India has traversed a long mile in the arena of missile technology. The author takes the reader on a perceptive stroll through the Indian missile development programme and also provides an overview of what its northern and western adversaries threaten it with. Today, for a country that espouses “No First Use,” the Indian missile capabilities have developed adequately to serve as a substantial component of our nuclear deterrence.
THE INDIAN MISSILE JOURNEY
Missiles in the Indian context were first used by Tipu Sultan during the Second Anglo-Mysore War in 1792, which resulted in 3,820 soldiers of the East India Company being taken as prisoners. We undertook our first peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 and thereafter the search commenced for credible delivery systems. Accordingly a Special Weapons Development Team was constituted to later become the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL).
Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP)
It was in July 1983 that IGMDP was approved by the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. The Defence Minister Shri R Venkatraman directed the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to simultaneously develop five variants of the guided missile Trishul, Akash, Nag, Prithvi and Agni. The critical phase of development commenced when our erstwhile President, Shri A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was appointed Director DRDO. He had successfully undertaken the SLV-3 programme at ISRO and now captained India’s critical missile programme. It is to the credit of DRDO that they could successfully develop three of the five missiles. Agni, Prithvi and Akash have been inducted. Trishul was foreclosed and Nag is still under trials. Further K 15 and K 4 are two missiles which are submarine launched and are undergoing successful trials.
The development process included the areas of Cruise missile. BrahMos is a supersonic Cruise missile capable of being launched from multiple platforms on land, sea, subsurface and air against land and sea targets. It has a maximum range of 290 km, a maximum velocity of 2.5 to 2.8 Mach and cruises at an altitude of 15 km. We are trying to develop a sub sonic cruise missile Nirbhaya which has not succeeded during the four trials. DRDO is making Air Defence missiles as part of Ballistic Missile Defence. In addition, a state of the art Ballistic Missile, Prahar with a range of 150 km, has been developed.
DRDO is also developing Air Defence missiles. The Prithvi air defence missile named as Pradyumna Ballistic Missile Interceptor has a maximum interception altitude of 80 km and is capable of engaging ballistic missiles that range between 300 km to 2,000 km at a speed of Mach 5.0. Further, work is on for a missile for intercepting weapon systems which range more than 5,000 km and fly at altitudes up to 150 km. Satisfactory progress has been made in this area but the system is yet to be inducted.
Agni V and Agni VI
India’s dream of joining the ICBM club was fulfilled by the immaculate launch of Agni-V from the Wheelers Island, now renamed as APJ Abdul Kalam Island, at 0807 hours on 19 April 2012. The missile followed the designated trajectory and the three propulsion stages behaved correctly. The test witnessed the induction of indigenous newly developed technologies which comprised of redundant navigation systems, accurate Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS), Micro Navigation System (MINS) and these enabled the missile to reach within a few metres of the designated target. Precise guidance was provided by the high speed onboard computer with fault tolerant software. The missile had a launch weight of 50 tons and carried a dummy warhead of 1.5 tons. There were to be six trial flights. Four flights have been successfully conducted, the last on 26December 2016. The missile is likely to be inducted into the Strategic Forces on completion of two more tests. DRDO is planning Agni VI with an enhanced range and capability to fire 10 Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry vehicles.
Ballistic Missile Defence Programme
The Ballistic Missile Defence Programme is a two tiered system – exothermic and endothermic. The exothermic system, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) system is an endothermic missile for High Altitude exothermic interception and the Advanced Air Defence Missile (AAD) for low level endothermic interception. The PAD was first tested in November 2006 followed by AAD in December 2007. The PAD has been further developed to intercept at higher altitudes and is known as the Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV). Accordingly, India became the fourth country to have successfully developed an Anti Ballistic Missile System (ABS) after United States, Russia and Israel. The success of the entire system is based on the acquisition of the target missile which is done by the Sword Fish Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar. This is a derivative of the Israeli Green Pine Radar with the Arrow System developed to meet specific Indian needs. The radar currently has a range between 600-800 km and can spot objects as small as a cricket ball. Further enhancement to upgrade it to a range of 1500 km, is underway.
It is indeed interesting that tests for both interceptors were conducted successfully recently. On 11 February 2017 a missile fired from a ship was intercepted at an altitude of 97 km by a PDV exothermic missile. The missile has an Infra Red seeker and hit the target accurately. On 1st March 2017 an incoming missile fired from Integrated Test Range at Chandipur was successfully intercepted by AAD at an altitude of 15 km. This was an endothermic interception. With these tests The BMD system has validated its capability to intercept successfully medium range ballistic missiles travelling at speeds of Mach 3 to Mach 8. The defence against Cruise Missiles poses problems which need to be tackled by other processes.
Our Status in the Region
While we are doing our utmost to develop our capabilities, it is pertinent to assess the capabilities of our western and northern adversaries. China has a lead of 17 years with regard to development of missiles. Yet, it was insecure after the successful firing of Agni-V as the strategic gap has been narrowed with all Chinese targets in range from India. Chinese have termed India as a strategic co-operator where as we certainly are a competitor. The Chinese Second Artillery which has been re-designated as PLA Rocket Forces is presently responsible for handling all types of missiles. Having been raised in 1966, their initial task was to undertake limited nuclear strikes in case of a nuclear conflict. After the First Gulf War in 1991, its role diversified to include conventional engagement against high value strategic targets.
The Second Artillery has currently a series of Cruise and Ballistic missiles. The Chinese Second Artillery is reported to have missiles deployed in three launch bases which can effectively engage targets in India. These are Kunming (Yunnan province) – two brigades DF-21(Range -2150 km); Luoyang (Henan province) – three brigades DF – 31A (Range -11200 km, MIRV) and at Delinga near Xning (Qinghai province) – three brigades of DF – 21. Each brigade has three to four battalions; each battalion has three to four launch companies and each company has one launcher. In addition there are isolated missile locations close to Lhasa in Tibet. Our entire country would be covered adequately by these land based systems, China has 62 submarines; some of these would be fitted with the JL-2, Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile with a range of 7200 km. It has satellites that could provide targeting data of our entire country. Chinese have modified missile DF21- D for engagement of large ships at sea. During the preceding year she has carried out numerous space launches, to perfect her satellite launching capability which would assist her in surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, engagement of targets and post strike damage assessment. China has destroyed a satellite in outer space. In comparison our capabilities are limited.
There is an urgent need to deploy our Agni II, III and V (on successful completion of trials) and BrahMos with steep dive capability in suitable locations to cover the Chinese threat. Further, our SLBM capabilities needs to be developed, We need to have our surveillance satellites as also High Altitude Long Endurance UAVs to provide us real time targeting inputs. Our synergy in application of our resources would narrow the strategic gap, thereby dissuading them from a conflict.
Pakistan’s missile build up has been all along India-centric. The programme is run by Chinese and North Korean assistance. Some of the systems have been imported and the remaining are assembled in a semi knocked down or in a completely knocked down state. Pakistan possesses SRBMs (60 to 750 km), MRBMs (maximum ranges from 1500 to 2300 km), IRBMs (2500 km), Cruise Missiles: Babur-700 km and RAAD-350 km. The missile force would be primarily responsible for delivery of Pakistani nuclear weapons. Being an India centric programme, there would be matching responses to India’s development. Currently, Pakistan can respond with nuclear weapons, in the event of a conventional offensive by India. Further, with its large number of nuclear weapons and missiles it boasts of a Second Strike Capability.
Our response to Pakistan need to include adequate number of Cruise missiles, for a limited conventional war and improve our Ballistic Missile Defence, which also includes the Triumf S 400 system, to ensure effective retaliation to Pakistani nuclear weapons in a scenario where we have a declared No First Use of nuclear weapons. Viewing the current state of affairs our Nuclear Doctrine and No First Use of nuclear weapons needs a review.
Our nation, in the current security milieu, has to be prepared for the eventuality of a two front war. There is an immediate need to induct Agni series of missiles on Chinese targets. Further, BrahMos with steep dive capability needs to be deployed. We also need to develop our own navigation and surveillance systems. DRDO needs to hasten the induction of Agni V and also improve the state of our Ballistic Missile Defence. The Ballistic Missile Defence needs to be integrated with the Russian Triumf system to optimise our Air Defence against Missiles. In consonance with this we need to develop the Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles as also its advanced version the Multiple Adjustable and Manoeuverable Targeted Re-entry Vehicle. All these should be included in the Agni VI which would have a range of 8000 to 12000km. The missiles would need their own navigation system and ISRO must launch adequate number of satellites to provide our missiles their own navigation systems. With these force multipliers India would have a credible missile system which would enable us to deter both China and Pakistan against undertaking any adventure. , our BMD gives us sufficient capability against Ballistic Missiles. Efforts must be made to improve our defence against Cruise Missiles.
Current usage of missiles in the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, Gaza and Libya demonstrate the capability of the weapon systems to destroy targets in the tactical, operational and strategic areas with devastating effects. Our development of the BMD has also enhanced our defence capability against these missiles. Our current state of development needs to be enhanced to strategically engage China; a country that has recently turned more assertive with its territorial claims. Further, we need to exploit these systems in mountainous areas where possibly our future wars are anticipated. The success of the steep dive test by BrahMos calls for speedy deployment of the missile in mountains. At the macro level, the entire process is currently an ongoing pursuit, and needs to be monitored at the national level.
Maj Gen P K Chakravorty (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)