India's ballistic missile shield: DRDO: 2, Enemy missiles: 0
Here at Geek at Large we like to follow the Defence Research and Development Organization's (DRDO's) ballistic missile defence program (BMD) rather closely. More than once in the recent past the organization has said that as far as India's long range ballistic missile programs and missile defence programs are concerned, the country is both self-sufficient as well as proficient. Today's twin intercepts - one actual and one simulated seems to attest that view.
In one of the two tests conducted today, DRDO's AAD endo-atmospheric interceptor achieved a radio proximity fuse triggered explosive intercept on a target missile derived from elements of the Prithvi short range ballistic missile (SRBM) family. Do note however that this target missile is modified in a manner that allows it to re-enter at an angle of attack and at a velocity usually associated with medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) which are faster given that their apogee is greater. In fact that is precisely what this Prithvi derived target missile also does in order to attain the velocities required to simulate longer ranged missiles.
Near simultaneously an exo-atmospheric test was also conducted albeit electronically to confirm the intercept of an electronically simulated ballistic missile launched from 1500 km away thereby demonstrating a salvo interception capability. The second intercept was achieved at an altitude of 120 km, which is pretty significant given that the United States Air Force (USAF) hands out 'astronaut wings' to its personnel if they happen to find themselves at an altitude of more than 80 km above mean sea level. 120 km is also a shade over the so called 'Karman line' which defines the boundary between the earth's atmosphere and outer space as being 100 km above sea level and this metric is accepted by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
However international legal norms also define the lower boundary of space as the minimum altitude at which an orbit around the earth can be sustained. This is apparently 150 km for an unpowered space vehicle and 130 km for a satellite with propulsion. Why do these definitions matter? Well, it may be the case that a non-proliferation treaty (NPT) for limiting the weaponization of space on the lines of the nuclear NPT (NNPT) is in the offing. The relationship between such a treaty and the existing outer space treaty is a matter of conjecture but India cannot afford a repeat of what happened vis a vis the NNPT in the sixties. That of course does not mean that we necessarily go about blowing up apparently defunct satellites in outer space as the Chinese and Americans have done. But India should nevertheless make it clear that India could if it wanted to.
The successful twin tests were apparently done in a deployable condition which means that the rollout of the AAD as a deployed entity may happen soon. The AAD intercept shows that Indian seeker technology has now matured and the exo-atmospheric test is representative of DRDO's progress in ground based radar technology. Indeed, according to DRDO 'The complete Radar Systems, Communication Networks, Launch Computers, Target update Systems and state of the art Avionics have been completely proven in this Mission'.
It is no wonder that the Americans want to collaborate closely with India to track space debris. DRDO is apparently planning more exo-atmospheric tests which will look to demonstrate intercept capability at an altitude of 300 km. After that, I don't think anybody would be able to keep India out of any future 'Space NPT' hypothetical or otherwise.
Anyway, enjoy the photos and videos of today's tests.
More about Saurav JhaSaurav Jha is an author and commentator on energy and security affairs who writes regularly for numerous publications including The Telegraph, World Politics Review, The Diplomat, Le Monde Diplomatique and Nuclear Engineering International. He has degrees in economics from Presidency College, Calcutta and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His first book, The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power (HarperCollins India) was released to critical acclaim in 2010. His next work on sustainability issues due for release in late 2015 and tentatively titled The Nexus (Hachette India) explains how the nexus between energy, food and water pushes urbanizing economies towards stagflation. He has also co-authored The Heat and Dust Project (HarperCollins India) with wife Devapriya Roy, chronicling a 16000 km long backpacking trip through India on an extremely tight budget.
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