Understanding India’s Ballistic Missile Defence Program
The Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Program aims to develop and deploy a multi-layered ballistic missile defence system to protect India from ballistic missile attacks. This program includes two phases. As per reports that emerged in January 2020, the first phase of the BMD program is now complete.
In this article, We’ll together go through various aspects of the Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Program. After a brief introduction, we shall cover different phases, multiple components, and necessary tests. Before conclusion, there shall be a brief discussion of defences against “endoatmospheric” threats like cruise missiles.
Some Important Facts!
Before we begin, few things need to be cleared. Interception of missiles, ballistic or cruise, require different systems. After their boost phase, Ballistic missiles enter into exosphere, or space during their mid-course phase, before beginning their descent on their target, during their terminal phase.
Ideally, interception during mid-course is preferred. Now, to do so, we can not use “endoatmospheric” interceptors (like, say, S-400 or Barak-8). Simply because the missiles used by them use control surfaces for manoeuvring in the atmosphere, and they use fragmentation for destroying targets. At the same time, these systems are best to put down any “endoatmospheric” threats.
To put down ballistic missiles, we require Hit-to-Kill systems. To make them manoeuvre, we use nozzles, releasing air. This thing makes creating one system to shoot down both ballistic missiles and cruise missiles very tough. Because of this, different systems are deployed to tackle both “endo” and “Exo” atmospheric threats.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the DRDO are waiting for the government’s approval to install the missile shield for the national capital. It will then take three to four years to establish the shield after approval. Phase 2 is under development.
The Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Program is a double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles. The Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile is for high altitude interception. The Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile is for lower altitude interception.
This two-tiered shield should be able to intercept any incoming missile launched from 5,000 kilometres away. This system also includes an overlapping network of early warning and tracking radars and command and control posts.
In response to Pakistan’s deployment of M-11 missiles bought from China, the Indian Government in August 1995 procured six batteries of S-300 Surface-to-air missiles. With Pakistan’s testing of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems, the threat intensified. India has also developed and tested missile delivery systems under the IGMDP, whose story will be shared later on ;)
The primary aim of the BMD program was to bolster India’s defence against a possible nuclear attack from China & Pakistan. This holds prime importance, mainly when India follows the ‘No first use policy. Indian BMD seeks to deploy a functional ‘iron dome’ ballistic missile defence (BMD).
It will incorporate low-altitude and high-altitude interceptor missiles. Development of an anti-ballistic missile system began in late 1999 and accelerated because Washington vetoed a bid by India to acquire the Israeli Arrow-2 interceptor in 2002. (For understanding the possibility of US Sanctions on the purchase of S400, click here.)
Different Phases Of The Ballistic Missile Defence Program
The development of the anti-ballistic missile system began in 1999. Many public and private companies were involved in the development of the systems. These include Bharat Electronics Limited and Bharat Dynamics, Astra Microwave, L&T, etc.
Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) developed the mission control software for the AAD missile. While, Research Centre, Imarat (RCI) developed navigation, electromechanical actuation systems and the active radar seeker. Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) provided the motors, jet vanes and structures for the AAD and PAD. Whereas, High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) supplied the propellants for the missile.
As of April 2019, completion of Phase-1 was achieved. It would enable the interception of missiles up to a 2,000-km range.
Development of two new anti-ballistic missiles that can intercept IRBMs is underway. Because these high-speed missiles (AD-1 and AD-2) will travel at hypersonic speeds, they require radars with a scanning capability of over 1,500 km to intercept the target successfully. These new missiles will be similar to the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile.
We are developing a laser-based weapon system to intercept and destroy missiles soon after being launched. The DRDO Floating Test Range will assist in the development of Phase 2.
Various Components in Ballistic Missile Defence Program
The two-tiered BMD System consists of the PAD, which will intercept missiles at exo-atmospheric altitudes of 50–80 km and the AAD missile for interception endo-atmospheric altitudes of up to 30 km. The deployed system would consist of many launch vehicles, radars, Launch Control Centres (LCC) and the Mission Control Centre (MCC). All these are geographically distributed and connected by a secure communication network.
Mission Control Centre (MCC) And Launch Control Centres (LCC)
The MCC is the software-intensive system of the ballistic missile defence system. It receives information from various sources such as radars and satellites, processed by computers. The MCC is connected to all other elements of the defence through a WAN. MCC performs target classification, target assignment and kills assessment. It also acts as a decision support system for the commander. It can also decide the number of interceptors required for the target for an assured kill probability. After performing all these functions, the MCC assigns the target to the LCC of a launch battery.
The LCC starts computing the time to launch the interceptor based on radar information based on the target’s speed, altitude, and flight path. LCC prepares the missile for launch in real-time and carries out ground guidance computation.
After the interceptor is launched, it is provided target information from the radar through a datalink. When the interceptors close onto the target missile, it activates the radar seeker to search for the target missile and guides itself to intercept the target.
Swordfish Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR)
Swordfish is the target acquisition and fire control radar for the BMD system. The DRDO plans to upgrade the capacity of Swordfish to 3,000 km by 2017. A new upgraded 1,500 km range, ‘Super Swordfish Long Range Tracking Radar’, has been under development by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) since 2011 because of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles development taking place in China and Pakistan.
This radar is an acknowledged derivative of the Israeli EL/M-2080 Green Pine long-range radar, which is the critical component of that country’s Arrow missile defence system. However, it differs from the Israeli system as it employs Indian Transmit Receive modules, signal processing, computers and power supplies. It is also more potent than the base Green Pine system and was developed to meet India’s specific BMD needs.
LRTR is the target acquisition and fire control radar for the PAD missiles. It is an active phased array radar capable of tracking 200 targets at a range of 1,500 km and can spot objects as small as a cricket ball.
Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) / Pradyumna Ballistic Missile Interceptor
The Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) is an anti-ballistic missile developed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere (exo-atmospheric). PAD is a two-stage missile with a maximum interception altitude of 80 km based on the Prithvi missile. The first stage is a Solid fuelled motor, while the second stage is Liquid fuelled.
An internal navigation system guides, with mid-course updates from LRTR and active radar homing in the terminal phase. PAD can engage the 3,000 km class of ballistic missiles at a speed of Mach 5. PAD is fast enough to hit medium-range ballistic missiles and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. It has manoeuvre thrusters that can generate a lateral acceleration of more than 5 g at 50 km altitude.
Further development led to the interception range from 50 to 80 km. The improved missile will utilise a gimbaled directional warhead, a technology used by Israel, the US and Russia. This technology allows for a smaller warhead to destroy the target missile.
The second stage of the PAD uses liquid rocket propellant, which corrodes fuel tanks when stored for long. The PAD could not be on standby 24/7. Instead, during a period of crisis, it would need to be filled up in anticipation of trouble. This is less than optimal for a weapon intended to defend against an attack at any moment.
Prithvi Air Defence Exercise (PADE)
In November 2006, India conducted the Prithvi Air Defence Exercise (PADE). A PAD missile successfully intercepted a modified Prithvi-II Missile at 50 km altitude. The Prithvi-II ballistic missile was modified successfully to mimic the trajectory of M-11 missiles.
On 6 March 2009, the DRDO carried out a second successful test of the PAD interceptor missile. The target used was a ship-launched Dhanush missile, which followed the trajectory of a missile with a range of 1,500 km. The target was tracked by Swordfish (LRTR) radar and destroyed by the PAD at 75 km altitude.
Advanced Air Defence (AAD)/Ashwin Ballistic Missile Interceptor
Advanced Air Defence (AAD) is an anti-ballistic missile designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in the endo-atmosphere at an altitude of 30 km. AAD is a single-stage, solid-fuelled missile with siliconised carbon jet vanes. Guidance is similar to that of PAD with indigenous radio frequency seekers. It supports an inertial navigation system (INS), mid-course updates from ground-based radar, and active radar homing in the terminal phase. It is 7.5 m (25 ft) tall, weighs around 1.2T and has a diameter of less than 0.5 m.
On 6 December 2007, AAD successfully intercepted a modified Prithvi-II missile acting like an enemy target. At an altitude of 15 km, the endo-atmospheric interception took place. The interceptor and all the elements performed in a copybook fashion validate the defence system’s endo-atmospheric layer.
The sequence of events of the test was as follows. At 11 am, the Prithvi (missile) lifted off from Launch Complex III as an ‘enemy’ missile. Radars at Konark, Paradip detected the missile and began continuously tracking it. MCC further processed the target information. MCC classified the target, calculated the trajectory of the missile. It then assigned the target to an AAD battery located on Abdul Kalam Island. The launch of AAD occurred as the Prithvi reached an apogee of 110 km. The AAD, with the help of midcourse updates and its terminal seeker, manoeuvres itself towards the target. AAD makes a direct hit at an altitude of 15 km and a speed of Mach 4. The thermal cameras located on Wheeler Island also picked up the direct hit through thermal images.
Various Other Tests Of AAD
On 6 March 2011, India launched its indigenously developed interceptor missile from the Odisha coast. India successfully test-fired its interceptor missile. It destroyed a ‘hostile’ target, a modified Prithvi, at an altitude of 16 km over the Bay of Bengal. The trial aimed to achieve the desired result with precision. The interceptor missile had its mobile launcher, secure data link for interception, independent tracking and homing capabilities, and sophisticated radars.
On 6 April 2015, a test of an improved AAD took place. The missile launch took from a canister for the first time, and the composite rocket motor fired successfully. The missile had improvements over the previous version. It had a bigger warhead, improved manoeuvrability and reduced mis-distance. As the missile was in the air, one of the subsystems malfunctioned, failing the mission.
On 22 November 2015, a successful test of an upgraded version of AAD took place. The anti-ballistic missile took off from the A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island. Because it received the command to waylay, It destroyed incoming electronically simulated target missile. The interceptor missile, travelling at supersonic speed, engaged and destroyed the “virtual target” in mid-flight.
On 28 Dec 2017, DRDO successfully carried out the AAD missile test. Interception of incoming modified Prithvi missile took place with a direct hit.
On 3 August 2018, a successful test took place from Abdul Kalam Island. Interception of one of the multiple incoming targets simulating 1,500 km class ballistic missiles occurred.
Due to successful tests, the AAD missile can be developed into a new extended range (up to 200 km) surface-to-air missile, possibly named ‘Ashwin’.
Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV)
In 2009, reports emerged of a new exo-atmospheric interceptor missile named the Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) interceptor missile. The DRDO is developing a new Prithvi interceptor missile codenamed PDV.
It will be a two-stage missile, and solid propellants will power both stages. It will have an innovative system for controlling the vehicle at an altitude of more than 150 km. The PDV will be replacing the existing PAD in the PAD/AAD combination. It will have an IIR seeker for its kill vehicle as well.
The PDV will replace the PAD with a far more capable missile. Thus complete Phase 1 of the BMD system. Phase 2 development will take over for protection against missiles of the 5,000 km range class. The PDV will take out the target missile at altitudes above 150 km.
On 27 April 2014, the DRDO conducted the first successful test of the PDV missile. On 11 February 2017, DRDO completed a second test for the PDV missile.
Prithvi Defence Vehicle Mark 2 (PDV Mk-II)
In March 2019, India conducted an ASAT test. India officially confirmed that this missile was a Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor. PDV Mk.2 is a 13 m tall, 18.87 tons, three-stage missile.
Solid rocket motors with flexible nozzles constituted the first two stages, with the Kill Vehicle being the third stage. According to a report published on the official DRDO website, the missile can shoot down targets moving at 10 km per second in orbits as high as 1,200 km.
This missile may have the capability of exo-atmospheric-interception of Intercontinental ballistic missiles. A report published on the official DRDO website suggests the same. On DefExpo 2020, DRDO confirmed that PDV Mk.2 is ready for limited series production.
India’s ASAT missile test, Used Prithvi Defence Vehicle Mark 2 (PDV Mk-II). Because of the success of Mission Shakti, India became the only fourth country in World to possess such interceptors.
Defence Against Cruise Missiles
Defending against an attack by a cruise missile, on the other hand, is similar to tackling low-flying crewed aircraft. Hence a cruise missile defence system uses most methods of aircraft defence. To ward off the threats of nuke-tipped cruise missile attacks, India has a new missile defence programme focused solely on intercepting cruise missiles.
DRDO Chief Dr V K Saraswat stated in an interview, “Our studies have indicated that this AAD will be able to handle a cruise missile intercept”. Furthermore, India is acquiring airborne radars like EL/W-2090 AWACS to ensure the detection of cruise missiles to stay on top of the threat.
Barak-8 is a long-range anti-air and anti-missile naval defence system developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The naval version of this missile can intercept incoming enemy cruise missiles and combat jets targeting its warships at sea. Its induction would be with the Indian Air Force, followed by the Army.
India has a joint venture for this missile with Israel. Recently developed, India’s Akash missile defence system also can “neutralise aerial targets like fighter jets, cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles”.
Judging by the current pace and technological advancements achieved, India is on the right course. India already became the fourth country to successfully develop an anti-ballistic missile system, after the United States, Russia, and Israel. S-400 will be an advantage. But, India must aim at building systems like the Aegis Combat System. Because having a comprehensive air-defence shield is an essential requirement for India.
At the same time, It is perhaps the best time to start another IGMDP. India should aim at making long ranged SLBMs. Specifically, India should have the capability to engage the Chinese mainland from the Bay of Bengal itself!
After all, offensive deterrence is the best deterrence. It will only help India in its geopolitical ambitions!