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BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE (BMD) SYSTEM

It is imperative for a nation to have an anti-missile umbrella to thwart any hostile missiles entering their aerospace due to the growing sophistication of the nuclear capable ballistic missile arsenal with their neighboring countries. The author talks about the Indian story on the development of Ballistic Missile Defence System…

A mechanism which can detect and then destroy a missile before it can cause any harm is called a missile defence system. The Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system guards the airspace against the incoming ballistic missiles of all ranges including the nuclear ones, can intercept incoming missiles and has the capability to shoot down the incoming missiles, rockets and artillery shells. It has become imperative for the nations worldwide for the very reason to have this umbrella to thwart any hostile missiles entering their aerospace. As of now only three countries have achieved this capability and have an effective anti ballistic missile shield which includes USA, Russia and Israel and India may enter this elite club soon as this system is in the advanced stage of development phase.

Functional Components

The Ballistic Missile Defence System has three main functional components;

  • Radar Network: To detect enemy ballistic missiles immediately after they are launched, and then tracks them along their flight path
  • C4ISR Network: The command and control system plots and predicts the enemy missile's flight path, and assigns interceptor missiles to destroy the intruding missile.
  • Interceptor System: Interceptor system to include; interceptor missile, fire control radar, support launcher and BMCP. The ABM shield has its own interceptor missiles, the guidance radar guides them onto the incoming enemy missile, destroying it before its nuclear warhead can do any damage

In the recent years, one of the latest developments with regards to the Ballistic Missile Defence System has been the development of Iron Dome by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems which is touted as the most effective system against short-range and medium range missiles. The Iron Dome is said to have intercepted 87 percent of the rockets fired at Israel by the Hamas in the recent Gaza crisis. The system, produced is believed to have the capability to shoot down rockets and artillery shells with ranges of up to 70 km. The system has been remarkably effective against rockets or shells that might target populated areas. Rather, the success of the Israeli Iron Dome system has prompted India and other countries to build an effective missile shield on this line.

India's Threat Perception And Need For BMD System

The need for India to have its own indigenous missile defence system or shield basically originates from its threat perception from its neighboring countries, as both of them are nuclear armed, as well as the vulnerability of its cities from various potential terrorist attacks. As India's immediate neighbors are enhancing their ballistic missile capabilities and also taking into consideration India's nuclear doctrine of no first use, the country definitely requires a robust missile defence system that can intercept incoming missiles from enemy countries in war like situation. In the last few years there has been a steady growth in Pakistan's and China's of nuclear capable ballistic missile arsenal/capability. China has the ability to launch conventional or nuclear strikes on India using numerous classes of missiles. Rather some of the China's ballistic missiles have the potential to reach India's uttermost farthest places. While Pakistan, with its first-use nuclear policy, tested its Shaheen 1-A ICBM, capable of hitting targets up to 2,500-3,000 km away.

India's Indigenous BMD System

India has been interested in having an effective BMD shield for protecting itself from enemy missile, for some years now. Rather, in its quest for a missile shield, India at one point of time was looked at acquiring a Russian BMD system in the late 1990s; however, nothing materialized. Further, it was also interested in procuring the Israel's Arrow missile defence system which it was denied by the US. Later, India got an offer from the US for the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) that India rejected because it is a outdated technology. Finally, it was only in 1999 that India launched its indigenous ballistic missile shield programme with the system being successfully first test-fired in November 2006 elevating India into the elite club of countries to have successfully developed an Anti-Ballistic Missile System. However, the progress in establishing shields for cities has been slow thereafter, following a set of tests between 2009 and 2012. Especially, the last two years were markedly slow for the program, and with yet another test of its interceptor missile failing recently in April 2015, it has become clear that India's development of a ballistic missile defence (BMD) shield is likely to take some more time from becoming operational. Since the ABMD system comprises integration of LRTR, fire control radar, mobile communications terminal and mobile launcher-fired interceptor missiles, which make it technologically complex. Thus, it is understandable the delay encountered in its becoming fully operational. The programme is being spearheaded by Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) along with few public and private companies. Till date around 40 public and private Companies have been involved in the development of ABM System along with some DRDO laboratories. Some of these include: are Defence Research and Development Laboratory (mission control software); Research Centre (navigation and electromechanical actuation systems); Advanced System Laboratory (motors, jet vanes and structures), High Energy Materials Research Laboratory, Pune (propellants), Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRTR and Multi-function Fire Control Radar), Bharat Electronics Ltd and Bharat Dynamics Ltd, L&T, Astra Microwave, Vem Technologies and KelTech.

Description of Indian BMD System - In its current state, India's BMD System is a two-layered system consisting of two interceptors for incoming missiles at two different altitudes and is being developed in two phases. The Phase-I of this BMD system, with interceptors flying at 4.5 Mach high-supersonic speeds to intercept enemy missiles, is meant to tackle hostile missiles with a 2,000-km strike range. Phase-II will be geared for taking on 5,000-km range missiles, virtually in the class of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), with interceptors at hypersonic speeds of 6-7 Mach. 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. The MCC is the software intensive system of the ballistic missile defence system. It receives information from various sources such as radars and satellites which is then processed by a set of computers which run simultaneously. The MCC is connected to all other elements of the defence through a WAN. MCC performs target classification, target assignment and kill 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 upon information received from radar based on the speed, altitude and flight path of the target. LCC prepares the missile for launch in real time and carries out ground guidance computation. For tracking and guidance, it relies on its “swordfish” radar systems developed in conjunction with Israel and capable of simultaneously tracking more than 200 objects with diameters of no less than two inches at a range of 600-800 km. After the interceptor is launched, it is provided target information from the radar through a data link. 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. Multiple PAD and AAD interceptors can be launched against a target for high kill probability. The BMD system has been planned under three phases:

Phase-I

For the Phase-I, the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile is supposed to tackle incoming missiles at ranges of 80-120 km (Exoatmospheric interception/outside the earth's atmosphere). On the other hand, the Advanced Air-Defense (AAD) mainly consists of Akash Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) that can intercept incoming missiles at ranges of 15-30 km (endoatmospheric interception/ inside the earth's atmosphere). Thus, in their present configuration, these systems are designed to counter missiles with range close to 2,000 km traveling at speeds ranging from Mach 3 to Mach 8.

Phase-II

The phase-II will be geared for taking on 5,000-km range missiles, virtually in the class of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), with interceptors at hypersonic speeds of 6-7 Mach. These systems would be called AD-1 and AD-2 and would aim to counter missiles with far more velocity, up to Mach 12-15.

While the first Phase was to become operational by 2014 which has already passed; the second phase was projected for completion by 2016 but seems relatively difficult as of now. Its components are still under testing and refinement. The actual operational deployment will have to wait until the complete tests and trials of such a shield, which is certain to generate a lot of controversy and cause strategic ripple effects in India's neighborhood.

Phase-III

A third layer of India's missile defence system is also planned, so as to create an overarching architecture. The third tier would seek to deter low-flying short-range rockets and artillery shells that could be launched by Pakistani forces or terror groups from across the border to Indian population centers and military targets.

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Foreign Procurement

Apart from this indigenous development of the BMD system, India is also interested in having the successful Iron Dome from Israel and has expressed an interest in procuring the this system and to specifically manufacture it on a Transfer of Technology (ToT) basis. However, Israel has shown some hesitancy regarding this, as the programme has been funded by USA.

The BMD System has become a crucial necessity for India because of the growing sophistication of the nuclear capable ballistic missile arsenal possessed by India's neighboring countries. Thus, the BMD program will provide India with the prospect of blocking or reducing an offensive missile strike. However, as no BMD can assure 100 per cent interception and destruction of incoming missiles, the system has its limitations to provide complete and foolproof protection against ballistic missile attack..

Ritika Behal

Ritika Behal

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