Missile marvels: India makes a mark with its growing capabilities | The Financial Express

Missile marvels: India makes a mark with its growing capabilities

As India continues to develop and test new missiles, it will be interesting to see how it positions itself on the global stage.

Missile Marvels: India Makes a Mark with its Growing Missile Capabilities
The new Pralay missile followed the desired Quasi Ballistic Trajectory – a low curved path an object takes after being thrown or shot. (File Shot/Used for representation purpose)

Girish Linganna

India’s missile capabilities have been on the rise in recent years, making it a force to be reckoned with in the world of defense technology. From anti-ballistic missile systems to hypersonic technology missiles, the country has made significant strides in expanding its missile arsenal.

India is one of only four countries to have both anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite systems. According to a report in the New York Times, India has successfully tested hypersonic technology missiles, joining the US, Russia, and China as countries with operational hypersonic missiles. This achievement has propelled India to the seventh rank in the world’s most powerful missiles for 2022, with the AGNI-5 system. However, India still lags behind China in overall global rankings for missile technologies.

Breaking barriers

Hypersonic missiles are a game-changer in the world of defence technology, with the ability to travel at speeds of over 5,000 miles per hour. This is faster than the speed of sound, making them difficult to detect and intercept. These missiles have the potential to revolutionise the way wars are fought, with their ability to strike targets quickly and with precision.

Hypersonic weapons come in two types: hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic boost-glide vehicles. The former type is powered by rockets or jets throughout their flight and are a much faster version of existing cruise missiles. The latter type is launched into the upper atmosphere on top of existing ballistic missiles and then releases hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) that fly lower, faster, and in an unpredictable manner to enemies.

China has two hypersonic missiles. The first, the Dong Feng-17 (DF-17), is a medium-range missile or MRBM system equipped with an HGV. It can carry conventional or nuclear weapons and has a reported speed of Mach 5-10. With a range of 1,800-2,500km and a launch weight of 15,000 kg, the DF-17 is a formidable threat to any adversary. The second is the DF-ZF HGV, which can also travel at speeds between Mach 5-10 and is capable of performing “extreme manoeuvres” to evade enemy defences. The DF-17 has been designed to work specifically with the DF-ZF, greatly increasing the power of both weapons. Russia has three major hypersonic weapons: the Avangard, the Kinzhal, and the Zircon. In comparison, the US is lagging behind in hypersonic technology. A test of the AGM-183A ARRW, a hypersonic missile, failed when the rocket engine did not ignite after the missile successfully separated from the B-52H bomber carrying it.

India’s defence industry soars with self-sufficient strategies

In 2021-2022, the budget for defence research was Rs 11,375.50 crore. In 2010, the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was directed to restructure and give a “major boost” to defence research and to increase the private sector’s involvement in defence technology. The Defense Technology Commission was established with the defence minister as its chair to improve the effectiveness of the DRDO. However, a Comptroller and Auditor General report on projects undertaken by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) from 2007-2017 found that the lab had undertaken projects without focus or priority, spent money on research that was abandoned without completion, and lacked the involvement of user representatives in pre-project work or during project execution.

India’s defense sector has made strides in recent years, particularly in the realm of missile technologies. The country has successfully tested hypersonic technology missiles, and with the AGNI-5, it now ranks seventh in the world for the most powerful missiles. However, compared to China, India remains a laggard in global rankings for missile technologies.

There are two main types of hypersonic weapons: hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic boost-glide vehicles. The former are powered by rockets or jets throughout their flight, while the latter are launched into the upper atmosphere on top of existing ballistic missiles and then release hypersonic glide vehicles. China, in particular, has two highly advanced hypersonic missiles: the Dong Feng-17 and the DF-ZF HGV. Russia also has several hypersonic weapons, but the US has lagged behind in developing this technology.

To boost defence research in the country, India’s DRDO has undergone restructuring to increase private sector involvement and establish a Defense Technology Commission. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General has criticised the ADE, a division of the DRDO, for undertaking projects without focus or priority and abandoning research without completion. India currently only produces 45-50% of the defence products it uses, with the rest imported.

Despite financial constraints, import restrictions, and a lack of clarity in decision making, India’s DRDO has made significant progress in research and development of missile technologies in recent years. This article outlines some of the major achievements of DRDO in the field of missile technology.

The organisation’s achievements include the development of various advanced missile systems, including the New Shaurya Missile, a nuclear-capable two-stage cruise surface-to-surface medium range missile; the BrahMos series, a medium-range stealth ramjet supersonic cruise missile; the Nirbhay Subsonic Cruise Missile, capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads; and the Akash Missile, a surface-to-air missile with three variants at various stages of development. Additionally, DRDO is working on the Barak 8, a long-range Indo-Israeli surface-to-air missile; the Prithvi Air Defense, a two-stage liquid and solid-fueled ballistic missile defence high altitude interceptor; and the ASAT Missile, a missile designed to hit targets in space. Despite these achievements, India remains a laggard in global rankings in missile technologies, particularly compared to China.

Skyfall: The Pralay Surface-to-Surface Missile

One of the standout missiles in India’s arsenal is the Pralay, a surface-to-surface guided short-range ballistic missile that was recently tested off the coast of Odisha in Balasore. Developed by the DRDO, the Pralay follows a Quasi Ballistic Trajectory, meaning it takes a low curved path after being launched and is capable of changing direction and range. It hit its target with high accuracy, demonstrating the efficacy of its control guidance and mission algorithms.

But what sets the Pralay apart from other tactical missiles on the market? For one, it is canisterized, meaning it can be carried in a strong metal container that holds chemicals or gases. This allows for greater mobility and the ability to deploy the missile quickly in the event of a conflict. The Pralay is also capable of carrying a variety of warheads, including high explosive preformed fragmentation, penetration come blast, and runway denial penetration submunition, making it a versatile weapon for a range of targets.

As India continues to develop and test new missiles, it will be interesting to see how it positions itself on the global stage. With its diverse range of weapons and cost-effective approach, it is well-positioned to make a name for itself as a major player in the global arms race.

Author is Defence and Aerospace Analyst.

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First published on: 27-12-2022 at 17:23 IST