Is there an operational requirement for a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system for India? Since the PDV two-stage exo-atmospheric and two-stage AD-2 endo-atmospheric interceptors are being developed to destroy inbound tactical ballistic missiles (TBM) and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) with ranges of up to 2,000km and medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 5,000km, which necessarily will be nuclear-armed, the two interceptors will also have to be nuclear-armed as well (since conventional high-explosive fragmentation warheads have a small kill radius). It will thus have to be a ‘blue’ nuclear bullet versus a ‘red’ nuclear bullet. But, in the real world, is it possible that the Indian Ministry of Defence’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) can deliver a fully-functional BMD network by 2015, considering that the DRDO took 21 years to design and develop a simple 50hp Wankel engine? To appreciate this, let us first understand how the DRDO-conceptualised BMD system works. The DRDO’s proposed BMD system is based on two physical phenomena. Firstly, the trajectory of a re-entry vehicle after it is released by the ballistic missile is entirely pre-determined and therefore, if one can observe an early position of it, the rest of the trajectory can be predicted very accurately and destroyed by the interceptor. Secondly, a nuclear detonation in outer space (as all ballistic missiles go outside the atmosphere in their powered phases after which their re-entry vehicles come back into the atmosphere and has a free-fall) can destroy a re-entry vehicle and a nuclear detonation inside the atmosphere can deflect or damage a re-entry vehicle such that its nuclear warhead will not explode.
The BMD system will have five essential components. Firstly, there’s the early warning system that is capable of signalling the launch of hostile ballistic missiles. This system will comprise both airborne early warning & control (AEW & C) aircraft as well as a satellite-based missile monitoring system (MSS), which according to Dr V K Saraswat—Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister & Director-General of the DRDO—will go into deployment mode by 2015. Secondly, there’s the 1,500km-range variant of the L-band active phased-array EL/M-2080 long-range tracking radar (LRTR)—to be supplied by Israel Aerospace Industries—(IAI) with long wavelength to spot the re-entry vehicles as they rise above the horizon (while they are still 5,000km or six minutes away) and provide range, velocity and angular discrimination of the targets. Thirdly, there is the multi-functional fire-control radar (MFCR) using the already-delivered THALESRaytheon-supplied S-band Master-A short-wavelength 350m-range radar to determine the position of each re-entry vehicle with precision and guide the interceptor. Fourthly, there are the two interceptor vehicles for exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric kills, both presently equipped with 9E49/DB-100N dual-plane monopulse two-channel X-band terminal guidance radars (which can lock on to a 0.05 square metre RCS target from a distance of 16.2nm) imported from Russia, but are due for replacement in future with an imaging infra-red seeker of Israeli origin. Lastly, there’s the IAI-designed battle management, command, control, communications and intelligence (BMC3I) centre for commanding, controlling and coordinating the entire two-tier interception process. The operational sequence would play out as follows: Once the AEW & C platforms or MMS detects a hostile ballistic missile launch, it passes on the target vectors via SATCOM channels of the Indian Air Force’s IACCS network to the BMC3I, which in turn alerts the appropriate LRTR to acquire the inbound hostile ballistic missiles (TBMs, IRBMs or MRBMs), the transporter-erector-launcher vehicles housing the exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric interceptors will be activated on ‘hot-stand’ mode, ready to be fired within 40 seconds. Once in range, the Master-A MFCR—capable of detecting airborne targets with a RCS of 0.3 square metres at 350km range—would take over. The command line-of-sight guidance computation will take another 15 seconds, following which the exo-atmospheric interceptor missile will be fired. The missile’s on-board strap-down inertial navigation system (SDINS)—comprising a ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation sensor—will provide mid-course correction updates for trajectory shaping until the on-board terminal guidance sensor finally takes over. The definitive PDV exo-atmospheric interceptor will be cruising at Mach 5 but will attain a peak terminal speed of Mach 11—made possible by the divert thruster placed on top of the second-stage. The divert thruster will generate high lateral acceleration for the ‘end-game’. Both the warhead and divert thruster will be fired simultaneously towards the target once they are within the acquisition range of the yet-to-be-made-available on-board imaging infra-red seeker (all PAD and AAD flight-tests have thus far used the 9E49/DB-100N X-band monopulse terminal guidance radar of Russian origin), following which the next three seconds will result in the targetted re-entry vehicle being intercepted in the ‘hit-to-kill’ mode at an altitude of over 200km—all this being done within 150 seconds. Unlike the definitive Mach 8 AAD-2 endo-atmospheric interceptor, whose flight trajectory will be shaped through aerodynamic control out to an altitude of 35km, the exo-atmospheric interceptor uses a reaction-control system using auxiliary motors and flex nozzles, and has minimal manoeuvrability of 2 G. The endo-atmospheric interceptor will use a two-stage solid-propellant rocket motor for intercepting 5,000km-range ballistic missiles, and will have excellent manoeuvrability and will be able to sustain up to 30 G, thereby making the interceptor unstable.
All of this is of course a simplistic view of the proposed BMD system, and the reality of what has been achieved thus far is a different story altogether, comprising largely of unkept promises, making false declarations and setting totally unattainable R & D targets. For instance, at a press conference on December 12, 2007 given by the by the DRDO’s then Chief Controller R & D (Missiles & Strategic Systems), Dr V K Saraswat, it was disclosed that the DRDO would have developed all the building blocks for Phase 1 of a two-layered fully integrated BMD system in place by 2010 (work on this began in 1997). In Phase 1 the DRDO set for itself the goal of developing a BMD system capable of intercepting TBMs and IRBMs at an altitude of 100km with the help of a PDV two-stage exo-atmospheric interceptor using solid rockets motors and an imaging infra-red terminal seeker (which was due to be tested in late 2010), with the Mach 5 AAD-1 endo-atmospheric interceptor (also using an imaging infra-red terminal seeker) serving as a back-up for intercepting the hostile re-entry vehicle at an altitude of 20km. This interceptor stands 7.5 metres tall, weighs around 1.3 tonnes and has a diameter of less than 0.5 metres. The 2010 deadline was of course not adhered to and in its place a new deadline of 2013 was proclaimed by Dr V K Saraswat at a press conference on March 21, 2010, in which Dr Saraswat also disclosed that the DRDO’s commitment was to complete all Phase 1 flight trials of the PDV and AAD-1 interceptors by 2011, with initial systems deployment getting underway by 2013. He, however, never clarified whether or not the DRDO had acquired the necessary political sanction from the Cabinet Committee on National Security to place bulk production orders for various elements of the BMD system. But what he did say was that in the absence of AEW & C platform-based early warning, the Phase 1 BMD system had 120 seconds available to it between the time of missile launch detection and its interception. As for Phase 2 of the DRDO’s BMD system’s developmental roadmap, this would be completed by 2015, and would include the development of a new type of hypersonic endo-atmospheric interceptor—AD-2—capable of intercepting re-entry vehicles at an altitude of 35km. The third opportunity for Dr V K Saraswat to move the goalposts yet again came after the March 6, 2011 AAD-1 test-flight, when he announced that, “one more interception will be done to intercept a 2,000km-range incoming ballistic missile at an altitude of 150km. With this test, which will be done in 2011, the BMD system’s Phase 1 will be over”. Saraswat then confidently added that “India’s plans for putting in place the first phase of the two-layered ballistic missile defence shield by 2012 and the second phase by 2016 are on course”. He was referring to the long overdue PDV test-flight.
Factors Contributing To Capability Immaturity
There are several reasons why the DRDO’s track-record thus far--as far as BMD systems development goes—is highly questionable. Firstly, there’s the choice of using the liquid-fuelled Prithvi missile as the target (in all the interceptions done so far). Barring the Ghauri IRBM, its slow speed during both the boost phase and the terminal phase does not in any way mimmick the flight profiles of the solid-fuelled TBMs, IRBMs and IRBMs presently operational with both China and Pakistan. The DRDO would therefore be well-advised to demonsrate the effectiveness of the PDV and AAD interceptors against the indigenous 700km-range Agni-I TBM and 2,000km-range Agni-II IRBM. Secondly, given the fact that the PDV and AAD interceptors are armed with conventional warheads, there is the need to demonstrate simultaneous exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric tests, so that if one misses the target, the other should be able to kill it. This has not yet been done. Thirdly, the DRDO has never published any conclusive flight-test data to prove whether or not all the flight-tests conducted thus far had resulted in direct hits. In fact, there’s strong reason to believe that these tests ended up in failures and it is for this very reason that the switchover of terminal guidance systems is being made from active radar to imaging infra-red seeker. Fourthly, there’s been no demonstration of the operational configuration of the launch vehicles of both the PDV and AAD family of interceptors, nor has there been any R & D effort initiated for housing such missiles inside sealed cannisters and developing cold-launch techniques (under which the interceptor is ejected from its cannister by a gas-powered piston).
Then there’s the issue of making false claims about indigenisation of the hardware components of the BMD system. For instance, in an exclusive interview given to FORCE magazine in March 2010, Dr Saraswat stated on page 10: “We are planning to enhance the detection range of the existing (LRTR) radars (two were ordered in 1998 and delivered in 2001). The exact range is classified. However, considering that we now have the capability and the capacity to build all elements of the state-of-the-art radar, the range enhancement will more or less be an indigenous effort”. Yet, in the same interview, Dr Saraswat made a contradicting remark about the LRTR’s indigenous content by saying: “…for this reason, it is important that the range of the LRTR be more than 1,000km. We have started work on this and it will take up to three years. When I say that this will be indigenous, it means that design and development will be done here, while computers and certain other essentials like T/R modules will be procured from outside. You know that it is neither possible nor desirable to make everything within the country”. What exactly are we to make of such contradicting remarks coming from someone who heads the DRDO?
Lastly, there’s the yet another pair of hair-raising and ridiculous statements attributed to Dr Saraswat. On February 10, 2010 he claimed that India’s BMD programme is more advanced than China’s. “This (BMD) is one area where we are senior to China. We knew they had acquired the building blocks for BMD when they shot down a satellite in 2007. But we have been working on this programme since 1999”. When asked by FORCE for a clarification about this remark, he stated on the record that he had been quoted out of context, and what he had instead said on February 10 was that “I do not know when the Chinese actually started work on BMD”. I would hereby like to recommend this weblink (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/china/doctrine/bmd.pdf) as well as this (http://www.sinodefence.com/special/airdefence/project640.asp) to Dr Saraswat, both of which give a chronological account of China’s BMD-related R & D activities and achievements since March 23, 1964. Let us all hope that he never again makes the kind of remarks which reduce us Indians to a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. And finally, there’s absolutely no need to build the various BMD blocks and publicly gloat about it, especially since the informed opinion of India’s armed services is that instead of going for BMD systems, it would be much better if the country’s money, energy and indigenous R & D capabilities are focussed on the speedy development and deployment of cannisterised TBMs, MRBMs and SLBMs like the Shourya, Agni-5 and K-4.—Prasun K. Sengupta