Initial phase of Ballistic Missile Defence shield to be in place by 2012

India's plans to put in place the initial phase of a robust Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) shield by 2012 received a big thrust on Monday, with a supersonic interceptor missile, Advanced Air Defence (AAD), bringing down an incoming “enemy” ballistic missile (a modified Prithvi) of 2,000 km range, at an altitude of 15 km over the Bay of Bengal.

The proposed twin-layered BMD system envisages interception and destruction of incoming enemy missiles in exo-atmosphere (altitude of 50-80 km) and endo-atmosphere (altitude up to 30 km).

While the first phase seeks to protect vital assets against enemy ballistic missiles of up to 2,000 km range, the second phase is intended to engage missiles of up to 5,000 km range.

Conducted by scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Monday's test validated endo-atmospheric layer of interception, when the AAD achieved a kill of the Prithvi during the latter's terminal phase.

Five minutes after the lift-off of the target missile (Prithvi) from Chandipur, the interceptor blasted off from the Wheeler Island, 70 km away from Chandipur. The Long Range Tracking Radars located at Konark and the Multi-Functional Fire Control Radar at Paradip tracked the target missile and passed on the information to the Mission Control Centre, which classified the target, predicted the impact point and assigned the AAD battery to launch the interceptor.

As the target missile reached a height of 100 km and began its descent, the AAD missile, carrying a P-charge directional warhead (used for the first time in an Indian missile), travelled at a speed of 4.5 Mach and manoeuvred towards the target missile. Within a few metres of the modified Prithvi, the warhead exploded, releasing multiple bullet-like particles that destroyed the target missile, 26 seconds after its launch. The debris that fell into the sea was tracked by radars located along the coast.

The interception was witnessed by V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, Vice-Chief of the Air Staff P.K. Barbora, top Army officers and scientists from the DRDO laboratories.

Talking to TheHindu soon after the event, Dr. Saraswat congratulated the scientists. He said the BMD technologies were fast reaching maturity levels in terms of reliability and robustness. Many new technologies, including P-charge warhead, electro-mechanical actuators and ring-based gyro navigation system, were used to make the AAD more accurate and robust.

The first phase of the BMD shield would be operational in 2012 and the second phase in 2016, he added.

Equipping AAD with a directional warhead would enable the interceptor to engage and destroy an enemy missile from any direction, according to V.L. Narasimha Rao, programme director, Air Defence.

He said another interceptor missile test would be conducted in endo-atmosphere in three months.

Air Marshal Barbora, said the mission proved that the nation was at the doorstep of having a BMD umbrella, “which is required considering the environment.” He was extremely proud that the system would be operational in a short duration.

“As an Indian, I am proud,” he added.