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India gets shield-ready against ballistic missiles

New Delhi, Nov. 23: India’s shield against ballistic missile attacks is now ready for deployment, defence officials claimed today after the country’s eighth test of interceptors designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles before they reach Indian territory.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced today that it had successfully tested its advanced air defence (AAD) system through a two-in-one mission demonstrating its ability to simultaneously track and destroy two incoming missiles. A senior defence ministry official claimed that India now had a two-layered ballistic missile defence system that could be deployed in actual operations. DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat, who is also scientific adviser to the defence minister, is expected to brief the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Security on this new capability.

Defence analysts point out that user trials would have to precede deployment of the shield.

The officials said the Indian ballistic missile defence was two-layered — capable of intercepting and destroying an enemy missile either within or above the atmosphere. The interceptors — themselves missiles guided by a network of radars and computers — could target the enemy missile immediately after it is launched and when it is climbing or during its descent, the officials said.

The interceptors would be able to engage multiple enemy missiles, the officials claimed.

In today’s test, a real metal-and-electronics interceptor launched from Wheeler Island tracked and hit an “enemy missile” — a modified version of India’s Prithvi launched from Chandipur — at an altitude of about 15km at 12:52 pm this afternoon. And a simulated, or electronic, interceptor destroyed an electronic missile launched at the same time as the real missile, the simulated destruction-taking place at an altitude of 120km.

“Real radars and computers were part of the test of the electronic missile and electronic interceptor,” Sudhir Mishra, director of missiles in the DRDO. “I think this technology has reached a level of deployment, although we’ll continue to improve technologies.”

The DRDO has over the past five years conducted seven tests of the AAD interceptors — two exo-atmospheric tests and two endo-atmospheric tests at relatively lower altitudes. Officials say the development of endo-atmospheric (within the atmosphere that is up to 30km altitude) interceptor missile and an “exo-atmospheric” interceptor was necessary to be able to strike down an enemy missile at different trajectories.

Another test of the system is likely in January.

A senior DRDO source said the decision to combine a real test with the electronic versions of a missile and an interceptor was guided by resource constraints. “We need multiple sites to launch multiple missiles — the target missiles and the interceptors,” the source said.

The DRDO currently operates with only two launch sites — Wheeler Island the Chandipur. “We’re thinking of developing and working on floating testbeds,” the source said.

Only the US, Russia, and China have anti-ballistic missile technologies.

India’s current air defence system is primarily intended to strike incoming aircraft. India relied on an ageing Russian air defence system before signing an agreement with Israel to acquire Israel’s Spyder air defence system.