Friday, July 2, 2010

India to test missile defence shield once again in August

It's a no-brainer that with two long, unresolved borders with nuclear-armed China and Pakistan, India needs to develop an effective missile defence shield as soon as possible. The good news is that India is planning another test of its fledgling ballistic missile defence (BMD) system next month.
BMD systems, however, are incredibly complex. They have to detect, classify, track and then hit a fast-incoming hostile missile with interceptors or anti-missile missiles with virtual pinpoint accuracy, all within a matter of minutes. No one, after all, wants nukes to leak through the so-called shield. And if there are multiple enemy missiles, it becomes all the more formidable.
Even the BMD systems of US, Russia and Israel are yet to be proven in actual conflict. The US, of course, has spent billions of dollars on its missile defence systems like Patriot Advanced Capability-3, Aegis BMD-3 and THAAD (terminal high-altitude area defence) system, the last of which was tested as recently as Tuesday.
But DRDO remains upbeat about its seemingly unrealistic claim that Phase-I of its two-tier BMD system, designed to track and destroy hostile missiles both inside (endo) and outside (exo) the earth's atmosphere, will be "ready for deployment'' as early as 2012.
Phase-I is designed to intercept enemy missiles with a 2,000-km range, while Phase-II is meant to tackle 5,000-km range missiles, as reported by TOI earlier. While Phase-I interceptors fly at 4.5 Mach high-supersonic speeds, Phase-II ones will have hypersonic speeds of 6-7 Mach.
"The next test is going to be conducted in August during which we will try to intercept a missile at an altitude of 15-20 km,'' DRDO chief V K Saraswat told reporters here on Thursday.
This will be the fifth test of the Phase-I BMD system. The first three tests, in November 2006, December 2007 and March 2009, when the enemy missiles were `killed' at altitudes of 48-km, 15-km and 80-km respectively, were successful. But the fourth, on March 15 this year, had flopped.
"The anti-missile system is a two-tiered one, where you first launch the target (enemy) missile and then you launch the hit missile. Since the target was not launched as planned (on March 15), the anti-missile system did not trigger,'' explained Saraswat.
This may well be true but DRDO has a long way to go before it can boast of successfully deploying an effective missile shield, with overlapping networks of advanced early-warning and tracking radars, fail-safe command and control posts, and robust land and sea-based interceptor missile batteries.
DRDO is yet to test Phase-I in an integrated mode, with both the two-stage exo and single-stage endo interceptors together, to first engage outside the atmosphere and then intercept the `leakers' inside to ensure the required near 100% kill probability.
Capable of handling multiple targets, the BMD system will have to be repeatedly tested for a variety of flight envelopes before it go in for production and subsequent deployment.

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