Sunday, March 8, 2009

Successful Test of Interceptor Missile

The India’s Missile Defence Programme took a leap forward on March 6, 2009 as scientists demonstrated the capacity to intercept an enemy missile in mid-air and destroy it. A third test in the continuing programme was conducted off the wheeler island in Orissa.

The interceptor missile sensed an “enemy” missile and was fired from a mobile launcher located on wheeler island. This was the third consecutive interception of a ballistic missile. The first was carried out in November 2006. This was outside the atmospheric region at a height of 48 Km above the earth. The second inside the atmospheric region at 15 km height using and was conducted in December 2007.

During the test was a modified version of the Dhanush surface-to-surface missile was fired from a naval ship in the Bay of Bengal to simulate the terminal phase of the flight of a ballistic missile with a range of 1,500 km. As the incoming missile neared the Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast, a Prithvi air defence missile was launched to intercept it at an altitude of about 80 km and kill it. The test was part of the Defence Research and Development Organisation's (DRDO) effort to put in place a ballistic missile shield.

India Joins Elite Club
With this India joins a select band of nations such as the US, Russia and Israel, which have similar capabilities. China, has, in the past few months demonstrated it ability that went a step in different direction. It destroyed an old geo-stationary satellite in space and that triggered alarm bells across the globe.

India’s test was against a moving missile. This provides a credible defence against long-range missiles owned by Pakistan having range between 400 and 2,000 km and the Chinese arsenal that varies from a range of 300 km to 2,800 km.

Countering an incoming missile is one of the biggest challenges in modern-day warfare. All long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles leave the earth’s atmosphere and re-enter it near the destined target.

The present test was to destroy the incoming missile at a greater height so that the debris of the missile gets burnt out on re-entering the atmosphere hence reducing the damage on the ground.
Targeting Enemy’s Missile

Long-range missiles once fired can hit destined targets within a matter of minutes, the challenge is to shoot the interceptor within the first minute or at best two minutes so that the enemy missile is destroyed further away from the Indian soil. Sensors pick up an incoming enemy missile.

The interceptor missile has a killing probability of above 99 per cent. It can also carry a warhead of about 25 kg. This test achieved all the mission objectives. The two-stage “interceptor missile” hit the target. To mimic the incoming enemy’s ballistic missile trajectory, a Dhanush missile was launched from a ship about 100 km off the coast off Orissa coast. This missile achieved a height of 120 km.

BMD System
The Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system, as it is called, was said to be slightly superior to the US PAC--3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) in interception, altitude and range against incoming ballistic missiles.The new missile was fired from Wheeler Island a little over two minutes later and successfully intercepted the incoming target, destroying it over the Bay of Bengal.
All elements of the BMD system such as long range tracking radar, multi-function fire control radar, mission control centre, launch control centre, mobile launcher, mobile and multi layer communication system, and data links to the interceptor participated in the mission.

A complex and expensive technology, the BMD system provides India an effective defence shield against China and Pakistan fielding a wide variety of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Though these capabilities are a crucial necessity, a BMD system can be overwhelmed by a flurry of ballistic missiles. It is quite vulnerable to cruise missiles since they fly at low altitudes. With this test, India reached another milestone towards making the home-grown BMD system operational by 2011-12. In Phase-I, a BMD system capable of taking on "2,000-km class targets" is being developed. Phase-II, in turn, will be geared towards tackling threats from missiles up to 5,000-km.

Own Security ImperativesIndia’s test comes at time of great turmoil in neighbouring Pakistan with questions rising about the ability of Pakistani military to control its nuclear and missile assets. It is prudent to think of a missile defence capability to counter this threat. Unfortunately, the debate on missile defence for India has become a debate about India’s burgeoning ties with the US, as opposed to a serious analysis that flows from India’s own security imperatives.
Ideally, India would like to have the know-how that can help in the destruction of hostile missiles, while they are still at the launch pad, as the time taken for a missile launched from the sub-continent to impact India is less than five minutes. Also, from the perspective of nuclear command and control, India should have the ability to shield its ultimate decision-making authority from a bolt-from-the-blue nuclear strike, either through missiles or a low-level penetration aerial strike.

As the major powers reduce their arsenals missile defence will become increasingly rational. Ultimately, technology will determine whether it will be fully deployed or not, rather than arms control considerations. India cannot afford to be behind in this race.

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