Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Missile defence for Delhi

A missile defence system for the national capital is being deployed by the Indian Air Force.

Three Israeli-made balloon or blimp-held radar called Aerostat will be deployed around New Delhi after an intelligence alert of a threat from low-flying aircraft. An Aerostat is also being deployed in Agra for the Taj Mahal.

The Aerostat-based missile defence system is a generation behind the systems used by the US. India is in talks with the US and Russia to check out their more advanced missile defence systems (such as the Patriot III and the SV-300). Its Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is also carrying out trials for an indigenous Prithvi Air Defence system.

The Aerostat radar has been used along the international border in Punjab and in Gujarat (Kutch). The radar is currently in use in south India after the LTTE used aircraft to bomb Sri Lankan military facilities last year.

An official of the Indian Air Force said the decision was taken after defence minister A.K. Antony held a meeting last week and asked the service to mount an extraordinary vigil. Following that, security was beefed up at airports.

The deployment of the Aerostats is in line with that measure, the officer said.

The EL/M 2083 Aerostat radar was bought from Israel in 2004-2005. The blimps have a maximum altitude of 13,000 feet. They are tethered to the ground. The radar they carry has coverage of up to 300km.

The radar is used for surveillance and also has IFF (identification friend or foe) capability. For the national capital, the Aerostat will be connected to batteries of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

If the radar signals an unidentifiable aircraft approaching, it can be programmed to trigger the SAMs automatically.

However, the Indian Air Force usually alerts fighter aircraft squadrons in the vicinity of the capital — in Gwalior, Hindon or Ambala, for example — to be ready to scramble.

The officer said Delhi has no-fly zones over strategic areas (such as over Rajpath and Raisina Hill). Besides, the threat perception for the city was assessed to be higher than that for other urban centres in the country.

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