Hypersonic missile threat
By: Tom Simko
Posted: 01/8/2011 1:00 AM
In a replay of cold war rivalries, a new missile race is shaping up but this time America and Russia are joined by India and China. All of these countries are rushing to develop hypersonic anti-ship missiles that threaten to reshape naval warfare and alter global balances of power.
It’s all about who can design the fastest missiles with the latest engine technology.
American Tomahawk cruise missiles are powered by conventional turbofans, which are essentially compact versions of passenger jet engines. These propel the missiles at 880 km/h — 70 per cent the speed of sound, or Mach 0.7.
Much faster speeds can be reached with a ramjet, which has no moving mechanical parts. Travelling at supersonic speed, air is rammed into the engine. This heats the air to ensure more powerful combustion with fuel further down the engine. Since ramjets only work at high speeds, however, they must first be accelerated by another system.
The Brahmos missile, co-developed by India and Russia, is a good example of the capabilities of ramjet-powered missiles. The Brahmos starts off with a conventional rocket, which falls away when the missile gets up to speed. Then the ramjet-powered stage with the warhead takes over, cruising at Mach 2.8 (3,400 km/h) for 290 kilometres. It can fly at an altitude of 15 kilometres, or just meters above the waves. This weapon is already in service with the Indian navy.
The high speeds of supersonic missiles leave little time for ships to deploy defensive countermeasures. This increases the likelihood of a missile slipping past a vessel’s screen of defences — but supersonic weapons can be stopped.
However, there is presently no reliable defence against the much faster next generation of anti-ship missiles. These weapons are designed to travel at hypersonic speeds — greater than Mach 5, or 6,100 km/h — and therefore present a much more lethal threat.
Hypersonic speeds can be attained with scramjets, which are similar to ramjets but with combustion occurring at supersonic rather than subsonic speeds. They are designed to ensure the high-speed air flow doesn’t blow out the flames. The U.S. Air Force compares running a scramjet to “lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it burning.” Once again, the missile must first be boosted to operational speed by a conventional rocket.
India and Russia are working on the hypersonic Brahmos II, which is expected to be in service by 2013. Cruising at about Mach 6 (7,300 km/h), this scramjet-powered missile will carry six times more kinetic energy than a similar weapon at Mach 1.
It would, therefore, pack a much larger punch if used to slam through hardened bunkers or underground nuclear or biological weapons facilities. It can also be used against ships.
China is developing its own hypersonic anti-ship missile, the Dong Feng 21D. This isn’t a cruise missile but rather a ballistic missile launched toward space and arcing back to Earth. The DF-21D is capable of hurtling down at speeds of about Mach 10 and covering a range of 1,500 kilometres.
Dubbed the “carrier killer,” it is believed this new weapon would be used against American aircraft carriers to destroy U.S. naval supremacy in the western Pacific and block America from coming to the defence of Taiwan.
The technology behind the DF-21D is nothing new — the weapon is a variant of a proven Chinese medium range ballistic missile. What is new — and a potential game-changer — is the possibility of precisely striking ships at long range with non-nuclear warheads. China, however, has yet to prove it can accurately hit a moving vessel with a ballistic missile falling at Mach 10.
The chief of India’s navy is dismissive of China’s anti-ship missile program. As reported by the Indian Express, Adm. Nirmal Verma said “Targeting ships on the high seas is not an easy task … There are limitations in terms of maritime reconnaissance and long-range searches.”
He added that it was a “complex problem” to use a conventional missile against a moving target on the high seas.
With enough time and resources, however, China could overcome these technical challenges and threaten America’s crucial carriers with the DF-21D.
“China’s ability to bypass America’s robust air-defence capability and strike ships at sea with ballistic missiles could severely limit American naval power,” according to Abraham Denmark and James Mulverson of the Center for a New American Security.
Newsweek quotes retired U.S. rear admiral and defence attaché to Beijing Eric McVadon as describing China’s anti-ship weapons as “pretty daunting.”
To counter these new weapons, America will need to rely on ballistic missile defence systems. The U.S. has invested heavily in such technology but it is still in its infancy and not fully reliable.
Directed-energy beams such as lasers can be countered with reflective materials and, for a slowly spinning ballistic missile, there would be little effect on any one spot. Furthermore, hypersonic cruise missiles and ballistic warheads are hardened with materials capable of withstanding the scorching heat from high speed flight.
The most practical defensive measure is to strike the incoming weapon with another hypersonic missile, the proverbial “hitting a bullet with another bullet.” The United States has proven it can do this, albeit in controlled tests and with inconsistent results. Further ballistic missile defence research could be applied to dealing with threats posed by the DF-21D and hypersonic cruise missiles like the Brahmos II. However, a dependable missile defence system is a long way off.
The United States has its own hypersonic missile development program. The X-51A Waverider is designed to demonstrate scramjet technology for missiles and spaceplanes. The first test took place last May and lasted only about 200 seconds. The US Air Force, however, notes this marked the first flight of a practical hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet (the engine runs on a special jet fuel).
With this confirmed success, America appears to have taken the lead in the hypersonic missile race. The competition, however, isn’t far behind and the stakes are high for America’s position in the global balance of power. This was clearly explained by U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates in his address to an Air Force Association Convention in 2009.
“When considering the military-modernization programs of countries like China,” Gates said, “we should be concerned less with their potential ability to challenge the U.S. symmetrically — fighter to fighter or ship to ship — and more with their ability to disrupt our freedom of movement and narrow our strategic options. Their investments in… anti-ship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten America’s primary way to project power and help allies in the Pacific — in particular our forward air bases and carrier strike groups.”
The race is on to develop the next generation of anti-ship missiles and reshape naval warfare — and possibly dictate who will rule the waves.
Tom Simko is an engineer living in Brockville, Ont. He writes about aerospace for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2011 H11
The Indian Missiles site is dedicated to President (Dr.) Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, father of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. It was the brilliant Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam who breathed life into ballistic missiles like the Agni and Prithvi, which put China and Pakistan well under India’s missile range.
Missile Technology In Indian History
The use of rockets and missiles by Indians in modern times dates back to the 18th century, during the period of ruler Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Fighting the British colonial army, Tipu Sultan’s Army used variety of rockets in supporting role. It was world’s first use of rockets for fighting modern wars. In the Second Anglo-Mysore war, at the Battle of Pollilur (10 September 1780), Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan won grandly, whereby the whole British detachment lead by Colonel Baillie was destroyed and 3,820 soldiers taken prisoner (including Colonel Bailli). At the Battle of Seringapatam in 1792, Indian soldiers launched a huge barrage of rockets against British troops, followed by an assault of 36,000 men. Later at the battle of Srirangapattana (4th Anglo-Mysore war) in April 1799, British forces lead by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) ran away from the battlefield when attacked by rockets and musket fire of Tipu Sultan’s army.
Tipu’s rockets were far more advanced than any other at the time, and had been fully integrated into his Army, which were under special Rocket Brigades called Kushoons. These were extremely effective in Battle, and completely scattered the British Armies. These rockets were later re-engineered by William Congreve and known in Britain as Congreve Rockets.
India, on the other hand, was reeling under heavy sanctions. Besides the traditional friend Soviet Union was interested in selling weapons, not technologies. But to meet the immediate threat perceptions and defend its territory, India had to build missiles. Two decades ago, the then defense minister, R Venkataraman sanctioned 388 crores for India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) under which five missiles-Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Nag and Akash were to be developed. The program was designed keeping in mind the Pakistan factor. The project was launched by Dr.V.S.Arunachalam, scientific advisor to the defense minister on July 27, 1983. As India detonated its nuclear devices in May, 1998 and declared itself a nuclear-weapons country, the domino effects in the fields of diplomacy and technology began to take place. A new polarization was going to take shape.
The contemporary BJP-led NDA govt. surprised the world by supporting the controversial US National Missile Defense initiative. Post 9/11, though the USA counted upon Pakistan as a frontline ally in its war against terror, the USA was suspicious about Pakistan’s double dealing. Later, the NDA govt. signed Nest Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with America which became the first stepping stone of a robust Indo-US relationship. The American govt. hinted at de-hyphenation of the India-Pakistan theme and showed a policy shift in favor of India by permitting Israel to sell the most powerful AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control system) in the world- the Phalcon. The US offered PAC 3 (Patriot Advanced Capability 3) anti-ballistic missile system to India. It also offered the F16, F18 and above all the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. It also engaged with India in extensive military exercises.
Thereafter, the UPA government came to power and signed a ten-year defense agreement with the USA. Later the Nuclear Deal signed between the USA and India promised to end India’s nuclear isolation. The USA promised to help India become “a major global power” Thus the USA stopped objecting to India’s military ambitions and even allowed the Indo-Israel defense relationship to flourish. Israel became the second largest arms supplier to India, the first being Russia. India gained immensely from Israeli expertise in electronic warfare systems like radars, sensors, night-vision equipments, etc. In the field of missiles and UAVs the two countries began to collaborate extensively. India imported from Israel Green Pine early warning and fire control radar systems.
They could track any hostile missile within a range of 500Km. But several factors contributed to the Indo-Us bonhomie. First, India became one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The Goldman Sachs report predicted a rosy future for India secondly China’s spectacular rise became a great concern for the USA. China’s rapid military modernization coupled with its space aspirations and spectacular economic growth, forced the USA in the balance of power game. India with its vast military, huge manpower and economic prowess could become the counter weight to China. Furthermore, the western press began to hail India as a science supper power. The country in the field of software made huge strides. India succeeded in making its own supercomputer. The indigenous cryogenic engine was only a matter of time. In the field of space, India was striding ahead. In the field of defense, India’s success in Nishant UAV, pilotless target aircraft Lakshya and Akash anti-missile system caught the US attention. India’s self-confidence level was high. The NDA govt. turned the Indo-Russian relationship from a buyer-seller to a join development and production partnership. The Brahmos supersonic cruise missile agreement was the result of India’s self-confidence. The joint development and production of the 7000Km Sukhoi 30MKI aircraft was also undertaken. India’s Pak-fixation was replaced by its determination to challenge China.
China’s listening post in the Burmese Coco islands, its engagement in building the Pakistani Gwadar port, its meddling in Nepal and Sri Lanka, its strategic alliance with Bangladesh, its intense military engagement with Pakistan, its rapid military modernization, its repeated incursion into Arunachal, its claim over Arunachal, etc forced the Indian policy makers in search of an strategic antidote. Besides, the Indian Ocean being a theater of power struggle for several powers and a possible transit of several terrorist organizations, the policy makers were worried. The strategists conceived of Agni 2, 3 and 4 to deter China from any misadventure. Again China’s A-Sat (Anti-Satellite) test January last year pushed the strategists even further in search of a dedicated aerospace command. They envisaged the necessity of a space- based anti-missile system. India’s missile development was certainly the result of the untiring efforts of the DRDO. But the aforesaid factors also contributed to the present state of affairs of the missile technology.
The Indian missiles and the command and control systems are certainly the byproduct of myriad factors shaping the Indian defense history. India’s Missiles The IGMDP had five parts—Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Nag and Akash. Agni was a technology demonstrator. The moment the technology demonstration of Agni with three flights was completed it was taken out of IGMDP. The Agni I, II and III were separately sanctioned. Agni I is Pak-specific and has a 700Km range. It’s a single stage solid fuel ballistic missile. Agni II covers 2000Km and Agni III is a China specific ballistic milssile with a range of 3500Km. Both Agni 2 and 3 are two stage and all solid fuel missiles. Agni III is not only a missile but a system for the future with which various configurations can be developed. It weighs 48.3 tons and 16.7mts long. It has a diameter of two meters and can carry nuclear warheads weighing 1.5tons over a distance of 3500Km. Agni III, like Agni II is rail mobile. The missile uses fire and forget principle. The scientists are now developing Agni IV with a range of 5500Km. Agni IV covers all the major cities of China except Beijing. Agni IV will bring all the major cities of China within its range. It will be a III stage missile with the same weight as Agni III. All the three stages will be powered by solid propellants.
The missile, unlike Agni II and III, will be road mobile. All the Agni versions can carry nuclear warheads. The Prithvi missile is a Pak-specific 350 Km shorter range N-Capable ballistic missile. It has a naval version too, called Dhanush. A modified Prithvi was used for anti-ballistic missile test also. The army has accepted the Prithvi missile. Nag is a third generation anti-tank missile by summer 2008, Nag related work will be completed .Then the IGMDP will be over. Trishul is a 9 Km range missile which was meant to replace the 1970s vintage Soviet made Osa short range SAM.The army used the Osa to protect its strike columns from attack helicopters and aircraft. the IAF to protect its air fields and vital installations and the navy to protect its warships at sea from aircraft and anti ship missiles. Though the DRDO is optimistic about its induction, its inordinate delay and initial failures forced India to look for the Israeli Barak. Though it was successfully tested in 2006-07, the future of Trishul is still uncertain. Akash is a medium range surface to air missile (SAM). Akash is a state of the art multi-target handling surface to air missile system. Only three or four countries such as the US, Russia and France have developed this type of system. Akash uses solid fuel. No country except Russia uses solid fuel in tactical missiles, not even the US. Here the system can be called to be superior to the US Patriot system.
With the development of Akash the Indian scientists mastered two unique technologies-multifunction phased array system integration and integration of ram-rocket propulsion, aerodynamics, structure and control. The system also has an application called weapon locating. Astra is an air to air short range missile developed indigenously by DRDO. It is an efficient weapon released from a vital aircraft and has a striking range of 10-25 Km. India is the sole non-NATO country, except Russia to possess such a sophisticated system. Sagarika or K-15 is a light, miniaturized and canisterised 700 Km range SLBM.It is 6.5m long and weighs about 7tons. It can carry nuclear warhead up to 600kg. It is a single stage missile powered by solid propellants. It has advanced avionics, propulsion, control and guidance and inertial navigation systems. With the launch of this missile from a submerged pontoon India has joined the select club of countries which includes Russia, the US, France, China and the UK with submarine launch capabilities. The Indo-Russian Brahmos is the sole supersonic cruise missile in the world. With a range of 300 Km running at Mach 2.8, it can carry conventional warhead of 225 Kg. It is a versatile missile which can be deployed in warships, submarines, aircraft and land-based launchers. It can be used to target high value sea and land targets like warships, bunkers, air bases and railheads.
India fired a hypersonic interceptor missile that intercepted and destroyed an incoming target missile in a direct hit over the Bay of Bengal on Dec. 6,2007. The interception took place at an altitude of 15Km, in what is called the “endo atmosphere” The “hit to kill” success catapulted India into the elite club comprising Russia, the US and Israel, all of whom have missiles that can block incoming ballistic missiles. In November 2006, India demonstrated its, air defense capabilities against incoming missile when it shot down an “enemy” missile in the exo-atmosphere, that is 50Km above the earth. A modified Prithvi missile was used for the purpose using terminal guidance system. Besides, India has bought 9Km range Barak anti-missile system for the navy. Each system has the capability to fire a minimum of eight interception missiles. This is a point defense system which is the first stage in acquiring a comprehensive theater missile defense system. In the field of rocket launchers too India occupies a great position. On Feb.29, the Indian army has inducted Pinaka which can be fitted with nuclear warheads.
It is a state of the art weapon for destroying or neutralizing enemy camp concentration areas, communication centers, air terminal complexes and gun or rocket locations. Besides the Russian Smerch mobile multiple rocket launcher, which carpet bombs targets 90 Km away is also with the Indian army. The army needs this for destroying targets spread over a wide area. The Future of India’s Missile Development Program Post Pokhran II, India was fixated with nuclear bombs or warheads. But gradually the policy-makers realized that the delivery systems were even more important than the nuclear warheads because, nuclear bombs will hardly be used in the future wars. But the missiles will and can be used in all the wars. So the policy makers tended towards making an effective command and control system because it is necessary not for nuclear war only but also for conventional warfare to detect and destroy enemy missiles and weapon systems. India, till date has made an astonishing advancement in the field of command and control system. In some ways or the other, it has stridden ahead even of Russia, the US and China. If such a pace continues, India will outperform China in all the missile related technologies and radar systems. The future holds enormous promises India plans to test launch the Agni 4 missile with a range of 5500 Km. This will cover all the major cities of China within its range.
The missile will be much more sophisticated and it will be road mobile to avoid vulnerability. This will be a 3 stage missile with all solid fuel. Furthermore an SLBM of a similar type missile will be developed to integrate it with the indigenous Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), a euphemism for nuclear submarine. This type of SLBM will be the most reliable deterrence mainly against China. Furthermore, several new technologies can be used with such a vehicle. The submarine version of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile is to be tested soon. The submarine version must be much more lethal in nature than it’s all the versions. The development of an airforce version of the Brahmos which will be integrated with the 7000Km. Sukhoi 30 MKI is also underway. Furthermore, the Indo-Russion Brahmos Aerospace Private Ltd. Plans to field a hypersonic Brahmos running at Mach 8 by 2010. It will be 1000Km. range. Such a cruise missile must be an asset for the Indian military.
India’s indigenous ballistic missile defense system has got a boost with the successful endo and exo-atmospheric tests. Such tests have assumed an unexpected significance in view of the recent anti satellite tests conducted by China and the US. Even the scientists are confident of detecting and destroying not only incoming missiles but also wayward satellites. The former President and missile technologist APJ Abdul Kalam has asserted that India can destroy any foreign object at an altitude of 200 Km. India, after the US, successfully conducted a hypersonic test. The hypersonic technology can take India on the highest plane of missile technology.
The UPA govt. last year cleared a gigantic Rs. 10,000 crore project with Israel to develop an advanced medium range surface to air (MR-SAM) missile system capable of detecting and destroying hostile aircraft, missiles and spy drones at a range of 70Km. In reality the MR-SAM project is an extension of the ongoing DRDO-IAI project launched in Jan.2006 to develop a supersonic 60Km. Barak NG (Next Generation) missile defense for the navy. India wants to develop a dedicated aerospace command. But till date, India does not have a dedicated military satellite network. India plans to use the Russian GLONASS (Global Navigational Satellite System) for the purpose. Besides, India is developing its own GPS version- the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite system. ISRO will launch seven satellites to build the system. Besides, the Indo- Israeli space cooperation has reached an unexpected high. With the successful launch of the Israeli spy sat, Tecsar, the bonhomie seems to fructify several projects in the future. India is interested in buying the Israeli radar imaging satellite design. The synthetic aperture radar systems which can look through day and night, rain and cloud are also on the Indian wish list. The DRDO scientists have succeeded in making light composite materials for making missiles. They will make the missiles lighter and will help the missiles to carry much more warheads.
The scientists plan to develop smart, light and miniaturized precision guided missile which will be more accurate and can be carried in aircrafts. Hypersonic vehicles, miniaturized missile systems, nano-technology, very large systems integration and homing guidance have been identified by Research Center Imarat(RCI) as the thrust areas for development of futuristic missiles. The strategists think the future wars will be network centric, not platform centric. IT will play a major role in future warfare. Hence they have suggested building a network of UAVs, satellites, radars, sensors and so on. Weapon system like JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and UCAVs will necessitate newer types of missiles. Besides, Indian expertise in software will yield sophisticated missiles. Multiple warhead missiles can be made in the future too. The offset provision and the participation of the private companies in the defense sector in greater number is going to herald a revolution in the Indian defense history. If the policy planners and strategists follow their course with unwavering resolve, the country, in the field of missile, will be a pioneer. There is no doubt about it. Besides if a direct and fruitful Indo-US joint venture in this field fructifies, India will certainly be a missile superpower.
Indian Missiles: Threat and Capability
India tested its first nuclear device in 1974. Since then, according to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), its researchers have progressed to working on more powerful thermonuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them. India’s smallest nuclear-capable missile now threatens Pakistan, and its medium-range missile will threaten China’s border regions. If India converts its new space rocket to a missile, it could reach cities as far away as London, Tokyo and New York.Whether India succeeds will depend on help from abroad. India has long claimed that it has a perfect right to run a space program, and India has never promised not to make nuclear-capable missiles. India is not seen as a “rogue country.” Yet, India has consistently used foreign help to convert its space rockets to nuclear-capable missiles. Imports, some clandestine, some overt, have nourished India’s nuclear and rocket efforts from the start.
India built the medium-range Agni missile by taking a first-stage rocket from a small space launcher and combining it with guidance technology developed by the German space agency. The effort dates from the 1960s. U.S. scientists from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) launched the first small rocket from Indian soil – an American Nike Apache – in 1963. “We were waiting for the payload to arrive when we saw a guy on a bicycle coming up an unpaved road,” recalls one NASA veteran of the launch. “He had the payload in the basket.”
From this humble beginning, the United States, Britain, France and Russia launched more than 350 small rockets over the next twelve years, all from India’s new Thumba test range, which these countries helped build and equip. It was through this early training that India learned the solid fuel technology that later wound up in the first stage of the Agni missile.
One of India’s ablest students was A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. While training in the United States, he visited the space centers where the U.S. Scout rocket was conceived and was being flown. Kalam returned home to build India’s first space rocket, the Satellite Launch Vehicle – SLV-3, a carbon copy of the Scout. NASA made Kalam’s task easier by supplying unclassified technical reports on the Scout’s design.
France supplied the next technology infusion. In the 1970s, its Societe Europeene de Propulsion gave India the technology for the Viking high-thrust liquid rocket motor, used on the European Space Agency’s Ariane satellite launcher. The Indian version, the “Vikas,” became the second stage of the large rocket India launched in October. Liquid fuel technology also helped India develop the Prithvi missile, which can reach Islamabad. Derived from a Soviet-supplied anti-aircraft missile, the Prithvi became the second stage of the Agni missile.
But aid from America and France was soon dwarfed by aid from Germany. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Germany helped India with three indispensable missile technologies: guidance, rocket-testing and composite materials. Earmarked for the space program, all were equally useful for building missiles.
In 1978, Germany installed an interfero-meter on an Indian rocket to measure, from the ground, a rocket’s angle of flight. Four years later, India tested its own version. From 1982 to 1989, Germany helped India build a navigation system for satellites based on a Motorola microprocessor. During the same period, and following the same steps, India developed its own navigation system for missiles and rockets based on the same microprocessor.
Germany also tested India’s first large rocket in a wind tunnel at Cologne-Portz; it helped India build its own rocket test facility; and it trained Indians in glass and carbon fiber composites at Stuttgart and Braunschweig. These lightweight, heat-resistant fibers are ideal for missile nozzles and nose cones. To help India use the fibers, Germany provided the documentation for a precision filament winding machine, a sensitive item now controlled for export by other countries, including the United States.
India’s quest for imports provoked a row with the United States in 1992. The Russian space agency tried to sell India advanced cryogenic engines for India’s most ambitious space rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The United States opposed the deal, rejecting India’s argument that the engines were only suitable for space launchers. “If you can do space launches, you can do ballistic missiles,” a Commerce Department analyst told the Risk Report. The analyst’s stance is buttressed by a CIA report declassified in 1993. It said that a space launcher “could be converted relatively quickly by technologically advanced countries … to a surface to surface missile.”
In 1993, India’s procurement effort surfaced again. A Massachusetts company was charged with violating U.S. export laws by selling India components for a hot isostatic press. The press, which India obtained through the company’s Scottish subsidiary, can be used to shape advanced composites for missile nose cones.
The question now is what India will do next. If it perfects a lightweight nuclear warhead, which the CIA says it is working on, the Agni missile could carry bombs to Beijing. And if India perfects an accurate long-range guidance system, its new space rocket could become an intercontinental ballistic missile. Success would change the strategic equation in Asia and make India a world nuclear power.
India`s Ballistic Missile
India has continued to produce and test all five of the missiles being developed under its Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP).
Prithvi-I: The nuclear-capable Prithvi-I surface-to-surface missile is currently in service with the Indian armed forces. Built by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL), the single-stage liquid-fueled missile was first tested in early 1988. It can carry a 1,000 kilogram payload 150 kilometers.
In June 1997, it was reported that India moved fewer than a dozen Prithvi-I missiles close to the Pakistani border. Prime Minister I. K. Gujral denied that India deployed the missiles, but Western officials confirmed in November that India had in fact shifted the missiles from storage in central India to sites about 100 kilometers from the Pakistan border.
Prithvi-II: In January 1996, India successfully test fired the longer-range nuclear-capable Prithvi-II. It can carry a 500 kilogram payload 250 kilometers, far enough to reach Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad. Prithvi-II is currently in service with the Indian armed forces. According to the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), four different types of warheads have been developed for the Prithvi, including a pre-fragmented warhead, two different submunition warheads, and an submunition incendiary warhead.
Agni: In April 1999, India tested the Agni-II, an intermediate-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Unlike the first Agni, which had a solid-fueled first stage and a liquid-fueled second stage, the Agni-II is believed to be powered entirely by solid fuel and is said to have a mobile launch capability. It reportedly is also equipped with a global positioning system (GPS). The 20-meter-long missile can carry a 1,000 kilogram payload 2,000 kilometers. Dr. A. J. P. Abdul Kalam, head of the DRDO, stated in 1999 that “Agni-II was designed to carry a nuclear warhead if required” and claimed in an interview that India had tested an Agni-sized payload during its May 1998 nuclear tests. The April 1999 missile test was reportedly designed to demonstrate the Agni’s mobile launch capability, its solid-fuel propulsion system, its features designed to carry special payloads, and its navigation, guidance and control systems.
Dhanush: A naval version of the Prithvi, the 8.5 meter long Dhanush, was tested in April 2000 from a ship anchored 20 kilometers offshore in the Bay of Bengal. The test was reportedly described as only a “partial success” by V. K. Aarte, scientific advisor to the Indian Ministry of Defense. Officials at the DRDO declined to provide specific details about the test, but naval sources reportedly said the missile crashed into the sea approximately 25-30 kilometers from the launch vessel.
Sagarika: The New York Times reported in April 1998 that Russia was helping India build a nuclear-capable sea-launched missile called the Sagarika (“Oceanic”). Both India and Russia denied cooperating on the project, but India reportedly confirmed in 1999 that its Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) was developing a 300-kilometer range cruise missile. According to the New York Times, Russia acknowledged to American officials in 1995 that Russian scientists were providing India with technological support, but insisted that their assistance was limited and involved only the technology needed to launch an underwater missile. However, an American official told the Times that Russia was providing “significant engineering services” as well as the parts and equipment necessary to build and launch the missile. It is possible that the Sagarika will be deployed on the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), India’s nuclear powered submarine, which is under development with Russian assistance.
Surya: Indian Defense Minister Rawat acknowledged in early November 1999 that India was developing the 5,000-kilometer range Surya (“Sun”) ballistic missile. Indian officials, however, subsequently denied Rawat’s statement.
Current Development/Operational Status of Strategic Missile Programs
Developmental work on the single-stage, liquid-engine Prithvi ballistic missile started in the early 1980s. Flight-tests of the 150km-range/1,000kg-payload, army-version of the missile (Prithvi-1/SS-150) began in 1987 and lasted until late 1993. In recent years, the missile was tested in May 2007. Subsequent to user trials with the Indian Army in 1994, the missile entered serial production at Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). The Indian Army has already raised two missile groups–333rd and 334th Missile Groups–both based in Secunderabad (Andhra Pradesh), to handle all logistical and operational details related to the Prithvi. During peacetime, the missiles and their support equipment are reportedly stored in Secunderabad, Jalandhar (Punjab), and Jammu (Jammu &Kashmir). Current numerical estimates of the Indian Army’s Prithvi inventory range from 75-90 missiles and reports published in 2003-2004 suggest that that the Army might acquire an additional 30-50 missiles.
Flight-tests of the 250km-range/500kg-payload, Indian Air Force (IAF)-version of the Prithvi (Prithvi-2/SS-250) started in 1993. The IAF subsequently inducted the Prithvi-II in 2004. Nevertheless, some reports in 2005 stated that the IAF was not too keen on the Prithvi-II and favored acquisition of an air-launched version of the BrahMos. The IAF’s two missile squadrons–one of which may be called the 2203 Squadron–are reportedly based in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). However, the missiles will be moved closer to the border with Pakistan during a crisis or war. The IAF’s Prithvi inventory is estimated at 25, although more recent reports suggest that the service might acquire an additional 50 missile systems.
The army’s variant of the Prithvi-II was test-fired in May 2008 for the first time since the missile was handed over to the army in 2006. This test was also the first with an extended range of 350 km for the army version.
The third variant of this missile is the Prithvi-III, versions of which have been referred to variously as Dhanush, Sagarika, and K-15. Reportedly, the Prithvi-III is the same as the Sagarika submarine-launched ballistic missile that is under development. In 1998, the DRDO had announced that it was developing a 350km-range, naval-version of the Prithvi (Dhanush/SS-350) The first test of the Dhanush in April 2000 ended in failure. However, after two subsequent successful tests, the DRDO declared in September 2002 that Dhanush was “ready for induction after successful trials at sea.” In October 2004, DRDO conducted the first successful underwater launch of the Dhanush from an especially designed canister placed in an artificial body of water. The DRDO also declared a subsequent off-shore flight-test of the Dhanush in November 2004 from the INS Subhadra a success. The missile and its sub-systems have also been referred to by the project name K-15 and have been placed on a fast track development path. In December 2004, Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee informed parliament that development flight-tests for the Dhanush had been completed. It might be noted that the K-15 (also known as the Sagarika) was tested successfully in March 2008 (for more details on the K-15/Sagarika test, see below).
Prithvi also has a role in India’s pursuit of an anti-ballistic missile capability. Variants of the Prithvi, including the Prithvi-II, were used in “attacker” and “interceptor” mode in the tests of India’s fledgling anti-ballistic missile system in November 2006 and December 2007.
The Prithvi is mainly a Pakistan-specific missile system and has reportedly been configured for nuclear delivery. If we assume that the Sagarika or Dhanush or the K-15 are versions of the Prithvi-III, then this missile would form the mainstay of India’s submarine launched ballistic missile arsenal, which has China as its primary focus as part of New Delhi’s quest for a triad of delivery systems.] In addition, the DRDO has designed a variety of conventional warheads for use in different battlefield support roles. The Indian government is believed to have upgraded the alert status of some nuclear-capable Prithvi missile units during the Kargil war with Pakistan (May-July 1999), and during the Indo-Pakistani military standoff that lasted from December 2001 until October 2002. Reports in 2003, however, stated that the Indian government no longer planned to use the Prithvi as a nuclear delivery system. Instead the missiles would be armed with conventional warheads and be used as long-range artillery to attack Pakistan’s strategic and theater reserves. However, as of 2008, the Prithvi-I and the Prithvi-III both remained part of the India’s existing and proposed nuclear delivery systems.
In the early 1980s, the hybrid, two-stage (solid-motor/liquid-engine) Agni was conceived as a “technology demonstrator” (TD) to test propulsion, staging, and re-entry technologies for applications in medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missile systems. Work on the 1,200-1,500km-range/1,000kg-payload Agni TD most likely began in 1983. Between 1989 and 1994, the DRDO conducted three developmental flight-tests, of which two were successful. Although flight-tests were suspended between 1995 and 1998, research and development on an improved variant continued uninterrupted. Testing was revived in 1999. Between April 1999 and August 2004, the DRDO conducted three successful developmental flight tests of the rail-/road-mobile, two-stage, all solid-fueled, 2,000-2,500km-range/1,000kg-payload Agni-II.
In 1999, the Indian government approved the development of a rail-/road-mobile, single-stage, solid-motor, 700-800km-range/1,000kg-payload variant of the Agni missile. This variant, which was later dubbed as the Agni-I, was conceived as a bridge between the short-range Prithvi and the longer-range Agni-TD and Agni-II ballistic missiles. Between January 2002 and June 2004, the short-range variant of the Agni has been tested thrice successfully. Senior Indian defense officials have suggested that although more user flight-tests are in the offing, the missile is ready for induction into the armed services. The Indian Army is raising two missile groups–444th and 555th–to induct and manage the Agni-I and II variants. Although the Indian government stated in 2006 that the Agni I & II have been inducted into the armed forces, it is unclear to what extent they have actually been operationalized.
After years of rumors that a test of the 3,000-4,000 km-range variant of the Agni ballistic missile, the Agni III, was imminent, India finally flight-tested the missile on 9 July 2006. However, the missile, which is 16 meters tall, weighs 48 tons, and capable of delivering a 1.5 ton warhead, failed within 50 seconds of launch. Officials at India’s Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) initially suggested that the failure likely resulted due to separation problems between the two-stage missile’s first and second stages. However, a subsequent report published in Force magazine suggests that test failure could have resulted from either: (a) malfunctioning gimbaled nozzles in the first stage; (b) irregular flow of propellant in the first stage; or (c) problems with the solid propellant itself.
Subsequently, the Agni-III was successfully tested in April 2007 and May 2008. According to a senior defense scientist, a “truly deliverable version” was tested in May 2008 and that the missile was ready for induction into the armed forces. Other reports stated that the army might receive the missile in 2009 following a flight trial.
The Agni missiles have been designed and developed for delivering nuclear munitions. Despite earlier suggestions of the Agni’s potential conventional role, this is now unlikely for reasons of cost-effectiveness and accuracy. The Agni-I will most probably replace the Prithvi for nuclear-targeting missions against Pakistan. Although the longer-range variants of the Agni will inherently be capable of targeting Pakistan as well (the Agni-I, with its 700 km range is probably Pakistan-specific), they are primarily being developed to give India a nuclear deterrent capability against China.
Reports in May 2008 stated that the Indian government has given the go-ahead to develop the Agni-V missile, with a range of 5,000 km and above in the next two years, although other reports have stated that the missile will be a key nuclear delivery system in seven years, with the first test flights expected in 3-4 years. With the Agni-V, India will be able to credibly target parts of northeastern China (including Beijing) from launchers that do not necessarily have to be located close to the border with China. There were reports in summer 2007 that New Delhi had approved the Agni III* (Agni III Star), with a range of 5,000 km, but the 2008 reports indicate that the next missile in the Agni series after Agni-III would in fact be the Agni-V, rather than the Agni-IV or Agni-III*. The Agni-V was not part of the original IGMDP which provided the framework for India’s missile development plans since 1983.The missile will involve adding a third stage to the Agni-III.
Increasingly, a key component of India’s missile force is the BrahMos cruise missile. This is a 280-300km-range/200-300kg-payload, supersonic cruise missile in joint partnership with the Russian entity, NPO Mashinostroyeniye. The joint development work on the missile was started in 1998, while the joint company establishing the program was registered in 1995. from the Russian anti-ship missile called the Yakhont, the BrahMos is a dual-mode cruise missile, with its primary mode as an anti-ship missile, with a backup capability to attack shore-based, radio-contrast targets. The missile features a two-stage propulsion system employing a solid propellant booster with a liquid ramjet engine. Russia is believed to be primarily responsible for the propulsion system and systems integration, while India has responsibility for the on-board guidance system. The first test of the missile in India was conducted in June 2001; it was followed by a second flight-test in April 2002. Three developmental flight tests were conducted in 2003 followed by an additional three tests during 2004. During two tests conducted in November 2003 and 2004 respectively, the missile was successfully used to destroy a moving target from a warship at sea. The missile is now in serial production.
The BrahMos was originally planned for a coastal defense (land-to-ship) role but in recent years it has been tasked with multiple objectives – navy (ship-to-ship) and army (land-to-land) besides ongoing development on submarine-launch and air-to-air versions. Developmental flight tests of the naval variant of the BrahMos were reportedly completed in 2004 and the same year, the Indian Navy placed a “letter of intent” with the joint Indo-Russian venture BrahMos Aersopace Ltd. to acquire an undisclosed number of the cruise missiles. The missile has since been inducted into the navy.
In March 2008, the Indian government conducted the first test of the naval version of the BrahMos against a land target, confirming its sea-to-land attack capability. The DRDO is also developing a submarine-launch version and an air-to-air version of the BrahMos that is due to be tested in 2008 and 2009. For these versions, the navy’s Kilo-class submarines and the air force’s Sukhoi aircraft are likely to be used. The CEO and Managing Director of BrahMos Aerospace Ltd. Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai stated in December 2004 that development of the Air Force variant is expected to be completed within the next three to five years. The Air Force version of the BrahMos will have reduced length and weight, employ a new booster and a cap nose.
India is also developing an army variant of the missile. Delivery of the missile to the army commenced in June 2007. Two tests of the Army variant had been successfully conducted in June and December 2004.The next stage of the BrahMos development process is the production of a hypersonic variant (i.e., with a speed of over Mach 5), laboratory tests of which had taken place by May 2008.
Some defense observers believe that the India will likely to use technologies acquired and developed under the BrahMos program to develop longer-range nuclear capable cruise missiles in the future. Reports in may 2008 stated that the DRDO is developing a hypersonic missile that can also be used as a long-range cruise missile. The project, termed the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) project is being developed in collaboration with the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI).
According to some estimations, in the next decade, India will purchase about 1,000 BrahMos missiles for its military, while about 2,000 missiles will be for export purposes. India and Russia have announced plans to export the BrahMos to friendly “third countries” with mutual consent. Production facilities for the BrahMos are being established in India and Russia; 20 Indian and 10 Russian companies are expected to participate in its manufacture.In 2004, BrahMos Aerospace Ltd. had signed an agreement with Russia’s main arms export agency–Rosoboronexport–to market the missile in the international market.
In July 2007, Indian defense scientists announced the proposed development of a new cruise missile system, the Nirbhay (Fearless). Nirbhay will be a 1,000 km-range subsonic cruise missile that can be deployed on multiple platforms. A technology demonstrator is scheduled to be completed in early 2009. With its terrain-hugging capability, the missile would be able to avoid detection ground radar.
In February 2008, India tested its K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile from a submerged pontoon in the Bay of Bengal. This missile had been tested four times previously, although with very little publicity. As noted above, the K-15 (also called the Sagarika or ‘Oceanic’) has also been known previously as Prithvi-III and Dhanush.
India’s Aeronautical Development Establishment is rumored to be developing a submarine-launched missile with “significant engineering assistance,” especially in underwater launch technology, from scientists associated with quasi-public research institutes in Russia. There has been considerable debate over the Sagarika’s characteristics. Indian defense analysts have described it as a cruise missile program, but the U.S. Department of Defense has categorized the Sagarika as a submarine-launched ballistic missile, although with the 2008 the debate has been settled in favor of the latter description. The range, propulsion, payload, and other technical parameters of this missile remain unknown, except that it will probably arm India’s nuclear submarine, the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV).
Development work on the missile apparently began in 1992.. Reports in 2008 stated that the K-15/Sagarika will be launched from a submarine in about two years and subsequently from a nuclear powered submarine (the Advanced Technology Vessel-ATV) under construction which will be ready for sea trials by then.
Despite the submarine focus of the Sagarika, the missile can also be launched from land and mobile launchers. The missile weighs about 7 tons and can carry nuclear warheads that weight up to 600 kg over a range of about 700 km.
The Sagarika program is believed to be driven by India’s long-term goals to achieve a secure sea-based, second-strike nuclear capability.
India reportedly plans to fly a hypersonic plane in 2007. An eight-meter technology demonstrator is being built by the Defense Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad; the demonstrator vehicle will be powered by a “Scramjet” engine that takes in oxygen from the atmosphere and burns liquid hydrogen. The hypersonic prototype will apparently be a precursor to the DRDO’s Aerobic Vehicle for Hypersonic Aerospace Transportation (AVATAR). The proposed Avatar will be able to take off and land like an aircraft and will also be able to place a payload of 1,000kg in low-earth orbit. The vehicle would be capable of performing about 100 re-entries into the atmosphere. According to a DRDO official, the primary function of the vehicle is to act as a “reusable missile launcher, one which can launch missiles, land … and be loaded again for more missions.” The official estimates the total cost for the project to be about $2 billion with a developmental period of 10 years. Components of the Avatar program such as the Scramjet engine are being developed and tested at India’s premier missile laboratory – Research Center Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad.
Role of Ballistic and Cruise Missiles in India’s Proposed Nuclear Strike Force
In the long term, the Indian government envisions a “minimal deterrent” based on a triad of land-, air-, and sea-based nuclear forces. Ballistic and cruise missiles will be key components of the envisioned nuclear strike force.
At present, the Prithvi-I, Prithvi-II, Agni-I and the Agni-II are the ballistic missiles in service with the Indian Army and Air Force respectively, although there are some doubts over the operational status of the latter two (see above). The Prithvi missiles are inherently nuclear-capable, and an undisclosed number of Prithvi-1 missiles have reportedly been modified to deliver nuclear warheads. However, the Prithvi suffers from several limitations such as its short-range, liquid-fueled engine, which add to the logistics burden, and fuel toxicity, which increases the difficulty of handling the weapon system in the field. Hence the Prithvi missiles will most likely be replaced by the Agni ballistic missiles for nuclear missions. The existing and proposed inventory of missiles will most likely be reassigned to perform conventional battlefield support functions. The DRDO is also developing a 350km-range naval-variant of the Prithvi: the Dhanush. The Dhanush is currently undergoing flight-trials. In 2004, DRDO conducted an underwater launch of the Dhanush from a specially designed container placed in an artificial body of water. The underwater test suggests that India is developing submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) technology. However, the IN has not made a decision to deploy the Dhanush on board surface warships citing limitations of range and problems related to the missile’s hypergolic and toxic liquid fuel. Nor does the IN possess submarines capable of carrying and launching ballistic missiles. Despite these limitations, the Indian Navy might acquire a small number of these missiles and deploy them on board surface warships as part of the inter-services organizational battle to acquire a stake in the proposed “minimal deterrent.”
The short-, medium-, and intermediate-range variants of the Agni ballistic missile are likely to be the mainstay of India’s land-based missile force in the future. In comparison to the Prithvi, each of these variants of the Agni combines the advantages of longer-range, higher-payload, and solid-fueled motors. Although India is developing an intermediate-range ballistic missile and presumably has the technology to build intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), it appears to have stopped well short of actually building an ICBM. In June 2004, the Scientific Advisor to India’s Defense Minister Dr. V. K. Aatre told reporters that “…we [India] have all the technologies…it (ICBM) needs a larger engine, longer burning time, improvement in the guidance system, among others… it’s not a question of whether we can build an ICBM or not, but whether we want an ICBM, which I am not going to talk about.” New Delhi’s restraint in this regard is probably the result of a conscious political choice to avoid threatening or challenging the legally recognized members of the nuclear club, with the exception of China, which India regards as a potential long-term threat to its security. Furthermore, as India moves in the direction of an operational nuclear force, Indian elites perhaps feel reduced pressure to rely on technological symbols to demonstrate political resolve.
Thus, although the Indian government gave approval for the 5,000 km range Agni-V in May 2008 (which can target China more credibly), there were reports in 2007 that New Delhi had capped the range that limit and would not go for a full-fledged ICBM.Such a decision was seen as a “goodwill gesture” especially at a time of negotiations between India and the United States on their bilateral nuclear agreement.
India’s quest for a secure, sea-based, second-strike capability centers on its submarine-launched missile: the Sagarika. The Sagarika, which is expected to arm India’s ATV, has suffered from program delays and is not expected to become operational before 2010. There has been some controversy over whether the Sagarika belongs to the cruise or ballistic class of missiles, but since the Sagarika’s test in February 2008, it has been referred to as a ballistic missile.
In addition, the DRDO is also developing a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, the BrahMos/PJ-10, in close collaboration with the Russian entity NPO Mashinostroyeniye. Three versions of the missile are under development: a naval version for surface and sub-surface vessels; a land-attack Army version; and an aircraft-based version. Although the BrahMos is primarily an anti-ship cruise missile, many observers believe that the technologies acquired and developed under the program will most likely help India develop nuclear-capable long-range cruise missiles in the medium- and long-term.
Table of Indian Ballistic and Cruise Missiles
Custody/Command and Control
India does not maintain a constituted nuclear force on a heightened state of alert. The nuclear-capable missiles, non-nuclear warhead assemblies, and fissile cores are maintained in a de-alerted state by the individual armed services, the DRDO, and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), respectively, with plans to reconstitute them rapidly during an emergency or national crisis.
After much debate, deliberations, and delay, the Indian government has entrusted operational control of India’s nuclear missile force to the Indian Army. Although the Indian Air Force deploys an undisclosed number of nuclear-capable bombers and is actively planning to upgrade the air leg of the dyad, it has lost the inter-organizational battle with the Army for custody of India’s nuclear missile force.
Although the nuclear-capable missiles and aircraft are under the control of individual armed services, India’s consolidated nuclear force is administered by a tri-service Strategic Forces Command (SFC). Due to the delay in the appointment of the proposed Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), who will ultimately head a joint tri-service command, the commander-in-chief of the SFC currently reports to the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Ultimately, however, the SFC will report to the CDS, who will act as the “single-point” military advisor to the Indian government and act as the interface between the civilian executive and the armed services.
At the level of the civilian executive, India’s Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) is responsible for the management of its nuclear forces and for making all decisions pertaining to the use of nuclear weapons. The NCA is a two-layered structure. It comprises a Political Council (PC) and an Executive Council (EC). The PC is chaired by the prime minister and is the “sole body which can authorize the use of nuclear weapons.” The decisions of the PC are conveyed to the EC, headed by the prime minister’s National Security Advisor, who then interfaces with the SFC to execute the political directives of the PC.
Import Dependency and Export Controls
After four decades of investments in its aerospace sector, India has succeeded in achieving a relatively high-degree of autonomy in the development, engineering, and manufacture of first-generation ballistic missiles. As a result, international “technology-denial” regimes can at best delay and add to the opportunity cost of India’s ballistic missile programs. However, such regimes cannot disrupt them in the long term.
With the help of Western European and North American aerospace companies in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Indian government created an elaborate infrastructure for the development and manufacture of solid and liquid propellants, composites, structural materials, navigation, avionics, flight control, launch support equipment, computers, and software needed for civilian satellite launch vehicles. At about the same time, the Indian government also began creating an infrastructure for designing, developing, testing, and building guided missiles. This included “aerodynamic, structural, and environmental test facilities, liquid- and solid-propulsion test facilities, fabrication and engineering facilities, control, guidance, rubber, and computer facilities.”
After the launch of the IGMDP in 1983, the DRDO further expanded and refurbished these facilities, and gained competence in the areas of solid propellants, composites, and advanced metallurgy. In 1987, India’s Defense Research and Development Laboratory inaugurated a new state-of-the-art facility for designing and building modern missiles at Imarat Kancha near Hyderabad. The new facility was named Research Center Imarat (RCI). It includes “an inertial instrumentation lab, full-scale environmental and electronic warfare test facilities, a composites production center, high enthalpy facility, and a missile integration and check out center.” In addition, India has built a dedicated test range on its east coast in Orissa (Chandipur-On-Sea) to test “long-range missiles, air defense missiles, high ‘G’ maneuverable missiles, weapon systems delivered by aircraft, and multi-target weapon systems.” Range tracking and acquisition radars and some of the support equipment for this test range were imported from the United States and Russia in the 1980s and 1990s.
Senior Indian defense officials have publicly claimed that India now has the capability to design, develop, and produce any type of missile. They have claimed that the import content of the Agni and Prithvi ballistic missiles has been reduced to about ten and five percent, respectively. However, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency believes that India “still lacks engineering or production expertise in key missile technologies” and continues to import missile-related and dual-use technologies and goods from entities in Russia and Western Europe.
Despite its emergence as a potential “second-tier” supplier state, India is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). New Delhi rejects participation in the MTCR on grounds that India is a victim of such technology-denial regimes, that such regimes are insensitive to India’s national security needs, and they interfere with the peaceful uses of space technology. In the past, senior Indian defense officials such as Sivathanu Pillai and Dr. Abdul Kalam have expressed the view that Indian missile programs, both strategic and tactical, are not only aimed at providing the Indian military with weapon systems, but also to generate exports. In 1994, the Indian defense ministry’s Department of Defense Production and Supplies included the Prithvi in its catalogue of defense items available for export. Although no Prithvi exports have occurred to date, Indian defense officials have suggested that India may sell some of the missile’s subsystems in the international market.Indian and Russian officials have publicly expressed their intent to export the BrahMos/PJ-10 cruise missile to friendly “third countries” with mutual consent.
But since the late 1990s, especially after the nuclear tests in May 1998 and the subsequent strategic dialogue with the United States, the Indian government has apparently resolved the internal debate on exports in favor of robust export controls on strategic nuclear, missile, and related dual-use goods and technologies. However, the recent indictment of the Indian company NEC Engineers Private, Limited, for illegally exporting material and equipment that could be used in the manufacture of solid propellants for missiles to Iraq has raised doubts about the efficacy with which Indian export control regulations and laws are policed in practice.
Stakeholders in India’s Missile Program
A stakeholders’ analysis shows that India’s missile program is supported by a diverse coalition of actors and institutions. This composite group is united by a common string of shared values; but members of the coalition also represent different, though often interrelated and overlapping, individual and institutional interests. Since the stakeholders’ interests sometimes conflict, missile-related organizational and technical outcomes are determined by collective bargaining among them.
The programmatic narrative of India’s missile development activities also reveals that the diversification and growth of the missile coalition has partially transformed the underlying mandate of the missile program. During the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the missile programs were characterized by political symbolism and technological determinism. Both characteristics were the outcome of the domination of the DRDO and its political patrons in the coalition. However, technological symbolism and the DRDO’s organizational interests are now giving way to strategically determined political objectives and the operational requirements of the armed services.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the DRDO and a handful of politicians and their civilian bureaucratic aides in the federal government, made up the primary stakeholders in the missile program. Due to the peculiarity of India’s civil-military relations, the armed services were largely excluded from defense planning related to strategic weapon systems. Furthermore, the armed forces doubted the DRDO’s competence in producing major high-technology weapon systems. Due to the specificities of these institutional relationships, India’s missile programs were not based on actual user requirements. The goal was technology gathering and “reverse-engineering.” Since there were no plans for the serial production and manufacture of actual weapon systems, the DRDO did not build sustainable alliances with government-owned public sector entities. Similarly, the secrecy surrounding the programs effectively excluded private sector companies, quasi-governmental research institutes, and the growing body of civilian strategic analysts, who occupy influential positions in India’s civil society, from participation.
Since then, however, the DRDO has succeeded in building a relatively robust alliance with the military. Limited production of the Prithvi and Agni ballistic missile systems has also given government-owned public sector companies a stake in the missile program. The DRDO’s adoption of a consortium approach by subcontracting research, development, and manufacture to semi-autonomous institutions and private sector companies has also added to the list of the stakeholders in the missile program. Furthermore, the program has gained legitimacy due to support from vocal elements among India’s lobby of civilian strategic analysts.
Strategic missile systems such as the Prithvi and Agni series have emerged as the center of the DRDO’s efforts to develop major weapon systems. These weapon systems are not only important politically and strategically, but more so because they represent the DRDO’s first success in developing a major weapon system that has gained acceptability from India’s armed services. Even though the Prithvi and Agni represent vintage technologies from the 1950s and 1960s, in the Indian context, they are considered relatively state-of-the-art because of international curbs on the sale of long range missiles, and because India happens to be among the select few countries that has managed to develop them, despite technology denials from the United States and other developed countries. In India’s case, the ballistic missile programs have helped the DRDO partially transform its image from an institution that was synonymous with program failures to an organization that symbolizes organizational and technological excellence. Equally significantly, the success of both programs has provided political cover for the DRDO’s inability to overcome developmental problems related to the Akash and Trishul SAMs, which were originally conceived as parts of the IGMDP in the 1980s.
India’s missile coalition has capitalized on the success of the Prithvi and Agni programs to seek political support for new missile programs. Proposed programs include both defensive and offensive missile systems. The list of defensive systems includes ATBMs designed to provide “point defense” for India’s nuclear command and control centers and high-density population targets. Offensive weapon systems include an intermediate-range version of the Agni ballistic missile, the BrahMos cruise missile, and the Avatar program that would theoretically be capable of launching nuclear strikes from outer space.
The former Vajpayee government’s political conclusion that U.S. ballistic missile defense is inevitable and the DRDO’s case for a limited ATBM capability have produced a historic shift in the India’s position on ballistic missile defense; from opposition, India has resorted to outright support for the U.S. program. The flip side, of course, is that India’s missile coalition expects technological assistance from the United States and its allies to build a limited ATBM system capable of intercepting short-range ballistic missiles. In the interim, however, the DRDO hopes to integrate Russian S-300 SAMs or the Israeli Arrow-2 with the indigenous Rajendra phased-array radar system. In this context, India has also acquired the Green Pine radar system from Israel for purposes of detecting long-range ballistic missile launches.
In its push for an ATBM capability, the DRDO has received support from the Indian Air Force. The Air Force, which has lost the battle against the Army for overall control of India’s missile-based nuclear delivery systems, now appears to be backing the ATBM project to safeguard its redefined organizational goals as an air and space force. The Air Force is also actively pushing the BrahMos cruise missile project. The DRDO hopes that the BrahMos cruise missile could ultimately be configured for launch from air-, land-, and sea-based platforms. Thus in the future, the Air Force could be expected to make the case for an air-leg of the proposed “minimal deterrent,” using long-range strike aircraft with a standoff cruise missile capability. In this regard, the Air Force is also likely to support the DRDO’s futuristic Avatar reusable space launch vehicle. The Avatar could theoretically be used as a nuclear delivery system with a global strike capability; it could also serve as an asset to strike enemy space-based surveillance and communication targets, or for ferrying civilian and military payloads into space. Should this project become successful, there could be a consolidation of interests between the DRDO, the civilian Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO), and the Indian Air Force with active support from India’s political leadership.
The DRDO is also actively consolidating its alliance with the Indian Navy by developing sea-launched versions of the Prithvi ballistic missile and by planning to configure the BrahMos cruise missile for launch from submarines and ships. The current version of the BrahMos has an anti-ship capability, but future systems will incorporate a land attack capability. The current sea-based version of the Prithvi (Dhanush) is limited by its short-range (350km) and liquid-fueled engine. The missile’s short range and the dangers associated with liquid fuel on board submarines and surface ships make it unlikely that the Navy will accept the Dhanush for active deployment. However, the development of the Dhanush will most likely enable the Navy to stake a claim in India’s emerging nuclear deterrent. There is also positive evidence to suggest that India is developing an SLBM capability. India’s draft nuclear doctrine, which should be read as a statement of ambitions and future intent, does envisage a sea-based nuclear capability for reasons of operational flexibility and survivability. If New Delhi does indeed succeed in acquiring nuclear submarines and cruise missile technology from Russia in the near term, an Indian sea-based nuclear capability could emerge by the end of this decade.
Despite rumors and occasional calls from Indian missile scientists for the development of a global strike capability, it is doubtful that an ICBM program will have support from India’s political elite or its military leadership. Unlike the 1970s and 1980s when the political accent was on developing technological artifacts for demonstration and symbolism purposes, current Indian programs have a greater national security component. Since Indian strategic and military elites only perceive potential nuclear threats from China and Pakistan, it is feasible that India might restrict its ballistic and cruise missile programs to intermediate- and medium-range systems as a conscious political choice to avoid ruffling sensibilities of the other nuclear weapon states. Such a decision could also partly be a function of the growing strategic partnership with the United States and the need to cooperate with the United States and Israel in developing a limited ballistic missile defense.
Finally, the centrality of strategic missiles in the DRDO’s organizational priority of interests, potential nuclear threats from Pakistan and China, and the growth and expansion of India’s missile coalition have ended the technological fragmentation within India’s high-tech nuclear, missile, and civilian space sectors. At their inception in the late 1960s, India’s missile programs were hampered by the fragmentation in India’s high-technology sector. The federal government made no attempt to harmonize, complement, or integrate the technological and organizational strengths of the civilian space sector and the DRDO’s missile laboratories; neither did the government impose any specific national security objectives for this high-tech sector or what has also been described as India’s “strategic enclave.” For example, the subterranean nuclear explosive project was executed in 1974 without any reference to the DRDO’s missile programs.
However, that situation has now changed. Since the early 1980s, the Indian government has attempted to end the fragmentation within India’s “strategic enclave” and give it a strategic direction. In this regard, the IGMDP and the Agni program marked the beginning of cooperation between the ISRO and the DRDO. By the late 1980s, the DRDO and the DAE launched joint programs to weaponize nuclear devices and modify a limited number of air breathing platforms and ballistic missiles for the delivery of nuclear munitions. Cooperation between the three sectors of India’s “strategic enclave” continued in the 1990s. During this period, the DRDO and the ISRO jointly worked on the second phase of the Agni program; likewise, the DRDO and the DAE cooperated in the design, development, and weaponization of more sophisticated nuclear warheads. The Vajpayee government’s authorization of nuclear tests in May 1998 and subsequent decision to build a “credible minimum deterrent” have now created an overarching strategic framework for cooperation among these organizations.
Further changes in the missile development process can be expected, especially with respect to collaboration with other countries. In February 2008, New Delhi announced that the IGMDP will end by the close of the year. The emphasis will now be on serial production of the missiles developed under this program. Crucially, some specific projects might involve foreign collaboration, although strategic projects will be developed “in house.”
After over three decades, India’s guided missile program has now assumed a self-sustaining character. Unlike the 1970s, the missile program is now guided by a clear strategic vision and buttressed by a diverse coalition with strong organizational stakes in politically and strategically determined technological outcomes. In retrospect, the guided missile program has not only become central to India’s proposed “minimal deterrent,” but more significantly, it has emerged as the symbol of an independent, self-reliant, and strategically autonomous Indian state.
Glossary for Cruise Missiles
Active Radar — A terminal phase guidance method in which a cruise missile emits its own radar signal, and then homes in on the energy reflected off the target.
Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) — A type of cruise missile designed to strike sea-based targets ranging from small craft to aircraft carriers. ASCMs normally use radar and/or heat-seeking sensors to find and strike their targets.
Autonomous Target Acquisition (ATA) — A terminal phase guidance method in which a cruise missile can find locate and attack a target completely autonomously. Target data is not necessarily preloaded, as in the case of Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC).
Booster Rocket — A liquid- or solid-fuelled rocket that provides the initial thrust in a cruise missile launch from land or sea. After the booster burns out, thrust is provided by a sustainer motor, usually a jet engine.
Canard Stabilizer — A horizontal airfoil mounted in front of the main wing on a cruise missile. It reduces the lift-induced drag of the wing, and lowers the overall drag of the missile.
Circular Error Probability (CEP) — A simple measure of a cruise missile’s precision. It is defined as the radius of a circle into which the missile will land at least half the time.
Cruise Missile — A guided missile, the major portion of whose flight path to its target is conducted at an approximately constant velocity. It depends on the dynamic reaction of air for lift and upon propulsion forces (usually a jet engine) to balance drag. It is distinct from a ballistic missile, which follows a ballistic trajectory. A cruise missile can be launched from an aircraft, ship, submarine, or from land, and can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead.
Datalink — A means of connecting one location to another for the purpose of transmitting and receiving data. In cruise missiles, the datalink is used to send command and control signals and receive telemetry.
Delta Wing — A wing configuration in the shape of a triangle, named after the Greek uppercase delta (letter). The primary advantage of the delta wing design is that the wing’s leading edge remains behind the shock wave generated by the nose of the cruise missile when flying at supersonic speeds.
Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) — A navigation system that compares terminal phase area imagery with preloaded satellite imagery that the cruise missile carries in its memory.
Global Positioning System (GPS) — A U.S. navigation system consisting of more than 24 satellites that allows a cruise missile to accurately determine its location in any weather, day or night, anywhere on Earth.
Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) — A Russian navigation system similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Like GPS, the complete GLONASS constellation consists of 24 satellites allowing a cruise missile to accurately determine its location in any weather, day or night, anywhere on Earth.
Electronic Jamming — The deliberate radiation or reflection of electromagnetic energy for the purpose of disrupting enemy use of electronic devices or systems.
Forward-Swept Wings — A wing configuration, consisting of wings located further back on the body that angle forward (rather than backward as is the case with conventional-swept wings). Forward-Swept wings allow for increased maneuverability at supersonic speeds.
Fragmentation Warhead — A warhead that is designed to expel a large amount of shrapnel upon explosion.
Hypersonic Speed — A speed greater than Mach 5.0.
Imaging Infra-red Seeker (IIS) — A terminal phase guidance method in which a cruise missile can recognize the heat-based image of its target.
Infra-red (IR) — A terminal phase guidance method in which a cruise missile homes in on the heat emitted from its target.
Inertial Navigation System (INS) — A guidance system that measures a cruise missile’s acceleration in all three axes to determine its displacement from its launch point, and that determines its position. It is immune to electronic jamming.
Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) — A “smart” bomb fitted with a tail control system and a Global Positioning System-aided inertial navigation system (INS).
Kiloton (kT) — An explosive force equivalent to that of 1,000 metric tons of TNT. It is used to rate the energy output, and hence the destructive power, of nuclear weapons.
Land-Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) — A type of cruise missile designed to strike land targets ranging in size from individual buildings to entire cities. LACMs are usually equipped with Global Positioning System and terrain-matching navigation systems that allow them to fly low-altitude, terrain-following, defense-evading paths.
Launch Phase — The initial phase of a cruise missile’s trajectory, during which the missile is guided by its inertial navigation system (INS).
Liquid Propellant — Any liquid combustible fed to the combustion chamber of a rocket engine.
Mach Number — The ratio of a cruise missile’s speed to the speed of sound (344 meters per second, 1,238 kilometers per hour). Objects with a speed of less than Mach 1.0 are known as “subsonic.” Objects with a speed of greater than Mach 1.0 are known as “supersonic.” Objects with a speed of greater than Mach 5.0 are known as “hypersonic.”
Megaton (MT) — A unit of explosive force equal to that of 1,000,000 metric tons of TNT. It is used to rate the energy output, and hence the destructive power, of nuclear weapons.
Midcourse Phase — The second phase of a cruise missile’s trajectory. During this phase, the missile is powered by a sustainer motor, usually a jet engine. It is guided by its inertial navigation system (INS) updated by one or more of the following systems: a radar-based terrain matching system, a radar or optical scene matching system, or a Global Positioning System-type satellite system.
Non-Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Warhead — A payload designed to generate a non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse, which releases a high-intensity, short-duration burst of electromagnetic energy that can cripple electronic equipment within a certain radius.
Passive Radar — A guidance method in which a cruise missile detects and homes in on enemy radar emissions.
Penetration Warhead — A warhead that is designed to penetrate hardened targets, such as bunkers.
Precision Terrain Aided Navigation (PTAN) — A navigation system for cruise missiles currently in development by the U.S. that uses a worldwide digital database with radar maps.
Ramjet Engine — A newer type of cruise missile engine that contains no major moving parts and is ideally suited for high speed flight trajectories.
Sea-Skimming Trajectory — A low-level cruise missile trajectory, about 10 m above sea level. A warship under attack can only detect a sea-skimming missile when it emerges over the horizon at a distance of 15 to 25 nautical miles (28 to 46 km), which translates to only 25 to 60 seconds of warning time.
Stealth Technology — A range of techniques used by cruise missiles to make them less visible or invisible to radar and other detection methods. Stealth technology includes changing the shape of the missile body to minimize radar reflections, moving the engine air intake to hide the compressor face (normally a major radar return), and using a diffuser on the engine exhaust to minimize the infra-red signature.
Solid Propellant — A rocket propellant in solid form, combining both fuel and oxidizer in the form of a compact, cohesive grain.
Submunitions — Small bomblets contained in a larger warhead. Their primary purpose is to kill enemy infantry and vehicles, although submunitions have been designed for anti-runway, anti-armor, and mine-scattering purposes.
Subsonic Speed — A speed lower than the speed of sound (Mach 1.0; 344 meters per second, 1,238 kilometers per hour).
Supersonic Speed — A speed greater than the speed of sound (Mach 1.0; 344 meters per second; 1,238 kilometers per hour).
Sustainer Motor — A motor, usually a jet engine, that powers the cruise missile during its midcourse and terminal phases.
Tailplane — The fixed horizontal airfoil of a cruise missile’s tail assembly.
Television Imaging (Electro-Optical Imaging) — A navigation system for cruise missiles in which an electro-optical seeker scans a designated area for targets via optical imaging. Once a target is acquired, the missile will lock on to it for the kill. TV imaging does not depend on a target’s heat signature, and thus can be used against low-heat targets. The system, however, has the drawback that the target must be “seen” by the missile, which limits its range of action.
Terminal Phase — The third and final phase of a cruise missile’s trajectory. The terminal phase begins when the missile enters the target area and uses either more accurate terrain-matching guidance technology, or a terminal seeker (usually an optical or radar-based seeker).
Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) — A navigation system for cruise missiles that uses an on-board contour map of the terrain over which the missile flies over. TERCOM “sees” the terrain it is flying over using its radar system and matches it to an internally stored ground-map.
Terrain Profile Matching (TERPROM) — A navigation system for cruise missiles that uses stored digital elevation data combined with navigation system and radar altimeter inputs to compute the location of the aircraft or missile above the surface of the earth.
Thermobaric Warhead — A warhead that expels a cloud of explosive mist using a small charge and then ignites it with a second charge, thus producing greater explosive energy. Thermobaric warheads are also known as a fuel-air munitions, heat and pressure weapons, or vacuum bombs.
Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) — A ground vehicle capable of carrying and firing one or more cruise missiles.
Turbofan Engine — A newer type of cruise missile engine, similar to a turbojet. It consists of a ducted fan with a smaller diameter turbojet engine mounted behind it that powers the fan. Part of the air stream from the ducted fan passes through the turbojet where it is burnt to power the fan, but the majority of the flow bypasses it and produces most of the thrust.
Turbojet Engine — An older type of cruise missile engine consisting of a turbine-driven compressor that expels hot gases and produces a high velocity jet in the exhaust plume. The momentum of the exhaust stream propels the missile forward.
RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov writes that the U.S. ballistic missile defense system will become operational within years, thus providing a “credible capability,” but adds that “Russia has missiles that don’t care.” He continues with a description of the anti-BMD capabilities of the road-mobile Topol-M (SS-27) intercontinental ballistic missile:
While the U.S. is stepping up its effort to deploy early warning radars and interceptors as close to Russia’s borders as possible to detect missile launches and kill missiles at the boost stage of flight when they are the most vulnerable—and as long as the body and the warhead are still in one piece—the Topol-M, powered by three solid-propellant boosters, accelerates faster than earlier ICBMs and is accordingly less vulnerable to that kind of attack. The missile also has scores of auxiliary jets and a state-of-the-art flight control system that enables a 3D avoidance maneuver capability from the first seconds of flight.
And on top of everything else—in every sense—is the nuclear re-entry vehicle, in fact a ramjet-boosted supersonic cruise missile whose additional sustainer engine accelerates it to between Mach 4 and Mach 5 (Mach is the speed equal to the speed of sound in the air).
Such maneuverability renders a missile system a crucial surprise advantage, as the adversary cannot launch a fire-and-forget interceptor weapon because no anticipated point of contact is known or can be reliably calculated. Normally, the Topol-M carries one warhead but, unlike other strategic ICBMs, it can be easily upgraded with an advanced warhead carrying up to three independently targetable re-entry vehicles. The warhead fires off the vehicles in midcourse, changing direction twice a minute to fool warning radars as to where the charges are heading. Each vehicle is assigned an individual target at up to 100km (60 miles) from the separation point.
Viktor Litovkin, military commentator for RIA Novosti, argues that Russia’s newest missiles are “indeed unrivalled” and that President Vladimir Putin was correct in his recent boast that these weapons can penetrate any existing missile defense system. Litovkin contends that the SS-27 (Topol-M) ICBM and the SS-NX-30 (Bulava) SLBM pick up speed so fast upon launch that early warning systems monitoring the Earth’s surface from space do not have enough time to take appropriate countermeasures. He adds that these weapons are not “strictly ballistic” in their trajectories. They begin the midcourse phase ballistically, but can dive unexpectedly or maneuver to avoid destruction. In the terminal phase, both accelerate to hypersonic speeds that are beyond the limits of all operational and most future anti-missile defenses.
Litovkin vigorously defends Putin’s decision to boast about Russia’s missile capabilities: “A man who governs a state with such a deterrent capability has reasons to be proud of it.” He takes issue with “the perception of this praise as muscle-flexing or saber-rattling, let alone drum-banging.” According to Litovkin, the Topol-M and the Bulava “have no particular targets and pose no threat to anyone.” Moreover, “Russia has never drawn its nuclear sword—and most likely never will—in a power game.” He adds that the continuous development and upgrade effort of the Strategic Missile Troops “in no way amounts to an arms race,” as Russia’s overall ballistic missile capability is being reduced. (Article, Link)
Russia last year tested missile systems that no one in the world has and won’t have for a long time. These missile systems don’t represent a response to a missile defense system, but they are immune to that. They are hypersonic and capable of changing their flight path.
Putin recently discussed the same “hypersonic” systems at a similar format of a press conference in September 2005, noting their ability to maneuver in course and altitude and evade ballistic missile defense such as those being developed by “partner countries,” a probable reference to the ground-based mid-course defenses being deployed by the United States. (Article, Link)
James Hackett writes in the Washington Times of the numerous reports of Russia’s Topol-M test of a maneuvering warhead on November 1, which he labels both “breathless” and perhaps even to some degree “hype.” Hackett adds a few details about the Russian test which have not previously reported, including that the test included three independently targetable warheads, that the missile is equipped with faster burning engines designed to shorten the boost phase, that 46 single-warhead missiles have been fielded to date, and that 350 more armed with multiple warheads are eventually to replace the SS-25 missiles being phased out.
Hackett notes the irony behind Russia’s “Cold War”-like attempt to overcome U.S. missile defenses which are not even designed or capable of defending against Russian missiles in type or number: “you would think the Cold War never ended. …[the Russians are] ignoring the inconvenient fact that the U.S. does not intend to attack Russia.”
Hackett emphasizes too the significance such Russian developments have for U.S. missile defense efforts, namely, that they reinforce the arguments for going to space. The proliferation of the technologies to evade interceptors in midcourse and terminal phase make all the more necessary space-based interceptors. An excerpt:
A Nov. 2 report in Moscow Gazeta boasted that Russia’s new weapons will be able to overcome America’s missile defenses, noting these new weapons could only be stopped by a layer of space-based interceptors that could strike them before their final phase of flight. That is why, the article says, Moscow keeps pushing a U.N. resolution to ban weapons in space.
The Russians are right in recognizing the importance of weapons in space. The best way to stop a missile launched from an unknown location deep inland—and off-road mobile launchers can go anywhere—is from overhead. When technologies such as rapid ascent rockets and multiple maneuvering warheads spread to China, North Korea and Iran, defenses in space will be urgently needed.
It is not wise to wait until the offense gains too much advantage over the defense. The Pentagon should put more resources at an earlier date into the initial step of designing an architecture for space-based missile defenses, and get on with the developing a weapon that can perform that mission.
In part of the executive overview to the new edition of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems publication, Duncan Lennox summarizes two features receiving relatively new attention in the missile defense community: ship-launched missiles and maneuverable reentry vehicles which are a sort of hybrid between ballistic and cruise missile technologies, two issues frequently referenced on Missilethreat.com.
The ship-launched threat is relevant for rogue states or even terrorists who might acquire a SCUD or other primitive missile, equip it with a WMD payload, and deliver it from a short distance off the coast of a major U.S. city. The 1998 Rumsfeld Report warned of such a threat. As Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld has repeatedly noted that rogue states have tested missiles in this configuration and that the near term threat remains, as have other administration officials. Missilethreat.com maintains an archive of related stories. “The ship-launched threat is one that needs to be taken seriously,” Lennox notes.
As for the development of maneuverable reentry vehicles, this applies especially to Russia’s continued announcements over the last two years that its new ballistic missiles, the Topol-M and the Bulava, are armed with some sort of hypersonic payload which would be capable of maneuvering in its midcourse and terminal phase, and thereby evading the sort of ground-based, midcourse ballistic missile defenses currently being fielded in Alaska and California. On this point, Lennox observes, “the sum conclusion is that in the future, the ballistic missile and nuclear warhead threat situation is going to become more complex and international in nature, with whole regions likely to be involved rather than just two individual countries.” Less unclear, however, is the extent to which long-range ICBMs would be able to maneuver significantly in their boost phase, when the missile is working to obtain altitude and speed necessary to travel long distances. (More »»»)
On November 1 Russia conducted a major test of its new maneuverable warhead system and of its Topol-M (RS-12M1) ballistic missile system. The missile was launched from the Kapustin Yar facility in Russia, and traveled a relatively short distance to the Balkhash testing range in Kazakhstan.
An excerpt from Kommersant notes that the launch trajectory was somewhat unique:
A RS-12M1 Topol-M intercontinental missile with the new warhead was tested in Kazakhstan yesterday. The launch from a mobile launcher was the sixth test of the system intended to overcome American antiballistic defenses. This was the first launch to take place not at the Kura testing ground at Plesetsk [sic] in Kamchatka, but at the Kapustin Yar ground, part of the Balkhash complex in Priozersk, Kazakhstan. The change was made began the radar system at Kura is in such poor condition that it would not be able to [monitor] maneuvers the warheads carry out after separating from the intercontinental missiles, while American facilities in Alaska would be able to. In Kazakhstan, the Russians were able to control everything themselves.
The reports on this test by major media outlets have, however, been remarkably contradictory. Some sources reported that the test was of the SS-25 Topol rather than the SS-27 Topol-M. Most said the missile was launched from Kapustin Yar; but Interfax quoted Strategic Missile Forces spokesman Colonel Alexander Vovk as saying that the missile was launched from the Plesetsk facility in northern Russia. Others still had initially reported it was launched from Kamchatka. (The Kommersant report quoted above oddly says that Plesetsk is on the far eastern Kamchatka peninsula, rather than in northern Russia.) (More »»»)
Interfax carries a story about the Russian Topol-M ballistic missile. The news service quotes the head of the Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, as saying that the switchover to Topol-M land-based mobile missile complexes will begin in early in 2006.
This particular Interfax report is significant, however, not for confirming readiness of certain facilities for further deployment, but for repeating the claims of electromagnetic shielding and adding details about the maneuverability of the Topol-M which previously have not been reported:
It weights 47.2 tonnes and is capable of carrying a combat payload of 1,200 kilograms. Its range exceeds 10,000 kilometers. Three engines allow it to develop speed much faster than the previous types of missiles. Several dozen additional engines and control gear make its flight unpredictable for the enemy. Topol-M’s designers claim the system is absolutely immune to electromagnetic impulses.
Russian state television has aired footage from the first test flight of the new Bulava ballistic missile, which test took place on September 27. The footage was apparently displayed on weekly current affairs program “Vesti Nedeli” on October 9.
“Here are declassified pictures of the first real firing of the brand new Bulava missile,” the presenter announced. He went on to explain how three rocket stages take the missile to a certain point where individually targeted warheads separate along with dozens of decoy warheads. Viewers were told that the Bulava is “virtually impossible to intercept, and is faster than all other equivalent missiles.”
The edition of Vesti Nedeli on the 2 October had quoted a senior naval commander, Adm Mikhail Zakharenko, the man in charge of the Bulava project, as saying that footage of the firing was being kept secret because of the missile’s uniqueness.
A word should be said here about the steady stream of reports—coming from President Putin to Sergey Ivanov all the way down—that Russia has supposedly devised new and “invulnerable” strategic systems which have been said to be deployed on the new Topol-M and Bulava missiles. One should take these reports seriously, and if new strategic weapons have been devised, we should consider what sort of strategic defenses are necessary to counter them.
At the same time, the Russian government may be exaggerating the capabilities of the new missiles and the payloads they deliver, especially by claiming that they are invulnerable to every conceivable missile defense. One purpose for such exaggeration would be to impair public or political support for missile defense programs here in the United States. If we may be made to think that missile defense is a technical implausibility, or at least that offensive systems have an inherent technological superiority to defensive ones, we may not pursue necessary defenses as aggressively or ambitiously as we should.
It is important to note, however, that all of the admittedly limited descriptions given of the Bulava and Topol-M capabilities suggest only midcourse or terminal phase maneuvering. Both missiles are still in their essence ballisticboost phase. During the boost phase, no release of countermeasures or exotic maneuvering (hypersonic or otherwise) is physically possible.
It is plausible that the new Russian ballistic missiles—and indeed, even older Russian missiles—are capable of evading the sort of ground-based midcourse defenses such as those being deployed in Alaska and California. In this sense, the Russian claims may be true—insofar as they are applied to the systems currently being pursued. But it remains quite doubtful that any ballistic missile could avoid boost phase defenses, were the United States to again pursue these seriously. The relative ease with which midcourse and terminal phase defenses can be overcome points to the importance of destroying missiles in their boost phase. Loose claims by Russia must not be interpreted as an excuse to abandon the pursuit of robust defenses. (Article, Link) missiles, rather than cruise missiles, and as such remain quite vulnerable in what has always been the most vulnerable phase for ballistic missiles, the
In a question-and-answer session with members of the Russian public broadcast live by Russian RTR television, President Putin spoke of Russia’s plans to rearm its military forces with advanced new weapons, including strategic missiles capable of penetrating foreign defenses. Putin discussed in particular hypersonic strategic systems capable of maneuvering both in course and altitude which are capable of evading ballistic missile defenses such as those being developed by “partner countries”—a probable reference to the midcourse defenses gradually being fielded by the United States. Putin has spoken of these maneuverable systems on several occasions. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov referred to them as well in a recent television interview.
There is a lot going on from the point of view of re-equipping our army. This goes for state-of-the-art tanks. For the first time, large batches of new tanks for the army will be procured. We are moving towards the trials of upgraded new missiles that will be employed both on sea and on land. We are beginning to procure new ballistic missiles, including mobile systems.
We are continuing to develop precision-guided weapons in the testing of which I recently took part, as you probably have seen. It was a long-range, precision-guided weapon [possible reference to SS-N-23 launch on August 16, or to the test of a new cruise missile]. We shall be developing—indeed we are developing and will be bringing into service—new precision-guided strategic systems. I have already spoken about it. They are the kind that no-one in the world has obtained or is likely to obtain before we do. They are systems that will operate at hypersonic speeds and will be able to change direction in terms of heading and altitude. They are virtually unassailable systems, unassailable for anything including the missile defenses that are being developed in some of our partner countries.
Whereas only a few years ago Russia bought very little for the army, Putin said, “A great deal has been done in the past few years to restore the defense industry’s financial health. Xinhua cited Putin as saying that some 5 billion US dollars worth of Russian arms were exported in 2004. Putin said that expansion to foreign markets was a way to support Russia’s defense sector financially. “If our specialists make it to foreign markets and uphold our interests there, it will be a very good job,” the president said.
In a curious follow-up story published by RIA Novosti, however, an anonymous “air defense expert” is cited as saying that Putin, “must have meant state-of-the-art air defense systems when he said that Russia would deploy new hypersonic missile systems, virtually invulnerable to enemy defenses.” The air defense expert quoted by RIA Novosti added that specialists and researchers had been working on these weapons for a long time, and that the new system would (allegedly) combine the functions of air defense, missile defense and space defense.
To suggest that these systems referenced are air defenses would seem to make little sense, however—air defenses (for example Russia’s S-300 and S-400 systems) have no need to penetrate American missile defenses. (Article, Link)
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov gave a rare television interview, for the “Vesti Podrobnosti” television program on the RTR network, discussing the recent joint military exercise with China, Russian military doctrine and policy, and long term plans for Russian strategic forces. Comments of particular interest included Ivanov’s discussion of the “geopolitical” significance of Russian military exercises with China: that the exercises represented a certain “certain qualitative shift” in relations, and that China is a “strategic partner.” Ivanov seemed to bristle at suggestions that Russia was out of line to engage in such exercises: “we are, excuse me, a sovereign state and did hold and will hold military exercises with whoever we like.”
But also of interest are his comments about Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. When asked by the interviewer about “new weapons” to be the “object of pride of the Russian armed forces,” Ivanov’s response seemed curious, and perhaps was directed less to the Russian television-watching public and more to the American defense community. Ivanov stressed in particular the importance of remarks made by President Putin “about a year ago” at the Russian launch facility at Plesetsk. The remarks referenced are likely those Putin made at Plesetsk in February 2004, in conjunction with Russia’s own, major, strategic wargames. Putin, Ivanov said, “was absolutely right when he said that every comma, every letter and every word in it had a particular significance. I still cannot expand on the matter but we are seriously working on the development of fundamentally different types of weapons, which will ensure for us reliable and guaranteed security after 60 years, after 70 years, easily.”
If it is this speech by Putin to which Ivanov referred, then he meant to underscore the revolutionary quality of the alleged maneuverable (perhaps hypersonic) warheads which could be launched by ballistic missiles, and which pose a major impediment to any American ballistic missile systems which are designed to intercept in the midcourse phase or later. Only a boost phase defense, which can destroy the launcher before it can release the maneuverable warhead or any decoys and countermeasures, could defend against such a threat. It is likely this ability in which Ivanov resides hope that Russia can maintain its offensive nuclear ability to strike the United States for the next 60 years, if the United States continues its decades-long delay of the deployment of strategic defenses.
Some excerpts from the Ivanov interview: (More »»»)
The site edited by Pavel Podvig, author of Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, reports a few additional details for the February 18, 2004 test of a hypersonic and maneuverable warhead which has since been touted as another means by which Russia can overcome the midcourse ballistic missile defense system currently being deployed.
Citing Yuri Solomonov, head of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, Russianforces.org reports that the test may not in fact have been successful, and that the warhead may have been burned up in the atmosphere over the Svobodnyy launch site. (Article, Link)
Citing “intelligence sources,” Geostrategy Direct confirms the analysis noted here at Missilethreat.com, amidst speculation about a “new” Russian ballistic missile, after a speech by President Putin on November 17.
Rather than a new missile altogether, the comment made by Putin most likely refers to a type of maneuverable warhead which can be used to evade U.S. missile defenses.
Also of interest is that today’s report includes a description of a previous test of the Topol-M, which suggests it may have some sort of scramjet capability:
The first of the new missiles was fired in July 2001 and its last stage dropped from its flight in space to an altitude of about 100,000 feet. U.S. intelligence officials suspect the new missile is equipped with a scramjet-powered last stage that travels about five times the speed of sound
Yuriy Solomonov, director of the Moscow Institute of Heat Technology, announced to journalists today that the moment of impact for the warhead from the recent April 20 test launch of a Topol M ICBM was captured on video “for the first time in the world,” stressing that nothing like this had been done before in Russia or elsewhere.
The purposes for capturing the warhead on film may be many, possibly relating to Moscow’s attempts to make the Topol M warhead maneuverable and thus resistant to American missile defenses. Regardless, the fact that they were able to capture the warhead on firm would seem to illustrate the much-touted accuracy of Russia’s newest missile. (Article, Link)
In the midst of extensive strategic nuclear war exercises, President Putin today announced to reporters that Russia would be getting new strategic weapons, and would be upgrading its missile defense system, plans for which he said have been in the making for over a dozen years. Putin’s comments come after he watched the launch of a military satellite at the Plesetsk cosmodrome—-the purpose of which is to simulate launching satellites during a nuclear war to replace those lost in the conflict.
The Los Angeles Times’ wording to describe Russia’s “possible effort to develop a Russian missile defense system” is deceptive, of course. Russia has maintained the Soviet-era missile defense system, which has now been in place for decades around Moscow. Russia will likely be advancing and exapanding its already deployed systems, as they have continued to do over the years.
As for Russia’s new offensive strategic weapons, Putin did not elaborate, but said that they would be “capable to hit targets deep inside continents at hypersonic speed and change the altitude and direction of their flight,” according to the Russian Interfax news agency. Although Putin claimed that these efforts were not aimed at the U.S., one may be reasonably sure this is not the case. The U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the plans to deploy a limited missile defense system this year make it more than probable that the U.S. is at least among the new threats Putin spoke of the need to counter. Such weapons, likely the reentry vehicles for nuclear warheads, which are able to “change the altitude and direction of their flight” by means of things such as “penetration aids,” are primarily of interest only to overcome missile defenses—such as the hit-to-kill defenses the U.S. will be deploying in 2004. Currently, Putin noted, “No country in the world has such kind of systems.”
Such a “maneuverable warhead” would be capable of changing directions during reentry to confuse terminal phase defenses. Of course, the possible merits of such technology should be seen as another reason to pursue boost-phase defense, during the missile’s vulnerable ascent period, before any countermeasures can be deployed. Aviation Week & Space Technology reported on Monday that that Russia had conducted a second successful test of a new warhead for the advanced SS-27 ICBM, which is said to be powered by a supersonic combustion ramjet.
The Los Angeles Times quotes Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball, saying that Putin’s announcement signals a Russian intent to continue to engage in a post-Cold War arms race with the United States. “This illustrates that the U.S. and Russia both continue to develop ever more modern and deadly ballistic missile systems, and the Cold War continues, despite the friendly words from Putin.” Such an assessment points to the strategic clarity which must be required as the United States begins to deploy a limited missile defense system this year. Russia is continuing to test and modernize its own nuclear forces, and are willing to pursue both offensive and defensive measures. With this in mind, the U.S. must not only boldly deploy those limited systems slated for this year, but be prepared to meet and match the threat from wherever it comes: not only from rogue nations, but from China and Russia as well. The Bush administration has outlined plans by which the 2004 system will “evolve.” It is to these threats that evolution must be directed. (Article, Link)