The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has begun developing an extended range versions of its home-grown missile defence shield to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or missiles which have ranges greater than 5000 km. Phase 2 of the missile defence shield will be the class of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missiles, Dr V.K. Saraswat, DRDO Chief Controller (Missiles and Strategic Systems), said on Monday.
While Saraswat did not mention it, defence analysts feel that Phase 2 of the missile defence shield is almost certainly meant to defend India from China's arsenal of ICBMs. China is the only Asian country which has an ICBM arsenal, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The Ballistic Missile Interceptor, which successfully intercepted a Dhanush-ballistic missile test-fired from a warship – the INS Subhadra – is part of the ballistic missile defence system which can only shoot down intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) of upto 2000 km range like Pakistan's Ghauri and Shaheen missiles. "This system will be out mainstay until we enter Phase 2," Dr Saraswat said, addressing the media after Friday's successful test-firing of the Advanced Air Defence System from Wheeler Island. The Phase 1 is to be completed and ready for induction by 2011.
Dr Saraswat said that Phase 2 was far more challenging because it calls for detecting ICBMs hurtling at twice the speeds of intermediate range missiles. It not only requires bigger interceptor missiles flying at hypersonic speeds of between six and seven times the speed of sound (present interceptor speeds are between Mach 4 and Mach 5) but also radars to detect incoming ICBMs at ranges of over 1500 kms as opposed to the current detection ranges of over 600 km.
Phase 2 will be part of the DRDO's attempts at incrementally increasing the BMD capabilities of the home-grown system. Friday's test was the third successful test of the ballistic missile since it was first test-fired in December 2006 – the first test shot of the exo-atmospheric interceptor down a missile 45 km away; the second test a year later proved the endo-atmospheric or Advanced Air Defence (AAD) interceptor, which shot downed an incoming ballistic missile 15 km away and Friday's test, shot down a ballistic missile 48 km away. The interceptor used a 'gimbaled directional warhead' or a warhead only one side of which explodes close to an incoming ballistic missile, shattering it.
For Phase 2, Dr Saraswat said that the organisation had already begun development of a two-stage hypersonic missile interceptor called the PDV and it would be ready in two years. It had also put in place the building blocks for developing extended range radars of over 1500 km.
Unlike the exo-atmospheric interceptor, which was test-fired on Friday, the PDV has two stages, a liquid and a solid. The PDV is a longer missile with two solid stages. It is in the class of the THAAD or Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missiles deployed by the United States as part of its missile shield beginning this year. THAAD boasts of missiles which can intercept ballistic missiles over 200 km away and tracking radars with ranges of over 1000 km.
The only Achilles heel in the Phase 1 of the ballistic missile interceptor is that it cannot tackle strategic cruise missiles like the Tomahawk flying a little over tree-top height. For intercepting such flat-trajectory weapons would call for airborne systems capable of tracking them, Saraswat said.
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