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Updated: April 28, 2014 00:18 IST

Interceptor spot on, though without blast: DRDO

T. S. Subramanian
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The DRDO test-fires the Prithvi Defence Vehicle interceptor missile from the Wheeler Island, off the Odisha coast, on Sunday.
DRDO The DRDO test-fires the Prithvi Defence Vehicle interceptor missile from the Wheeler Island, off the Odisha coast, on Sunday.

Scientists say Prithvi Defence Vehicle mission achieved important objectives

India’s ambitious mission on Sunday to intercept an “enemy” ballistic missile at a altitude of 120 km seems to have achieved only partial success. While the missile technologists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) say the interception did take place and the mission met its “important objectives,” they concede that the warhead in the interceptor missile, which took off from the Wheeler Island, did not explode.

Avinash Chander, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, said: “The infrared (IR) seeker in the interceptor could track the target, but we have not exploded the target. The target was not to be exploded.”

Asked if the mission was only “partially successful,” Mr. Chander, architect of India’s Agni series of missiles, said, “The mission’s main objective was to track the target missile. We wanted to see the performance of the IR seeker. The warhead in the interceptor missile was not meant to be exploded in this mission. Since we did not fire the warhead, the debris did not fall.”

Another DRDO missile technologist said: “We have recorded the interception.”

Asked whether “a hit-to-kill” took place in the mission as it did in the previous six other interceptor flights from the Wheeler Island, he said: “We have to work out the missed distance between the target missile and the interceptor. Based on that, the hit-to-kill would take place. We are not able to say right now whether the hit-to-kill took place.”

Yet another scientist said, “Whether the target missile was destroyed or not, I cannot say right now.”

The DRDO was looking forward to this mission because it was “challenging” and “complex.” Of the DRDO’s seven interceptor missions, six were successful. The interceptions had taken place either in the endo-atmosphere (below 50 km) or in the exo-atmosphere (between 50 km and 80 km). But this mission was a different ball game because the interception was to be done at 120 km, providing very little time for the interceptor to blast off and waylay the attacker. So the motors in the interceptor called the Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) and the target missile were specially developed. The target missile lifted off a ship in the Bay of Bengal, off Odisha at 9.07 a.m. It was a two-stage missile, “mimicking a hostile ballistic missile approaching from more than 2,000 km away,” a DRDO press release said.

In an automated operation, radar-based systems on the Wheeler Island and in Paradip, Puri and Cuttack detected and tracked the “enemy” missile. The computer network, with the help of data from the radars, predicted its trajectory. The single-stage PDV interceptor took off two-and-a-half minutes later.

The PDV, guided by the highly accurate inertial navigation system and supported by a redundant micro-navigation system, moved towards the point of interception. Once the PDV crossed the atmosphere, its heat shield domes covering the IR and radio frequency (RF) seekers fell off. So the two seeker domes opened to look at the incoming missile’s location. With the help of inertial guidance and the IR seeker, the PDV moved for the interception. “The mission was completed and the interception parameters were achieved,” the press release said.

G. Satheesh Reddy, Director, Research Centre, Imarat , a DRDO missile facility in Hyderabad, said the mission featured several new technologies. Both the missiles had new, powerful motors. The heat shield, covering the IR and RF seekers, ejected for the first time. The seekers worked well. “This is the first time that an imaging seeker has been used for the air defence vehicle. The imaging seeker could see the incoming missile, track it and guide the interceptor towards the target.” The RCI team made the seekers and the inertial navigation and guidance system, Mr. Reddy said.

Adalat Ali was the Programme Director and Y. Sreenivasa Rao, Project Director.

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