In another fortnight, India will be conducting one of the most complex interceptor missile tests. For the first time a state-of-the-art interceptor missile at supersonic speed will seek to engage and destroy an incoming target missile at a very high altitude of 120-140 km over the Bay of Bengal.

Entirely new interceptor and target missiles have been developed by scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the upcoming engagement, to be conducted in exo-atmosphere (altitude above 40-50 km) on April 27 or 28. The test was originally planned to be conducted in November, 2013 but had been delayed since then.

A real battle-like scenario would be simulated for the test, DRDO missile technologists told The Hindu. For the first time, the interceptor missile (PDV) would be seeking to destroy the separating payload of the target missile (a modified PAD) after discriminating between the booster and the payload.

Describing it as a “big challenge,” they said the interceptor’s “kill vehicle,” equipped with a dual seeker, would attack the payload (warhead portion) as it descends towards its intended target. The advantage of intercepting an incoming missile at such a high altitude was that the debris would not fall on the ground and there would be no collateral damage.

Both the new missiles have been configured to have two stages. While the target missile would be launched from a ship near Paradip, the interceptor would take off from Wheeler Island the moment the incoming target missile is detected. The long range radars would track the missile and the information would be passed on to the interceptor’s on-board computer as it homes in on to the target.

From detection to interception, the entire exercise would be fully automated and there would be no human intervention, the scientists said. The kill vehicle of the interceptor, equipped with an attitude control mechanism, would hurtle towards the target’s missile payload at a speed of 1500 metres per second as it seeks to engage and destroy it.

After some more trials, India plans to deploy a two-tiered Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system to protect important cities from external threats. In the first phase, incoming enemy missiles of 2,000-km range are envisaged to be waylaid and destroyed, while those with about 5,000-km range would be tackled by the interceptors in the second phase.

So far, six of the seven interceptor missile tests, carried out by the DRDO, have been successful. While two interceptions were conducted in exo-atmopshere (altitudes between 47 and 80 km) the rest were in endo-atmosphere (below 40 km altitude).

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