Monday, March 9, 2009

India kicks off work on advanced missile defence shield

Buoyed by the successful testing of its fledgling ballistic missile defence, India is pushing ahead with an ambitious version of the star wars project capable of shooting down incoming ICBMs in the 5,000 km range.

The phase-II of the BMD systems, likely to be deployed by 2014, will be an important part of India's defence as both China and Pakistan possess nuclear capable missiles. Once the BMD is in place it will place India in a fairly exclusive club alongside US, Russia and Israel.

India will be playing catch up with China which stunned the world by shooting down a weather satellite with a missile in January 2007. Putting in place a system capable of intercepting inter-continental ballistic missiles would enhance India's strategic prowess.

While a BMD system can be overwhelmed by a flurry of missiles or a low-flying cruise, it would be a important part of India's defence against the danger of ballistic missiles.

If the ongoing Phase-I BMD system is geared to tackling enemy missiles with a 2,000-km range, Phase-II is enhance capacities significantly. Plans are also afoot to have space-based surveillance systems to ensure a hostile threat can be detected even earlier than the present long-range tracking radars (LRTRs) used in the BMD system, which track the `enemy' missile as well as guide the `interceptor' missile in destroying it.

Sources said DRDO has told the government that while the Phase-I systems can be deployed from 2012 onwards, the Phase-II systems will come into operational play only from 2014 onwards at the earliest.

There will be another interesting spin-off from the indigenous two-tier BMD system, capable of tracking and destroying hostile missiles both inside (endo) and outside (exo) the earth's atmosphere. It will give India a potent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon since technology required for "neutralisation'' of a ballistic missile or a satellite is somewhat similar.

India, of course, has received presentations from the three countries which have operational BMD or anti-ballistic missile systems -- US (Patriot Advanced Capability-3), Russia (S-300V) and Israel (Arrow-2) -- as of now.

Though all three are hawking their systems to India, New Delhi has decided to go in for its own "home-grown'' BMD system specifically designed to meet its security needs. Moreover, there are financial and feasibility concerns about importing foreign systems.

"We are cooperating with countries to bridge our technology gaps. US, for instance, has a different threat profile. Its systems will not be suitable for us. Our system has to cater for our own threat profile,'' DRDO chief controller for missiles, Dr V K Saraswat, said on Monday.

Dismissing PAC-3 as "an outdated system'', the scientist said India's BMD system was "20-30% more capable'' than it. He, however, acknowledged the BMD system had received some help from countries like Israel (LRTRs), France (fire-control radars) and Russia (seekers).

DRDO, of course, often promises more than it can deliver. This time, however, it sounds quite confident, especially after the third test of the Phase-I BMD system on March 6, when a two-stage exo-atmospheric interceptor missile intercepted an `enemy' missile at an 80-km altitude.

In the earlier tests, in November 2006 and December 2007, the enemy missiles had been "killed'' at altitudes of 48-km and 15-km respectively. The next test, with both exo and endo interceptor missiles in an integrated mode, is slated for September.

"We will complete all our tests for Phase-I by 2010-2011. All BMD building blocks like long-range radars, communication network, mission control centre and launch control centre are in place,'' said Saraswat.

"What we are now perfecting are Phase-I interceptor missiles, which fly at 4.5 Mach high-supersonic speeds. We are already working on Phase-II interceptors, which will have hypersonic speeds of 6-7 Mach,'' he added.

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