Wednesday, December 12, 2007

India to have missile defence system in 3 yrs

The first tests of India's home-grown anti-ballistic missile system have been successful and the country expects it to be ready for military use in three years, its top missile scientist said on Wednesday.

India is also designing Agni IV, a new version of its longest-range ballistic missile, which will be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and hit targets more than 5,000 km away, V.K. Saraswat said.

The announcement came days after defence scientists said they had conducted a successful second test of an interceptor missile that destroyed a supersonic missile at an altitude of 15 km on the country's east coast.

India needed a missile shield as it had a policy not to use nuclear weapons unless it became a victim of a nuclear attack, Saraswat said, adding that this made India the fourth country after the U.S., Russia and Israel with such a capability.

"Suppose tomorrow there is a missile taking off somewhere in our vicinity, I do not know whether it is coming with a nuclear tip or a conventional warhead," he told a news conference.

"If I keep quiet and wait for it to fall on my city and then start sending my own deterrent missile, by the time a lot of damage is done," he said. "It is essential you have a system which will first take on that kind of a threat.

"Because we have a ballistic missile defence system ... a country which has a small arsenal will think twice before it ventures," he said in an apparent reference to old rival Pakistan.


India's indigenous missile programme has built short- and long-range missiles, including one that can hit targets deep inside China.

It has fought three wars with Pakistan and was on the brink of a fourth in 2002, and also fought a brief border war with China in 1962. Both China and Pakistan have their own missile arsenals that are capable of reaching almost all of India.

While China does not have a known anti-ballistic missile system, Indian scientists said its anti-satellite missile tested in January could easily be modified to meet this need.

Although India's relations with both neighbours have been largely peaceful in recent times, New Delhi says its defence forces, the world's fourth largest, have to be modernised and deterrents put in place to ensure stability.

New Delhi has been in preliminary talks with the United States to consider its Patriot PAC-3 air missile defence system and with Israel for its Arrow system.

But with those deals expected to take years to materialise, if at all, India was pursuing its own programme, experts said.

Saraswat said Israel and France had initially provided a few of the technologies needed for the anti-ballistic missile system which could also be used against cruise missiles.

The project was started in late 1998, months after India and Pakistan conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests, he said.

"We have to do more flight trials ... to establish reliability and repeatability," Saraswat said. "So I expect three years time for it to come to that level."

Asked if the new system would alter the military balance in the region, he said: "It is a defensive posture of our country, not an offensive posture. It doesn't alter the balance.

"It is just my capability to defend myself."

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