Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Indian developments

Here comes the second and probably by far largest part of the catch-up, featuring today our special guest: India.

India achieved some major progress in the development of its nuclear-capable ballistic Agni-IV missile. The country announced in December major plans to increase its nuclear capabilities, saying it was close to testing the missile which is capable of hitting targets up to 6,000 kilometers (3,800 miles) away. Such a distance would nearly double the military’s current strike range, putting targets even in Europe within reach, and certainly the Chinese capital, Beijing. The test of this ICBM is scheduled for June 2008. This announcement came one day after neighboring Pakistan tested a nuclear capable cruise missile.

Also for the Agni-III new tests are planned before commercial production could be considered. According to the scientific advisor, M Natarajan, flight tests of Agni-III ballistic missiles would begin within months. The first test was held sometime within the first quarter of 2008, and a second test within nine to 12 months.

There is also some news on the indigenously developed Akash missile: in December India test-fired this nuclear-capable SAM in order to fine-tune it. This was the first test after the introduction of the Akash was approved in November 2007 and the last test before starting mass production. The Indian Air Force is all set to acquire a squadron-strength of the Akash, i.e. 16 to 18 batteries.

In general it can be expected that India’s missiles will be produced faster than in former times. V. K. Saraswat, the chief of India's missile development project, said the assembly lines were in place to speed up the production of the precision missiles. “The private industry has emerged as a co-developer of the sub-systems of the missiles, which is helping us in cutting down development time," he added.

Not only in the field of ballistic missile production India wants to shift gears. RIA Novosti reports that the Russian-Indian joint venture BrahMos has bought a manufacturing plant in the state of Kerala in south India to double the production of its supersonic cruise missiles. At the plant BrahMos missiles will be assembled, as well as components for Astra rockets made. The purchase of the Kerala plant allows the BrahMos company to increase its annual missile production to 50.
In an earlier post I referred to figures that plans exist to export up to 1,000 BrahMos cruise missiles. RIA Novosti provides now different data stating that experts estimate that India might purchase up to 1,000 BrahMos missiles for its Armed Forces in the next decade, and export 2,000 to third countries during the same period. If these figures are correct, several new plant acquisitions are necessary because it would take BrahMos otherwise 60 years to produce the 3,000 missiles.

The work on an improved BrahMos version has already started. Defensenews reports that:
India will put about $250 million into the joint Indo-Russia effort to develop a Mach 5 version of its BrahMos cruise missile. This scramjet version is already in advanced development and will enter service in six or seven years, said sources with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Building on the success of the first Mach 2.8 BrahMos, the program’s second phase will aim to develop faster and reusable cruise missiles with a range of 299 kilometers, the DRDO sources said.
The cooperation in the production of the BrahMos was no single case but rather something that will be standard for future missile systems. Prahalda, Chief Controller at DRDO headquarters, said that "New missile and weapons systems will be developed within a five-year time frame at low costs, with foreign partners and private industries".

The first of such ventures, Prahalda said, will be development of quick reaction missiles to counter threats from low-flying missiles and fighters and Astra, India first bid to develop a beyond-visual range air-to-air missile.

While India would be collaborating with Israel for development of surface-to-air upgraded spyder missiles, for Astra, New Delhi has roped in French and Russian collobrators [sic!].

The year 2008 will also bring some news for the Indian army which will start user trials for the sophisticated anti-tank Nag missiles in May-June in the Rajasthan desert. Design work on the missile started in 1988 and the first tests were carried out in November 1990.

But there are not only major developments on the offensive side. There is also something to report on when it comes to missile defense:
India’s genuine missile defense program started in 1998 after preliminary talks with Israel and the United States that aimed at the acquisition of the Arrow and the Patriot system, respectively, turned out to be unsuccessful. In November 2006 a first test was conducted (Prithvi Air Defence Exercise) during which Indian scientists tested an exo-atmospheric anti-missile system that could intercept targets 50-km above the atmosphere.

In December 2007 India conducted the second part of the two stage testing process. According to domain-b, India used this time supersonic interceptors to engage supersonic targets 15-km within the atmosphere. Reuters reported that V.K. Saraswat said that the tests of India's home-grown anti-ballistic missile system have been successful and the country expects it to be ready for military use in three years. The system will be capable of detecting, intercepting and destroying intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles from any country, he added.

According to Dr. Saraswat, the December tests have shown that the interceptor missiles can also be used as Surface-to-Air Missiles, e.g. to hit an aircraft, and could also be brought to bear against cruise missiles.

While highlighting the need for a missile defense system, Saraswat referred to India’s no-first-use policy, which makes it essential to have system in place which is able to take out incoming missiles that might be equipped with a nuclear warhead.

"Because we have a ballistic missile defence system ... a country which has a small arsenal will think twice before it ventures," he said in an apparent reference to old rival Pakistan.

K Subrahmanyan, a writer on defense issues, said that

"Pakistan is acquiring advanced missile technology from China. No missile defence system is perfect, but if we can knock out three out of every five warheads, it means our adversary has to fire more rockets. It is a means of deterrence."
Somehow I feel reminded of Dr. Strangelove and the “doomsday math” towards the end of the movie. However, on the Pakistani side of the border, analysts do not perceive the anti-missile system as a purely defensive measure. They take – rightfully – the position that such thinking is hastening an arms race:

"The first impulse is to ask how does Pakistan get [a missile defence system]," said Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst. "The next will be to increase the number of missiles to make sure it has enough to evade the shield."
The missile defense system and its implications are not only of importance in regard to Pakistan but also for the India-Chinese relations. Indian media claims that China has put India's northern region under threat through reorganizing its missile facilities near Delingha in Qinghai province. According to this article, China is putting medium range missiles in this area which have a range of over 2500km and could put northern India, including New Delhi within range. One could once again raise the question about the egg or the hen.

BrahMos © RIA Novosti
V.K. Saraswat © AFP

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