Saturday, May 24, 2008

India test fires improved Prithvi-II surface-to-surface missile

India test-fired yesterday a missile of the Prithvi family. The official statements refer to an improved version of the Prithvi-II. These statements raise various question because they do not tally with knowledge about the missile as it rests in the public domain. An article on the domain-b website highlights the inconsistencies. I will try to elaborate more on that early next week. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some news on missile defense

The recent days saw no major developments, just some comments connected to the U.S. missile defense system.

The Prague Daily Monitor reports that Germany supports the stationing of a U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic and considers it important that the system, including anti-missiles in Poland, be part of NATO's missile defense architecture. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung made such a comment after meeting his Czech counterpart last Thursday, May 15. A couple of days later, on May 20, Jung met his Polish counterpart in Warsaw and reiterated Germany’s position. Both ministers agreed that the setting up of such a missile defense system in the NATO-framework is “correct and necessary”.

Even though the European ministers mentioned the necessity of a missile defense system, news from the United States show that it is still a very long way to go: the NTI Global Newswire reports that U.S. Missile Defense Agency has pushed back a planned intercept test until fall so it can replace a malfunctioning part on a weapon designed to destroy incoming enemy missiles. The test was originally scheduled for April, delayed to July and now to October.

Naturally, also on the Russian side some comments were made on missile defense. Since May 7 Dmitry Medvedev is the (maybe not so) strong man in the Kremlin. In the meantime the Russian President inspected the big “toys” of the country’s Strategic Missile Forces, the Topol M and he "felt a drive" when he watched the missiles and other weapons rolling across the square. It seems that he enjoyed this feeling so much that he promised that such parades will continue and may even be expanded and – by far of significantly greater importance – he vowed to make sure that the weapons are adequately funded. In his first comments about missile defense Medvedev warned of "an adequate response" to U.S. missile defense plans in Europe but said Moscow was still ready to negotiate with Washington. In his statement he seemed a bit less hawkish than Vladimir Putin. This is not fully convincing to all. United Press International’s Martin Sieff wrote:

[These comments] confirm that, however more "liberal" Medvedev may sound compared with his predecessor Putin, when talking about concepts of the rule of law or the importance of modernizing Russia, he shares his predecessor's determination to upgrade the Strategic Missile Forces.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cross-blogging: Extensive Nuclear Missile Deployment Area Discovered in Central China

Hans Kristensen, author of the FAS Strategic Security Blog, has an excellent piece on Extensive Nuclear Missile Deployment Area Discovered in Central China. It should be on your reading list for today.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Full spead ahead

India and Russia are in a leading position with their supersonic BrahMos. Now India’s DRDO has lab-tested the hypersonic version of this cruise missile, the BrahMos-2.

''We have achieved a speed of Mach 5.26 in our laboratory tests of the hypersonic version of the BrahMos. However, it will take some 15-20 tests under controlled conditions before the missile can be actually test-launched,'' BrahMos Aerospace chief executive officer, Dr A Sivathanu Pillai, said.
Monika Chansoria wrote an article for the yesterday’s issue of the Central Chronicle titled “Race for missile supremacy “. Her concluding paragraph reads:

For this reason, the [Shaheen-2] missile test by Pakistan is yet another trigger at altering the existing strategic equation in South Asia. On its part, India for decades has countenanced the Chinese-Pakistan nuclear and missile collaboration as one of the gravest challenges posed to its peace and security and the testing of Shaheen-II is the newest testament to the same. In all certainty, the near future is likely to witness counter reactions to this recent initiation by Pakistan, thereby plunging the subcontinent into yet another stage of a spiraling arms race.
It seems that the “near future” is indeed very, only a couple of days away.

The more visually oriented readers might want to watch the two following eight-minute clips on the supersonic BrahMos.

Missile Defense potpourri

Today I have a brief overview over various missile defense news around the globe:

A large majority of Czechs oppose the U.S. plans to place parts of its missile defense system in their country, figures ranging from low 50s to 70 percent. Yet a recent poll finds that 67 percent of Czechs would accept the planned U.S. radar base on Czech soil if it became integrated into the NATO defense system.

Moving a bit north: the United States seem to be weary of the lack of progress concerning the interceptor base in Poland and the tough conditions set by the Prime Minister Tusk’s government. The most important conditions is that the United States significantly contribute financially to upgrading the Polish armed forces, especially the air defense. This condition - which according to some estimates could cost at least $10 billion to meet because it would involve equipping Poland with Patriot air-defense missiles - has become the single-most contentious issue in the negotiations. A senior U.S. official said last Wednesday that Washington was prepared to seek a different location for part of its planned antiballistic missile shield if the Polish government could not agree on the terms. This statement was commented by the Polish Foreign Minister RadosÅ‚aw Sikorski who said that the government will not interfere if the U.S. should do so. I wonder what Sikorski had in mind how exactly Poland could interfere. Would Warsaw set up an interceptor base of its own – after rejecting the U.S. base – just as a sign of defiance?

It seems that deals with other partners can be easier negotiated: Washington appears set to offer Israel a forward-based X-band radar that could greatly boost Israeli defenses against enemy ballistic missiles while tying them directly into a growing U.S. missile shield. The system has been described by U.S. officials as capable of tracking an object the size of a baseball from about 2,900 miles away.

It would let Israel's Arrow missile defenses engage a Shahab-3 ballistic missile about halfway through what would be its 11-minute flight to Israel from Iran, or six times sooner than Israel's "Green Pine" radar is currently capable of doing.
The Strategypage elaborates further on the radar’s benefits writing that instead of being able to hit a missile warhead that is only about two minutes from hitting a target in Israel, the X-band radar would allow an incoming missile to be spotted and destroyed farther away and with greater certainty.

While the deployment of the radar would certainly significantly increase Israel’s defense capabilities, one thing is rather farfetched. Congressman Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, said that:
This is the best thing to lower tensions between Israel and Iran" because Iran presumably would be less likely to attack under such circumstances.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Aftermath of the Agni-III test

On February 26 India tested its nuclear-capable Sagarika missile. As you might remember, the SLBM had to be fired from a submerged pontoon because currently India does not possess a submarine that is capable of launching these missiles. On Monday, more than two months after the test, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said it had successfully acquired the technology to launch missiles from the ocean depths, becoming the world's fifth country to do so. It is not clear why this announcement was made now. Certainly shyness or humbleness are not the reasons. Directly after test, a Defense Ministry’s spokesperson had already confirmed the success. However, according to DRDO the performance of the missile system was "far higher" than the requirement specified by the navy. "It has already been accepted by the user and is presently under [production] for induction into the services.”

Buoyed by this success New Delhi pursues a very ambitious missile program. V.K. Saraswat, Chief Controller (R&D) of the DRDO was quoted recently confirming that “India will test indigenously built Agni [V] ballistic missile with a strike range of more than 5000 km in 2009.” Other sources refer to Avinash Chander, Project Director of Agni-III, who allegedly said that scientists were awaiting the government nod for carrying out the first test flight of a missile with 5000 km ranges which could be anytime by this year-end. The missile is expected to contain a third stage booster rocket powered by solid fuel propellant.

Once again the nomenclature: it seems India will leapfrog from the Agni-III to the Agni-V, which will be the 5,000+ km version. That means that Agni-III+ and Agni-IV were rather “working titles”. Unless I find any convincing sources that will indicate otherwise, I will from now on use this terminology and change the names accordingly to Agni-V.

Agni-I (SRBM)


single stage

Agni-II (MRBM)


two stages



two stages



three stages


beyond 5,000km

three stages

India is not only working on the Agni family. The Hindu reported last Friday that DRDO is developing a hypersonic missile that could double up as a long-range cruise missile titled HSTDV (hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle). The newspaper quotes Dr. Saraswat:

“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.”
Another project also picks up steam: Avinash Chander said that the Astra, India’s first beyond-visual range air-to-air missile, which could engage and destroy maneuvering aerial targets, was now under development.

Picture: Avinash Chander (centre), with his colleagues, displays a model of Agni-V ©The Hindu

Friday, May 9, 2008

Agni-III follow-up

Here are some excerpts from the press coverage of Wednesday’s Agni-III test:

  • The Agni-III ballistic missile system may be inducted into the Army by next year. (The Hindu)
  • The circular error probable was in single digit, indicating the high accuracy of the system. (The Hindu)
  • M. Natarajan, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, said “We may have one more flight.” (The Hindu)
  • The complex missile would require another four-five tests, series production and user trials before it can become operational. (The Times of India)
  • Dr Avinash Chander, Programme Director of Agni said that the developmental flights of Agni-III are complete and the system is ready for induction (The Hindu Business Line)
  • "The armed forces will be able to deploy Agni-III only by 2010-2011. The training trials of the 700-km Agni-I and 2,500-km Agni-II, for instance, are still in progress to ensure the forces can fire them on their own," said a top official. (The Times of India)
  • Indian Air Marshal TS Asthana declared that the Indian armed forces still regard fighter aircraft as the only reliable delivery system for nuclear weapons. (IBNLive)
  • India inched closer towards building a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent. (The Times of India)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

This and that

After tit for tat it is now time for: this and that. Some short notes on other missile issues.

Norway test fired last week its fourth generation Naval Strike Missile (NSM). According to the website of the producing Kongsberg Corporation, the cruise missile was fully operational in 2007. However, the test turned out to be a complete failure: the missile did not lift off after the launch signal was given. This was a major set-back especially if one considers that the cruise missile was successfully tested in early 2007 and an agreement for serial production was signed on July 3, 2007.

Last Wednesday (April 30), the U.S. Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled, “Questions for the Missile Defense Agency: Oversight of Missile Defense (Part 3)”. Make sure to read Jeff Lindemyer’s summary.

Japan has agreed on Tuesday to help the United States develop a multiple warhead version of the SM-3 anti-ballistic missile system. Tokyo made this decision with a look at China, which is developing multiple warheads for its ICBMs.

once more: tit for tat

India’s Agni-III test was a move to somewhat bridge the stark strategic imbalance with China in terms of nuclear and missile arsenals. However, Pakistan felt compelled to step out of the shadow and remind its eastern neighbor that it is also credible threat: it tested today its nuclear-capable Ra’ad (Hatf VIII) air-launched cruise missile. The launch of the ALCM, which has a range of 350 kilometers, was carried out at an undisclosed location, a Pakistani military said.

In the official statement no connection was made to India’s test on the day before: "The missile test is part of a continuing process of validating the design parameters of the weapon system." Usually India and Pakistan notify each other about upcoming test launches. It would be interesting to know if and -in the affirmative case - when India was notified about this alleged business-as-usual test.

Picture: © AFP

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Third Agni-III test launch

Here we go: India has tested its Agni-III for the third time.

I certainly do not have to remind the reader of this blog that there was some confusion about the date of the test-firing. It was announced for April 27 but nothing happened on that day. There was – literally - no big reason to defer the test: the tests in the last week of April could have impacted the mass nesting and breeding of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the Orissa coast. The military is indeed changing, has one already thought about nominating the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the “Ecological Conscience Award 2008”?

However, in the end the turtles did not stop the test from taking place: the missile was test fired today. Defense scientists confirmed that the test fire was successful and claimed that the missile meets all parameters. The Agni-III achieved its full range and accuracy by reaching its pre-designated target in 800 seconds. This was of special importance because a new navigation system was part of the test:

For the first time, the missile scientists flight-tested high performance indigenous Ring Laser Gyro based navigation system in the Agni range of missiles. So far the DRDO has been using Strap-down Inertial Navigation Systems.

With the revival of the Indo-Russian GLONASS project, which will be in orbit by 2010, Indian missiles are expected to have more precision.
One scientist even jubilated that “the missile achieved its target in a copy-book style” and that the missile is now ready for induction. This might be a bit early. Originally Indian defense scientists had planned only three tests of the Agni-III missile before its induction. It was test-fired first on July 9, 2006 but it failed to meet its mission objectives due to cascaded failure of booster flex nozzle controller. The second test launch, conducted on April 12, 2007, was successful and validated all mission objectives. Even though the current test was successful as well, due to the failure of the first test flight DRDO said that two more tests would be required to prove its robustness.

It is not only the Agni-III missile that will be tested in the near future. Rediff reports that a miniaturized submarine-launched version of the Agni-III called Agni-III SL is also being developed and could be test-fired shortly.

As it is always the case after a successful test launch, the confidence is (overly) bolstered and people tend to look optimistically ahead. The Indian Express writes that DRDO will be ready to test fire its next ballistic missile in the Agni series, with a range of more than 5000 km, early next year if it gets requisite clearances from the government. The clearance is not the only problem. The mentioned missile has still no clear designation: Agni-III+ and Agni-IV are both used.

Graphic: © RediffNews

Monday, May 5, 2008

Russian missile tests

Russia's Strategic Missile Forces Commander Col. General Nikolai Solovtsov told RIA Novosti today that Russia plans to conduct nine ballistic missile tests in 2008. So far Pavel Podvig has no piece on this issue, but I am sure it will come. Maybe he has some additional insight about how these nine test launches will be divided up on the different missile types. They will certainly include Bulava tests. The Navy Commander said in early April that the SLBM tests will be completed in 2008.

Lousy excuses and real threats

Reuters reported on May 1 that the Senate Armed Services Committee has approved President George W. Bush's request for U.S. missile-defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The panel unanimously agreed to "fully authorize" both a proposed interceptor site in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic as part of a $542.5 billion fiscal 2009 defense spending bill, an official summary said.
The money is not available right away. Several criteria have to be met: the legislation must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the president and both Poland and the Czech Republic have to finalize agreements to host the installations. Especially the last two points are far from being concluded. Early last week the Czech Foreign Ministry said that the signing of a U.S.-Czech treaty on missile defense has been delayed. No official date had been set, but diplomats from both countries had mentioned early May as a possibility. The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek contributed to the confusion by telling journalists that the signing will take place early June. He also gave a reason for the delay: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could not stay long enough during her visit to the Czech Republic. What a lousy excuse! If one takes into consideration how high on the agenda the completion of the agreements between the United States and its two Eastern European partners are, one can assume that Condi would gladly extend her stay to sign the document.

Shifting the focus to a rather technical issue: Lockheed Martin has announced last week that it has achieved a major integrated test milestone on the first Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) geosynchronous orbit (GEO-1) spacecraft. SBIRS is designed to provide early warning of missile launches, and simultaneously support other missions including missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace characterization. The launch is envisaged in late 2009.

The club of countries that are eager to set up some sort of missile defense system has a new member: Turkey. The Turkish Daily News reported that the country is considering systems from China, Israel, Russia and the United States as it looks to procure its first ballistic missile defenses. Ankara wants to field a system to counter a threat emanating from Iran. In contrast to the United States, Turkey is in reach of Iranian missiles.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ain't no sunshine...

For all of those that still needed another proof that the sunshine policy is a relic of the past, here it comes: last Friday AFP reported that South Korea has decided to buy hundreds of cruise missiles. The ACLMs are intended to be fitted on 21 new F-15 fighter jets Seoul has agreed to buy from Boeing between 2010 and 2012. So far no decision about the type of missile and supplier has been made but reports indicated that some 400 Lockheed-Martin Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, or other missiles of similar capacity which have a range of 400 km, would be purchased. They would enable Seoul to strike targets such as North Korea's nuclear sites and command posts.

The response from the northern neighbor came immediately: DPRK’s official news agency KCNA denounced South Korea's decision to buy the missiles as proof for its "preemptive attack" against the DPRK. It called the ROK’s behavior an "intolerable treacherous act of pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to a dangerous phase of war and wrecking peace."

It comes to no surprise that the two Koreas are not the only actors in the region that are involved in an arms build-up. Make sure to read the highly informative article by Andrei Chang on the four battalions of 200-kilometer-range S-300PMU2 surface-to-air missiles that will Russia deliver this summer to China. The author gives a detailed overview over the Chinese SAM positions.

Finally... (updated)

In several posts I mentioned the contradictory information about the next Agni-III test. In between April 27 was floated as a potential test date. Yesterday the Times Now came up with some information according to which India is set to test the Agni-III in the next five days, between May 5 and May 9.

India is also in another field of missile acquisition: one week ago The Hindu reported that the Indian Army has floated global tenders to acquire new range of quick reaction surface-to-air missiles to provide air cover to its rapid formations:

The missile will have a range of 8 to 9 kms to strike air targets like low flying fighters, armed helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles, army sources said here.[…]

Under the acquisition programme, Army plans to buy 18 to 20 launchers of such missiles, with the Request For Proposals being sent to companies in Israel, French, European consortium MBDA and French and Russian Companies.

The new Missiles seek to replace the army's ageing shoulder fired SAM-7 missiles, Strela missiles as well as Russian acquired ZU-23 rapid firing guns.

UPDATE: Today The Hindu narrowed down the timeframe. It informs that the test is slated for May 7, although the window period was up to May 9.

Top DRDO sources told The Hindu on Sunday that the proposed launch would be a “validation test” for higher performance in terms of weight and payload capacity. Apart from new software for navigation and guidance controls to achieve better accuracy, an improved re-entry material would be tested.

High-temperature navigation antennae, developed specially for the system, are among other new features that the missile will carry on-board. “We need different materials since it will be flying at a much higher speed.”

The Hindu also reports that the upcoming test is likely to be the last developmental flight trial in the Agni-III series.