Missile Defence-June 2008
For DRDO’s indigenous anti-missile missile, it’s a long journey
By Pravin Sawhney
The maiden and successful flight-test of the indigenous anti-missile missile (PAD project) in the exo-atmosphere at 47km altitude on 27 November 2006 took the nation by surprise. Dr V.K. Saraswat, the director for Defence Research and Development Organisation’s strategic systems division said that with the test all mission objectives had been met. This included the integrated functioning of air defence system elements, target launch, acquisition and tracking by ground radar, mid-course guidance performance, stage separation, target acquisition by seeker, and satisfactory terminal guidance. While the media went overboard in declaring that India had built a world class Ballistic Missile Defence, Dr Saraswat tempered the mood by announcing that soon the DRDO would conduct a missile interception in the endo-atmospheric zone followed by at least half a dozen tests over the next four years to validate the system as a credible defence against incoming ballistic missiles. The endo-atmospheric interceptor (AAD project) test at a range of 15km altitude was successfully done on 6 December 2007 and validated the Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR), the Multi-Functional Fire Control Radar (MFFCR), mission control centre, launch control centre, mobile launcher, and mobile and multi-layer communication system and data links. Speaking recently to FORCE about what these technologies would accomplish and the roadmap for planned technical advances, Dr Saraswat is optimistic that Phase I interceptors, to include PAD (exo-atmospheric interceptor) and AAD (endo- atmospheric interceptor), will be operationally deployed by 2011. (Dr Saraswat said that PAD and AAD are not acronyms but just codenames that he gave to the projects).

Before we delve into these technologies, it would be interesting to appreciate the genesis of the indigenous anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system or the Indian BMD. Two events at the turn of the century got the DRDO thinking about building an indigenous BMD. On assuming office, the US President George W. Bush announced his BMD plans, and India became the first country, even before the US’ closest allies like Japan and South Korea, to endorse it wholeheartedly. To demonstrate Washington’s pleasure with New Delhi’s fast endorsement, the then US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage travelled to New Delhi in April 2001 to explain the Bush initiative, a gesture that US does with a few valued countries to explain important decisions. The Bush BMD was in two parts: National Missile Defence (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD); and deeper nuclear cuts, even unilateral if Russia did not agree. With the proliferation of short and medium range ballistic missiles with China and Pakistan, the TMD caught New Delhi’s interest. Moreover, it was argued that years of US’ pressure on India to slow its indigenous ballistic missile programme had taken its toll where it was felt that Pakistan had acquired a lead in ballistic missiles, clandestinely acquired from China and North Korea.

The answer for India lay in concentrating instead on the BMD, where the US had even offered its improved Patriot (PAC-3) system to New Delhi. While the PAC-3 is a state-of-the-art system, it had two drawbacks: it was too expensive for the numbers of vulnerable areas (VA) and vulnerable points (VP) to be guarded. Moreover, the system is endo-atmospheric, implying it can intercept a hostile missile within the atmosphere in the terminal phase. Given its sub-continental size, what India needs is a large number of anti-missile missiles that could intercept both inside and outside the atmosphere. It is known that ballistic missiles can be intercepted and shot down at three points on its flight: in the early boost phase, in mid- course when most of the missiles are outside the atmosphere, and in the terminal phase where they hit the target. The ideal point, and also the most difficult, is to kill the missile in the boost phase as it would require space-based sensors and directed energy weapons like jet-based lasers to destroy the missiles. The achievable objective for India was to attempt to kill the missile in exo and endo- atmosphere during mid-course and terminal phases. Just when the DRDO was mulling over how to do this, Israel sold two EL/M Green Pine ground-based phased-array L-band 600km long-range tracking radars to India in late 2001.
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