Interceptor missile tested 7 times, DRDO’s Rajinikanth moment still far

May 4, 2015

The Indian Express:

The proposed Ballistic Missile Defence system is supposed to blow enemy n-missiles out of the sky as they fly towards Delhi. But last month’s test failed, and many questions remain unanswered.

DRDO’s promises and seven tests notwithstanding, the plan to put a nuclear missile defence shield over Delhi remains a work in progress.

The unsuccessful test of an interceptor missile last month swung the spotlight back on the proposed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system. Think of Rajinikanth firing a bullet to destroy the bullet fired by the villain in mid-air. That’s what a BMD system does: it provides a city with a protective shield where an incoming enemy ballistic missile is shot down by interceptor missiles.

Besides the interceptors, a BMD consists of radars — satellite-, ground-, and sea-based — to detect and track a missile and its warhead, data communication links to pass on the information, and a command and control system.

DRDO first spoke of a BMD system in December 2007. All building blocks for Phase 1 of a two-layered, fully integrated system were to be in place by 2010. In March 2010, Dr V K Saraswat of DRDO promised initial systems deployment by 2013.

On May 7, 2012, DRDO declared it had developed a Missile Defence Shield that could be put in place at short notice at two selected locations in the country, presumably Delhi and Mumbai. The system would be able to tackle incoming ballistic missiles of range up to 2,000 km. DRDO also said that long-range tracking radars, real-time data-link and mission control systems needed for the perationalisation of the BMD had been “realised”.

The fact is the BMD system is at the moment not even close to being put into operation. Last month’s unsuccessful test at the Chandipur range was the seventh time the BMD interceptor missile has been tested. It was its second failed test, although the first failure was not of an interceptor, but due to a faulty target missile.

Washington-based emerging and space technologies expert Dr Bharath Gopalaswamy said, “Interceptor technologies are test-intensive and never foolproof. We have to wait until DRDO releases the data for these tests — which I suspect they never will — but for the moment, I would contextualise this as part of a routine test phase.”

A senior DRDO official told The Indian Express that they hoped to conduct another test within a couple of months. “It is part of the development process. This was the first time we launched the interceptor missile from a canister. The target was also a more difficult one than the simulated Prithvi missiles used earlier,” the DRDO official said.

According to Gopalaswamy, this is something to be expected with hit-to-kill technologies. “Dr Saraswat (former DRDO chief) declared missile defence capabilities as operational but the failure in such tests exposes the vulnerabilities in the system,” he said…

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