Editorial

Stopping ballistic missile

The deployment of India's planned ballistic missile shield is to start in two years' time. The Defence Research and Development Organisation, which is developing and testing the complex system, intends to roll it out in two phases and have all of it up and running by 2016. The first phase will deal with missiles having a range of less than 2,000 km, and the second will tackle missiles with a longer range. The latter will be travelling much faster than the former and are therefore less easily targeted. There will be interceptors to destroy the incoming missiles at heights of over 50 km as well as much closer to the ground. Such a tiered defence is intended to boost the chances of knocking out an incoming missile before it hits the target. The problems encountered with a Prithvi missile simulating an enemy attack in a recent test is not likely to be a serious setback to these plans. India is not the only country that seeks to protect its citizens from enemy missiles carrying nuclear and other lethal warheads. The United States has been developing anti-ballistic missile systems for over 60 years. Its highly ambitious missile shield aims to destroy ballistic missiles during all stages of their flight. In February 2010, the U.S. successfully tested an airborne laser carried aloft on a modified Boeing 747, which was used to destroy a missile less than two minutes after it was fired. Israel, Japan, and the Taiwan regime too intend to establish missile defence capabilities. China, which demonstrated its anti-satellite capability in 2007, successfully conducted a mid-course missile interception test in January this year. Russia has a system of its own that was developed during the Cold War.

A big unanswered question is how effective any of these missile shields, including the Indian one, will be in an actual conflict situation, especially if it is between nuclear-armed nations. The technical evaluation of the U.S. system carried out by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 is instructive. It found that there were a range of countermeasures an attacker could take to “confuse, overwhelm or otherwise defeat the defence.” Any country capable of deploying a long-range missile would be able to use them. Decoys could overload a defensive system and allow attacking missiles to slip past. Besides, even the U.S. system is intended to be effective against only a “limited ballistic missile attack.” The Indian defensive shield too will have similar limitations: if a single nuclear-tipped missile gets through, the consequences will be calamitous. This country would do better to rely on diplomacy, rather than a chancy missile shield, to increase its security.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 9:34:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Stopping-ballistic-missile/article16615661.ece

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