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A Giant Leap Forward For Indian Missile Defense

File photo of Indian Prithvi missile.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Dec 01, 2006
India's successful test of its own anti-ballistic Prithvi missile Monday still leaves the country a long way from fielding its own, home-produced short- and intermediate- range BMD systems. But it wasn't chickenfeed either.

In the test, as the Times of India reported, an upgraded version of the Prithvi shot down a conventional Prithvi at high altitude over the Bay of Bengal. The interceptor was launched from India's Integrated Test Range at Chandipur-on-sea and the test rocket from Wheeler Island in Orissa.

The success came as an enormous relief to India's long-embattled and much criticized Defense and Research Development Organization, or DRDO. As we have noted in these columns before, over the past three decades, DRDO has invested billions of dollars into high prestige, ambitious long-range ballistic missile, high-tech light combat aircraft, a new main battle tank and even a touted nuclear submarine with almost nothing to show for it.

We also monitored earlier this year the embarrassing failure of a test of India's ambitious Agni III intercontinental ballistic missile which, if successfully developed and deployed, would give New Delhi the deterrent capability to fire nuclear warheads at any city in China including Beijing. Rajiv Singh in an authoritative analysis published by the Web site Wednesday gave important details about what wa sine ffect a new Indian-developed ABM interceptor.

"According to DRDO officials, the new missile had inertial guidance in mid-course and active-seeker guidance (i.e. a radar-seeking warhead) in the terminal phase," Singh wrote. "While the first stage of the interceptor was similar to the Prithvi missile, its second stage was a totally new segment. The yet to be named "high supersonic" interceptor missile has been developed by the DRDO as part of an 'exo-atmospheric intercept system' designed to 'hit-to-kill' incoming ballistic missiles."

Singh noted that DRDO officials told reporters the new ABM could detect a target in less than 30 seconds and launching an interceptor at it within 50 seconds. "According to the officials, many technologies, like high-maneuverability of the interceptor missile, were validated in the test. The flight time for nuclear capable missiles launched from Pakistan is a bare 5 to 8 minutes," he wrote.

Monday's successful test was also an excellent omen for A. K. Anthony, India recently appointed defense minister.

However, as Singh observed, "Defense analysts at home (in India) adopted a prudent posture with regard to the development. They had sufficient reasons to be prudent given DRDO's patchy track record in developing high-tech defense systems for the country's defense services."

He noted that the DRDO had previously "failed to operationalize the much touted 9-kilometer (5.4 mile) range Trishul and the 25-km (15 mile) range Akash air-defense missiles. These missiles have been undergoing 'successful' tests for as long as anyone can remember."

Nevertheless, as Singh acknowledged, "The successful missile interception test now allows India to stand alongside a few countries, such as the U.S., Russia and Israel, that possess a missile defense capability."

The upgraded Prithvi ABM interceptor appears to rank with the U.S. Patriot PAC-3 system, Russia's S-300 and Israel's Arrow in its intended ability to intercept short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. However, the Patriot, the S-300 and the Arrow are all deployed, much tested systems. Even after the extremely positive results of Monday's test, the upgraded Prithvi ABM still clearly as a long way to go to achieve that status.

Indeed, the United States has been trying to sell the Patriot to India as part of the increasingly close strategic weapons cooperation between the two nations. However, so far the Indians have balked at that. Also Singh noted what he called "informed speculation over the years ... that India may already have deployed a few batteries of the Russian S-300 system as an interim arrangement."

Given the continuing warm ties between India and Russia, the huge high-tech weapons orders that the current Congress-UPA dominated government and the previous Baharataya Janata Party-led one have both given to Russia and the exceptional enthusiasm for Russian aerospace technology shown for so many years by long-time Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes, that "informed speculation" seems extremely likely.

Singh noted that the Prithvi-I, "first tested in 1988, has a range of 150 km (90 miles) and deploys a conventional or low-yield nuclear warhead for use against troops or armored formations. Its two variants, Prithvi-II and Prithvi-III, with lesser payloads, have an increased range of 250 km (150 miles) and 350 km (210 miles) respectively. While the Prithvi-II was first tested in January 1996, Prithvi-III underwent its first test firing in October 2004. The Indian Army has already inducted Prithvi- I and II into service."

At the end of the day, when all the cautions, caveats and qualifiers have been made, a crucial underlying fact remains: India has now shown its capability to home produce an effective anti-ballistic missile prototype. France, Britain, Germany, China and Japan have not yet developed the capability to make one of these by themselves, though Japan will certainly is on a crash program to do so with extensive U.S. cooperation and China is already lavishly supplied with S-300 systems, and possibly others, bought from Russia.

The strategic balance of the world therefore shifted on Monday. India took a very large step indeed and served notice that it has much to give, as well as to receive, in its strategic weapons and BMD cooperation with the United States.

Source: United Press International

Related Links

India Joins BMD Club
Delhi, India (UPI) Nov 30, 2006
The Indian Defense Ministry announced Monday it had completed what it described as a successful test of anti-ballistic missiles off the Orissa coast. All Headline news reported From New Delhi that M. Natarajan, the scientific adviser to the Indian defence minister, told The Hindu newspaper, "With this, India has acquired the capability of air defense against the incoming ballistic missile threat. It is a significant milestone in the missile defense of the country."

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