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J C Menon

India is likely to expedite the installation process of its Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system, aimed at protecting its important cities, vital installations and critical assets from being targeted by missiles from hostile nations. India’s BMD programme is structured as a two-layered missile defence system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles, namely the PRITHVI Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile for interception at low altitude. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which has developed the system and the Indian Air Force (IAF), which has carried out the tests, have submitted a final induction strategy to the government.

“All tests and trials carried out so far have been successful, including the radars and missiles,” a DRDO official said. The first BMD will be installed in the national capital, New Delhi, and the second one could be in the financial capital Mumbai, the official notes. DRDO had earlier stated that the first phase of the BMD shield would be ready by 2013 to protect New Delhi from hostile missiles with a 2000 km range. It had also said that by 2016, the second phase would be operational with the capability to kill hostile missiles within a 5000 km range.

Ambitious Project

India has been working on a two-tiered BMD system since 1999, with the PRITHVI Air Defence (PAD) Pradyumna and PRITHVI Defence Vehicle (PDV) interceptors designed to destroy missiles at exo-atmospheric altitudes of 50–180 kilometres. PAD has the capability to engage the 300 km to 2,000 km class of ballistic missiles at speeds of 5 Mach and is guided by an inertial navigation system with mid-course updates from the Long-Range Tracking Radar (LRTR) and active radar homing in the terminal phase. India has specifically developed a LRTR named SWORDFISH as part of its BMD programme which helps in tracking and providing fire control to interceptor missiles. Currently, the SWORDFISH LRTR has a range of 600 to 800 km and can spot objects two inches in diameter and India has upgraded this radar to increase its range to 1500 km. This will be used along with upgraded variants of the PAD and AAD missiles.

Tests and Trials

The first PAD exercise was conducted in November 2006, in which a PAD missile successfully intercepted a modified PRITHVI-II at an altitude of 50 km, which was modified successfully to mimic the trajectory of Pakistan’s M-11 missile. On 6th March 2009, DRDO carried out a second successful test of the PAD interceptor missile against a ship-launched DHANUSH missile, which followed the trajectory of a missile with a range of 1500 km. The target was tracked by SWORDFISH LRTR radar and destroyed by the PAD at a 75 km altitude. With that test of the PAD missile, India became the fourth country to have successfully developed an anti-ballistic missile system, after United States, Russia, and Israel. The PDV is to eventually replace the older PAD/PRADYUMNA Ballistic Missile Interceptor and among other features, this new two-stage, solid-fuelled PDV interceptor is fitted with an Imaging Infrared (IIR) seeker, developed by DRDO to distinguish between incoming warheads and decoys. The PDV was first tested in April 2014 and the missile interceptor had a “near miss” at an altitude of 120 km. However, on 12th February 2017, PDV was able to successfully destroy a ballistic missile target launched from over 2000 km at an altitude of 97 km.

On December 6, 2007, the first AAD successfully intercepted a modified PRITHVI-II missile at an altitude of 15 km after which several tests were conducted before on 1st March 2016, an AAD missile was able to destroy the target missile, meeting all the mission objectives successfully, according to the DRDO official. The AAD system is a single-stage, solid-fuel missile named ASHVIN, designed to intercept incoming endo-atmospheric ballistic missiles at an altitude of 20-40 km. The interceptor is 7.5 m tall, weighs around 1.2 tonnes and has a diameter of less than 0.5 m, using guidance similar to that of PAD, with an inertial navigation system, mid-course updates from ground-based radar and active radar homing in the terminal phase.

Combined Defence

India is already set to receive the Russian S-400 TRIUMPH air defence system and DRDO is also developing BARAK-8, a long-range anti-air and anti-missile naval defence system jointly with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The Indian Army is considering induction of a variant of the BARAK 8 missile to meet its requirement for a medium-range surface-to-air air defence missile while the naval version has the capability to intercept incoming enemy cruise missiles and combat jets targeting its warships at sea. It would also be inducted into the Indian Air Force, followed by the Army and DRDO is also hoping to soon induct its short range Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM) into the country’s military after it was tested successfully last year. The sophisticated all-weather and all-terrain missile with a strike range of 25-30 km (16-31 mi.) has been developed by the DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces, with search and track on-the-move capability, in a short reaction time. The missile can be mounted atop a truck and stored in a canister, uses solid-fuel propellant, and is equipped with electronic counter measures against jamming by aircraft radars. It is also equipped with an indigenously-developed phased array radar, inertial navigation system, data link and RF seeker. The missile will give a boost to the ballistic missile defence system and there are also plans to develop a laser based weapon system to intercept and destroy missiles soon after they are launched towards the country.