With nuclear payload capability, the indigenous hypersonic technology should position India as a nation with both deterrence and attack capability when it comes to superfast martial action.
On advanced warfare technology, India would need to reach a metaphorical warp speed on R&D if it is to bridge the gap with its belligerent neighbour, China—the US admitting in a report that China has an edge over it on certain fronts underscores this. On Monday, India demonstrated that it is capable of this with the successful testing of the Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle (HSTDV)—hypersonic objects can travel at Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) or higher speeds. It is now the fourth country in the world to have successfully developed this technology; Russia and China are the leaders in the technology, with the US following them. India intends to have its own hypersonic missiles in the next five years. The HSTDV, which failed testing last year, was launched to an altitude of 30 km using a tested solid rocket motor; there, it achieved a speed six times that of sound or nearly 7,410 km/hour. The first milestone in India’s HSTDV development was reported in 2004 by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO); the organisation hopes that the successful testing of the technology will serve as the foundational blocks for developing advanced hypersonic vehicles in partnership with the industry.
With nuclear payload capability, the indigenous hypersonic technology should position India as a nation with both deterrence and attack capability when it comes to superfast martial action. Monday’s testing demonstrated the capabilities of India’s scramjet technology, which powers hypersonic cruise missiles. Given these missiles have to stay below a height of 100,000 feet, versus hypersonic glide vehicles that can go higher, India will need to work on developing the latter too.
2018—waverider technology is one in which the hypersonic vehicle uses the shockwaves it generates to travel faster. This means the race for hypersonic capabilities is just heating up. The US, which is trailing Russia and China at the moment, aims to have hypersonic autonomous drones by 2030-40s. The US-based Rand Corporation estimated in 2017 that the world had just a decade—given the stage research in various countries was at the time—to prevent hypersonic missile proliferation. With as many as four major global economies having already demonstrated backbone capabilities for this—and three others (Australia, Japan and France) reported to be developing or looking to acquire this technology—non-proliferation seems a utopian goal. India has done well to pre-empt proliferation and now must work on honing its mettle on this. It must take a cue from the US, which awarded weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin two multi-billion-dollar contracts last year to bolster its hypersonic strength, and partner the private sector.