DRDO's 'new' missile shoots down Prithvi
[ 27 Nov, 2006 2357hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
NEW DELHI: Hit by trenchant criticism, DRDO yanked a 'new missile' out of its hat on Monday and used it to 'intercept' a Prithvi missile. And then, promptly proclaimed India had achieved a "significant milestone" in ballistic missile defence (BMD) capabilities.
The new missile, launched from Wheeler Island off Orissa coast, "successfully intercepted" the short-range Prithvi ballistic missile, which in turn had been fired from the Balasore interim test range, a few minutes earlier, over the Bay of Bengal at 10.25 am.
"The target, a modified Prithvi simulating a hostile missile, was intercepted at a 50-km altitude by the new interceptor missile. The new missile had inertial guidance in mid-course and active-seeker guidance (a radar-seeking warhead) in the terminal phase," said a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) official.
The new "high supersonic" missile, which is yet to be named, has been developed indigenously as part of the "exo-atmospheric intercept system" being designed to "hit-to-kill" incoming ballistic missiles.
"It can undertake time-critical air defence missions, detecting the target in less than 30 seconds and launching the interceptor missile within 50 seconds. Many technologies, like high-manoeuvrability of the interceptor missile, were validated in the test," said a senior DRDO official.
But before you pop the bubbly in the hope that India is finally safe from Pakistani and Chinese missiles, hold on.
Given DRDO's track-record of long delays in most projects, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) launched in 1983, it will take several years for this new capability to become operational.
To be effective, BMD capabilities require an overlapping network of early-warning and tracking sensors; reliable command and control posts; and land and sea-based batteries of advanced interceptor missiles.
The hostile missiles have to be intercepted in one of their three flight phases: boost or launch point, mid-course or during flight through space, and terminal or during atmospheric descent. Even US is yet to put in place an effective missile defence shield.
Its BMD capabilities at present revolve around the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence-3 systems.
On being pressed, some senior DRDO officials admitted it were very early days yet. "Monday's test was just an experiment with a combination of various systems we have developed over the years. It's just the beginning. A lot of more work is required," said one.
There is, of course, no question that India eventually does require an effective BMD system.
A nuclear-capable missile launched from Pakistan, after all, can reach India in barely five to eight minutes.
"Monday's test represents the crossing of a very significant milestone in anti-missile defence capabilities against theatre (short-range) missiles. Every long journey begins with a first few steps," said K Santhanam, former chief advisor at DRDO.
But the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating. DRDO has so far been incapable of even operationalising the 9-km-range Trishul and 25-km-range Akash air-defence missiles, part of original IGMDP, leaving vast gaping holes in the country's air defence cover.
This has forced India to seek Israeli help in developing such missiles. It has even received briefings and presentations by US, Israel and Russia on their respective BMD systems like PAC-3, Arrow-2 and S-300V.