India took one more step towards establishing a ballistic missile defence shield when it successfully intercepted on 26.07.2010 an “enemy” ballistic missile at an altitude of 15 km and pulverised it. While the “enemy” that is, the target missile lifted off from the launch pad P-3 at the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur, near Balasore, Orissa, the interceptor took off from the Wheeler Island, off Damra village on the Orissa coast, waylaid the target missile by scoring a direct hit. The interception took place at 10.05 a.m. in what is called the endo-atmosphere, that is, below an altitude of 50 km. Both the target and the interceptor missiles were developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The proposed twin-layered BMD system envisages interception and destruction of incoming enemy missiles in exo-atmosphere (higher altitude of 50-80 km) and endo-atmosphere (lower altitude up to 30 km). While the first phase seeks to protect vital assets against enemy ballistic missiles of up to 2,000 km range, the second phase is intended to defend against missiles of up to 5,000 km range.
Five minutes after lift-off of the target missile from Chandipur, the interceptor blasted off from Wheeler Island, 70 km away. Long Range Tracking Radars located at Konark and Multi-Functional Fire Control Radar at Paradip tracked the target missile and passed on the information to Mission Control Centre, which classified the target, predicted the impact point and assigned the AAD battery to launch the interceptor.
As the target missile reached a height of 100 km and began its descent, the AAD missile carrying a P-charge directional warhead, used for the first time in an Indian missile, travelled at a speed of 4.5 Mach and manoeuvred towards the target missile. Within a few metres of the modified Prithvi, the warhead exploded releasing multiple bullet-like particles which hit and destroyed the target missile 26 seconds after its launch. The debris which fell into the sea was tracked by radars located along the coast.
Dr. Saraswat congratulated the scientists and said the BMD technologies were fast reaching maturity levels in terms of reliability and robustness. Many new technologies including P-charge warhead, electro-mechanical actuators and ring-based gyro navigation system were used to make the AAD more accurate and robust. The first phase of the BMD shield would be operational in 2012 and the second phase in 2016, he added.
Equipping AAD with a directional warhead would enable the interceptor to engage and destroy an incoming enemy missile from any direction, according to V.L. Narasimha Rao, programme director, AAD. He said another interceptor missile test would be conducted in endo-atmosphere in three months to establish repeat performance.
Hailing the success of the mission, Vice-Chief of Air Staff Barbora said that it proved that the nation was at the doorstep of having a BMD umbrella, “which is required considering the environment”. He was extremely proud that the system would be operational in a short duration. “As an Indian I am proud,” he added.
Out of five interceptor missile launches so far, this is the fourth successful one. This is the second successful interception in the endo-atmosphere. The other tests were done in the exo-atmosphere, above an altitude of 50 km. The DRDO scored three successes in a row when its interceptor missile tests conducted on November 27, 2006, December 6, 2007 and March 6, 2009 were on the target. The interceptor trial in March 2010 was a failure.
Informed DRDO sources said the interceptor missile was a newly developed missile and was not one of the existing missiles. The target missile was also a newly developed missile.
A DRDO press release said the single-stage interceptor missile was equipped with directional warhead and other advanced systems to neutralise the target. Several radars and sensors tracked the target missile. “All elements of weapon systems including the command and control, communication and Radars performed satisfactorily,” said the press-release.
W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller (Life Sciences), DRDO, called it “a very successful interception” and it “reconfirms and validates the interception in the endo-atmosphere.” The interception technology was a complex technology and only very few countries possessed it. “Accuracy is important here. We are moving closer towards [establishing] the ballistic missile defence shield,” he said.
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