the Indian Army was complete, and no test flights have been conducted since that time.
Starting with a test on 27 January 1996, the Prithvi-II missile has been tested to achieve the range of 250 km with a 500-650 kg payload. On 23 February 1997 India conducted the third test of the Prithvi-II, the 16th in the overall program. And on 16 June 2000 India completed successfully its 17th test firing of the Prithvi. On 13 December 2001 India tested an improved version of the Prithvi missile from the at Chandipur testing. The medium-range missile was fired over the Bay of Bengal from the testing range, 750 miles southeast of New Delhi.
It is suspected that nuclear missions would be executed by the Prithvi-II. Foreign Minister Gujral said emphatically in August 1996 that the Prithvi does not have nuclear warheads, and India has consistently stated that Prithvi is to be conventionally armed.
Despite repeated US pressure on India to halt the program, series production of Prithvi-I may have begun in mid-1994, and was certainly underway as of 1997, according to the 1997-98 annual report of the Defence Ministry. Orders for 100 missiles were said to have been placed by the Indian Army for its newly established 333 Missile Group, and as of 1999 as many as 75 missiles were on hand. The Indian Air Force has placed an order for 25 the longer-range Prithvi-II. (3) It is suggested that the Indian Air Force will not be operating the Prithvi, with the few Prithvi-II missiles are at best for familiarization. The army will be operating both the SS-150 and SS-250 variants. Prithvi production capacity at BDL is approximately 3-4 missiles per month, though this has not been achieved. Production of the system has not stabilized - primarily because of cost, but also because the army is not in a rush to induct any large quantity of these missiles as yet. The Prithvi-150s were built at a cost of Rs 3 crore each.
Although little has been written about the Prithvi's accuracy, India claims that it is the first indigenously produced missile with inertial guidance. Prithvi is reported by some sources to have a circular error probable of 1.5 km. (4) -- 1% of range, and therefore it cannot be categorized as a precision munition. According to other sources, the accuracy of the Prithvi when fired from a pre-surveyed launch site is 10 meters at a range of 67km. From an unsurveyed site, that increases to 150-200 meters at 150km. The army wants accuracy from unsurveyed sites to be brought down to 40 meters. There is no use of any terminal guidance on Prithvi.
On April 29, 2003, India tested the short-range nuclear capable Prithvi missile from Chandipur in the eastern Orissa State.
On March 19, 2004, India successfully fire-tested an extended version of the medium-range surface-to-surface missile `Prithvi` from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur-on-sea, about 13 kms from Balasore in the Eastern Indian State of Orissa. The extended version has been developed for Indian Air Force (0AF) and was reportedly test fired from a mobile launcher at about 10:10 a.m. (local time) from the ITR.
On October 27, 2004, India flight-tested the Prithvi III, its most sophisticated medium range surface-to-surface missile and capable of carrying nuclear warheads within a range of up to 300 kms at Chandipur-on-sea. The 8.5-meter-high and one-meter-thick missile, was fired at 11:29 p.m. (local time), and has a range of 250-300 kilometers. The missile uses a two-stage propellant, both solid and liquid.
The Prithvi-II missile, first tested in 1996, officially entered service with the Indian military in 2003, but has had a mixed success rate. In 2010, for instance, a missile specifically built for testing purposes failed. On 15 Februar 2016, the Indian military launched an unarmed Prithvi-II randomly selected from its stockpile. While the missile missed its intended target, it did achieve the desired altitude and distance.