Thursday, March 27, 2008

India: Missile defense dreams

India reveals plans for an ambitious anti-missile defense shield, sparking concerns of an arms race and speculation as to the country's true capabilities.

India's recently unveiled designs to develop an integrated anti-missile shield has sparked concerns as to the potential impact on the regional strategic balance.

With development underway, reports that the US is willing to assist India in building an anti-missile defense capacity are a cause for concern in both China and Pakistan. Russia, which has been one of India's key defense partners, will also be watching developments with growing unease.

Nonetheless, considerable doubts remain as to the potential effectiveness of Indian anti-missile systems currently under development.

Development

Following successful interceptor missile tests in 2006 and 2007, India claims to have developed an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capacity, with operational deployment scheduled by 2011.

The chief controller of India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), VK Saraswat, was quoted by the local media as saying that his organization was "developing a robust anti-missile defense system that will have high-speed interceptions for engaging ballistic missiles in the 5,000 km class and above."

During the November 2006 Prithvi Air Defense Exercise (PADE), a high altitude test was conducted involving the successful interception of a Prithvi ballistic missile by a second modified Prithvi interceptor missile, dubbed the AXO (Atmospheric Intercept System). The agency has also successfully tested the Advanced Air Defense (AAD) missile, intended for lower altitude interceptions.

According to sources, a further test is scheduled for this April when two interceptors will target a single incoming missile. Development is also reportedly underway on the high-speed AD-1 and AD-2 ABM systems.

Ajey V Lele of New Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses is optimistic concerning the potential of India's anti-missile program, despite speculation that it may trigger a regional arms race.

Lele told ISN Security Watch, "With nuclear powers in the neighborhood, India needs to shift focus from conventional defensive capabilities towards a solid missile defense as part of a national deterrence policy."

An "operational missile defense system would certainly greatly ease New Delhi's security concerns, especially [regarding] external aggression, be it a hostile state or non-state actors," he said, adding, "Both Pakistan and China have nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting many Indian cities within a very short flight time."

India started work secretly on anti-missile defense long before its 1998 nuclear tests; work prompted by a growing emphasis in China and Pakistan on missile development.

Following the AAD test in December, senior Indian defense officials made it clear that they believed the new system was capable of intercepting the M-9 and M-11 class of missiles stockpiled in neighboring countries.

With an eye on Indian ABM development, Pakistan continues to fine-tune its nuclear-capable missile arsenal through ongoing work on the Ghauri, Ghaznavi and Babur series of ballistic and cruise missiles. Whether Pakistan will follow with its own anti-missile system remains unclear.

India's true capabilities

Observers believe that by transforming its existing missile capabilities into a viable intercept system, India may push into the elite club of nations with operational anti-missile systems.

India has shown interest in the past in Israel's Arrow system. Sales of the related Yellow Citron control and Green Pine radar were blocked by the US, Israel's partner in the Arrow project. Israel later supplied a couple of Green Pine Radars to bolster India's dual-function Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR), which can be utilized in both "target acquisition" and "fire control" for exo-atmospheric anti-missile systems.

However, many question India's ability to put in place a robust missile defense system on its own. These reservations are partly based on the DRDO's previous record, which is marred by technical shortcomings such as those exposed during the Trishul and Akash anti-aircraft missile projects.

While Israel and France have provided India with technical support, some experts remain skeptical. Stratfor analyst Nathan Hughes told ISN Security Watch that ballistic missile defense was not something that the agency could just pick up.

"[I] haven't seen evidence suggesting that the DRDO is either capable of that level of technological sophistication or has pursued a representative test and evaluation program anywhere close to sufficient to field a meaningful BMD [ballistic missile defense] capability."

"Even the US has yet to succeed in having a fool-proof shield in place when it has been working concertedly on this for the last three decades with over US$100 billion invested in a wide range of technologies," Hughes argued.

Deba R Mohanty of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation holds a similar but slightly more optimistic view as to the DRDO's ability to develop viable anti-missile interceptors.

"It is difficult to develop and deploy a robust multi-layered anti-missile system in a very short time," he told ISN Security Watch.

However, relating to recent developments in India's defense sector, Mohanty said. "One should not always go by the previous record, especially when there is a shift taking place in the DRDO's thinking and functioning."

"Perhaps [India] could achieve success in the field of anti-missile system development with an open door to private and foreign players to assist in its effort with their proven technology," he said.

Regional concerns

Defense analysts fear a credible Indian anti-missile capability could promote instability in the South Asia region, triggering responsive arms-procurements and weapons systems development. Moreover, there are fears that US involvement might complicate India's relations with China, Russia and Pakistan.

"India having a credible BMD shield will certainly make Pakistan squirm, no matter how effective the system truly is," Hughes said.

However, Hughes downplayed Chinese concerns with regard to Indo-US ABM cooperation. He believes that China must decide how to contend with a Japanese BMD capability, rather than India's, as enhanced Japanese capabilities would directly impede the credibility of Beijing's deterrent vis-à-vis Washington.

"While China would watch India's growing missile defense capability very carefully, as the technology gap might further narrow between the two, it would be interesting to watch how the Pakistanis would develop their counter-capabilities," Mohanty said.

"There is hardly any doubt that both China and Pakistan would most likely try to strengthen their missile strike capabilities to maintain the strategic deterrence," she concluded.

Potential partners

"We're just beginning to talk about what India's needs would be in the realm of missile defense and where cooperation might help advance that," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during his recent visit to India. He stressed that any resultant joint development effort would not be directed at any specific country.

India's indigenous defense programs do not have a good track record, with many ambitious projects either stalled or delayed. Saraswat, the father of India's interceptor missile program, while expressing confidence in recent development work, has indicated that US support is needed.

Lockheed Martin, which pioneered the Patriot and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile system, is considering collaboration with the DRDO on BMD development. In early February, Lockheed's Richard Kirkland hinted that "exploratory discussions" had taken place with Indian government and industry representatives on future ABM collaboration.

The other potential ABM development partner is Israel. There have been a series of joint Indo-Israeli defense R&D projects in recent years including cooperation on advanced radars and anti-missile defense systems.

Any potential deal with the US or Israel invites vehement political opposition in India, especially from leftist parties, and it remains to be seen whether a robust anti-missile shield can be achieved in coming years given the associated technological and collaborative challenges.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

DRDO sets its sights on launch of Agni-III ballistic missile in April

After the successful firing of Agni-1 missile on Sunday, the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile on March 5 and the K-15 (Sagarika) missile from a submerged pontoon on February 26, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has set its sights on launching the Agni-III ballistic missile in April 2008.

Agni-III is the most powerful, surface-to-surface missile built by India, which can carry nuclear warheads. It has a range of more than 3,500 km. It has been described as not just “a missile, but a system for the future with which various configurations can be developed.”

It will be the third launch of Agni-III, which will take place from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) on the Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast.

Agni, Agni-II, Agni-I and Agni-III form the group of India’s surface-to-surface, ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Agni-III is a two-stage, long-range missile that weighs 48.3 tonnes and is 16.7 metres long. It can carry warheads weighing 1.5 tonnes over a distance of more than 3,500 km.

Celebrations broke out at the Launch Control Centre on Sunday on the Wheeler Island after the successful launch of Agni-1 missile that reached a distance of more than 700 km. A release from the DRDO from New Delhi said the missile had a textbook performance in terms of range, accuracy and lethality.

Agni-I missile was developed by the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), the premier missile development centre of the DRDO, in collaboration with its neighbours, that is, the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), the Research Centre, Imarat, all of which form the missile complex at Hyderabad.

It was integrated by the Bharat Dynamics Limited, also located in Hyderabad. The ASL is headed by Avinash Chander, who was the Mission Director for the launch. The Vehicle Research and Development Establishment at Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, the ITR and public and private sector industries contributed to the launch.

V.K. Saraswat, Chief Controller, R&D (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, said the success of Agni-1 gave a tremendous boost to India’s strategic defence. The terminal event of the flight was recorded by a downrange ship and the results validated the entire technology of the strategic defence, he added.

Dr. V.G. Sekaran, Project Director, ASL, was present during the launch.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju congratulated the scientists and the operational team of the Strategic Force Command.

DRDO tests nuclear-capable Agni-I missile

India today successfully test-fired its all solid-fuel 700-900 km range nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Agni-I missile.

The missile was launched from a mobile launcher at the integrated test range at the Wheelers' Island, a defence base in the Bay of Bengal on Orissa coast near here, at 1015 hours.

The test met all its parameters, Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists said.

This was the second user trial of the precision target hitting missile to test its "operational readiness," the scientists said. The last trial was conducted on October 5, 2007 from the same launch site.

Agni-I is the first and only solid-fuel missile in the armoury of the Indian armed forces and has been inducted into service. DRDO carries out two tests of each missile every year.

The indigenously-built sleek missile is 15 metres tall, weighs about 12 tonne and is capable of carrying both conventional as well as nuclear warheads of 1,000 kg.