T.S. Subramanian

CHENNAI: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing a hypersonic missile that could double up as a long-range cruise missile. Besides, it could be used for launching satellites at low cost, according to V.K. Saraswat, Chief Controller, R and D (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO.

“This is a niche technology being pursued by the DRDO today,” he said.

Missiles that fly at Mach 3 to 4 (three to four times the speed of sound) belong to high supersonic class. In the case of a hypersonic missile, it can fly at more than Mach 5.

The HSTDV (hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle) was the new technology initiative of the DRDO. Dr. Saraswat said: “The HSTDV project, through which we want to demonstrate the performance of a scram-jet engine at an altitude of 15 km to 20 km, is on. Under this project, we are developing a hypersonic vehicle that will be powered by a scram-jet engine. This is dual-use technology, which when developed, will have multiple civilian applications. It can be used for launching satellites at low cost. It will also be available for long-range cruise missiles of the future.”

In scram-jet technology, combustion of fuel takes place in a chamber in the missile at supersonic Mach numbers. This is different from a ram jet system where the system collects the air it needs from the atmosphere during the flight, rams it inside and the propellants burn in the combustion chamber.

The DRDO would work on long-range cruise missiles of the sub-sonic variety, which cannot be detected by enemy radars and observation systems. They would have stealth materials and a control and guidance system that would enable them to fly at less than one km altitude. “We are building all these technologies now,” Dr. Saraswat said.

The DRDO would also concentrate on building missiles that would have multiple roles – a single missile would have precision-guided submunitions that would attack multiple targets instead of a single target.

“Astra, a potent weapon”

Avinash Chander, Programme Director of Agni-III ballistic missile that was successfully test-fired on Wednesday, said air-to-air missile Astra, which could engage and destroy manoeuvring aerial targets, was now under development. “Astra will be a potent weapon when it is integrated with the Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi-30, Mirage and the Light Combat Aircraft.”

The propulsion systems of Agni-III can be augmented to increase its range from 3,500 km to more than 5,000 km. “This capability, which can be developed within a short time, puts our country in the category of top five nations in the world and it gives us a deep strike capability, meeting our regional requirements,” said Mr. Chander.