With two successful recent tests, India’s anti-ballistic missile capability is coming together which could develop a realistic defensive parameter by 2020.
Anti ballistic missile defence is a complex system of missiles, Infra-red and radar-based sensor that are fused with big data super computing capabilities that send missiles against missiles at an astonishing 8000 kilometres an hour – with ultra long ranges of almost 2000 kilometres.
Only three other countries – Russia, Israel and the USA have demonstrated such capability successfully for hitting another missile mid-air in or outside the atmosphere successfully. It is one of the toughest jobs in warfare.
India started its ABM system tests just ten years ago in 2006.
India recently tested the Ashwin advanced interceptor missile. This is an anti-missile system which forms the core second stage of India’s ongoing efforts at forming a missile shield.
In the test, the missile destroyed a targeted incoming Prithvi missile 15 kilometers above sea level. The Ashwin weighs just over one ton and has an electromagnetic activator as well as sensors that allow it targeting through advanced radar and homing capabilities. The missile uses a solid fuel as a propellant. This was the 12th test of such a missile system and all but three tests have been successful.
India has also successfully tested first stage of its two-stage missile defence system through the Pradyumana anti-ballistic missile. This can take out incoming missile outside the atmosphere up to 80 kilometres over the earth’s surface.
The anti-ballistic missile can kill incoming missile from 1800 kilometres away and hit the incoming missile at speeds up to Mach 8 or almost 8000kilometress an hour. The missile test knocked out a Dhanush missile (the naval variant of Prithvi) in a successful test. The Praduyumna is a more complex weapon with a two-stage rocket, the first stage uses a liquid fuel and the second stage uses a solid fuel. It also has optical sensors that can be useful in detecting decoy missiles during an operation.
Underlying the ABM architecture is the powerful Swordfish radar system which can reportedly track 180 different objects at a range of 800 kilometers. India is working to double the range of this radar by 2020.
India is in a dangerous neighborhood. Nuclear armed Islamic republic of Pakistan has the capability to unleash holocaust through 250 odd nuclear warheads. This challenge got even more complicated recently when Pakistan announced a new missile called Ababeel which it claims has multiple reentry capability or MIRV.
That signifies that a single missile may carry multiple nuclear warheads that could engage different targets once they re- enter the atmosphere. A capability India has not tested - though given its extensive civilian program may well possess. In Strategy, it’s pertinent to take seriously any claim, however, absurd by a nuclear-armed country seriously.
The emerging ABM structure addresses these threats. China too has extensive MIRV capabilities with its formidable DF41 and the new Dongfeng 5c with ten nuclear warheads on each missile.
However, the Indian program will need many more tests to have a satisfactory kill level against faster Chinese ICBM’s
Anti-ballistic missiles add a defensive dimension to nuclear warfare, yet they are not a cure-all answer. Even the best nuclear defense systems today such as the US THAAD can stop only 70 percent of missiles from coming through. What they do however is increase the element of strategic uncertainty for an attacker.
The full Indian deployment and possible collaboration with US and Israeli systems will make it tougher for both China and Pakistan to relay on their existing missile systems. This system could provoke an arms race in the region as both countries will race to add missile numbers to overcome the defensive shield.
For Pakistan it is not that easy an option given its dependence on foreign supplies – and even for China it adds a complication to its costs and strategic calculation Vis a Vis the nuclear missile balance in South Asia. For India, the anti-ballistic missile defense provides greater strategic flexibility in the near future in a dangerous nuclear armed neighborhood.
(The author is a Delhi-based security analyst for defence, foreign policy stories.He was also a visiting fellow at the Institute of Chinese studies, Delhi)
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:43 PM IST