Indian Missile Defense Program Advances

By Auner, Eric | Arms Control Today, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

Indian Missile Defense Program Advances


Auner, Eric, Arms Control Today


India is pressing ahead with its work on missile defense, conducting its latest successful test last November and preparing to test a new kind of interceptor early this year.

In its Nov. 23 announcement of the test earlier that day, India said it had demonstrated the ability to intercept multiple incoming missiles. The test, which was the latest in a series dating to 2006, follows several tests in 2012 of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, including the successful launch in April of the 5,000-kilometer-range Agni-5. (See ACT, May 2012.)

India also has tested the sea-launched version of the hypersonic Brahmos cruise missile, jointly developed with Russia. In addition, air-and submarine-launched versions of the Brahmos missile are in development.

Indian media reports suggest that a test of a new high-altitude anti-missile interceptor will occur in January and that India may soon test a submarinelaunched ballistic missile (SLBM) for the first time, bringing the country closer to possessing a triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems. (See ACT, September 2012.)

India's nuclear-armed neighbors, China and Pakistan, have significant cruise and ballistic missile capabilities. China has taken steps to acquire missile defense capabilities although Pakistan apparently has not attempted to do so. In the past, Pakistan has justified its pursuit of cruise missiles by citing their supposed invulnerability to Indian ballistic missile defenses. China possesses SLBMs, and China and Pakistan are able to deliver nuclear weapons by airplane.

The Chinese and Pakistani reaction to Indian missile defense developments is not yet clear, said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. "The new capabilities and counter-capabilities add to the already vexed issue of arms race[s] in Asia," Rajagopalan, a former assistant director of India's National Security Council Secretariat, said in a Dec. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

In a Dec. 19 analysis for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, where he is a senior fellow, Vivek Kapur, a group captain in the Indian air force, said that "ballistic missile proliferation in India's neighbourhood requires the development of a more capable" missile defense system.

In the Nov. 23 press release, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian government entity responsible for developing offensive and defensive missile and other systems, said the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) interceptor destroyed a target missile, a modified Prithvi ballistic missile, at an altitude of 15 kilometers.

The interceptor and target missile were launched from sites in Orissa, a state in the eastern part of the country. In the press release, the DRDO said it had demonstrated an ability to track and destroy multiple incoming ballistic missiles.

Rajagopalan said India's efforts are "primarily driven by the threat of short-range missiles in Pakistan"; Chinese missile threats "did not figure prominently in the Indian calculation for a missile defence shield," she said.

The Pakistani government has not issued an official reaction to the AAD interceptor test. Pakistan, however, successfully tested a nuclear-capable Hatf-5, a 1,300-kilometer-range ballistic missile, on Nov. 28. A Pakistani statement following the test of the Hatf-5, also known as the Ghauri, did not mention India specifically, but said the test "strengthens and consolidates Pakistan's deterrence capability. …

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