India’s efforts to build a homegrown ballistic missile defense system achieved a major success.
On August 2nd, India tested its Advanced Area Defence (AAD)/Ashvin Advanced Defense interceptor missile against decoy targets for the first time.
“One target among simultaneously incoming multiple targets was selected on [sic] real time, the weapon system radars tracked the target and the missile locked on to it and intercepted the target with a high degree of accuracy,” India’s government announced in a press release.
The test was against a medium-range ballistic missile with a range of 1,500 kilometers. Franz-Stefan Gady of The Diplomat speculates that this was the first test of the new indigenous imaging infrared (IIR) seeker, which was developed to help the interceptors distinguish warheads from decoy/dummies.
This capability is increasingly necessary as countries like China and Pakistan develop multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) and multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs). MIRVs allow a single missile to aim warheads at different targets whereas MRVs contain multiple warheads but at the same target.
The use of decoys are a more cost effective way to try to confuse missile defense systems enough so that the warheads get through to their target. Either way, though, India’s missile defense systems will need to be able to engage multiple targets simultaneously.
The most recent test was overseen by the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), the premier defense technology agency within India’s Ministry of Defense. It took place at Abdul Kalam Island, Odisha in the Bay of Bengal.
The AAD is a single-stage solid-fueled hit-to-kill interceptor missile that destroys hostile missiles in the terminal phase of flight. The press release says it is capable of destroying targets at altitudes of 15 and 25 kilometers.
The AAD had been tested at least five times before this most recent one. Those include tests in December, March and February 2017 as well as one a piece in 2016 and 2015.
The Diplomat’s Gady says the earlier tests were all against Prithvi-II or III short-range ballistic missiles. Given the range cited in the press statement, the test this month was against a different and more powerful missile.
The Prithvi missiles are also the basis for the other missile defense system that India is seeking to build. The Prithvi missile defense interceptors are used for exo-atmospheric intercepts (i.e. those outside the atmosphere) whereas the AAD are for endo-atmospheric intercepts. Prithvi Air Defense missile is more developed than the AAD having been first tested in 2007.
Besides trying to build its own missile defense systems, India is also looking to purchase them from abroad. For years there have been reports that India is interested in buying Russia’s S-400 air and missile defense system.
At the October 2016 BRICS summit in Goa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a $5 billion deal for Delhi to acquire the S-400 Triumf air defense system.
There was increased chatter that a deal was imminent in December 2017. "We hope that the S-400 deal will be signed with India soon," Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin said late last year.
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Around the same time, Viktor N. Kladov, director for international cooperation and regional policy of Rostec, a massive Russian conglomerate, made similar comments, saying that negotiations over the S-400 had reached a “very profound stage.”
It appears that this sale might have been slowed because of fears that the United States would sanction India for purchasing the Russian system. The recently passed 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provided a waiver for India from Russia related sanctions. Thus, the deal might soon go through.
India also recently announced it would spend $1 billion to purchase a National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II) to protect the capital city of Delhi. Built by the U.S. firm Raytheon and the Norwegian company Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace, India intends to use the NASAMS to deal with cruise missile and other aerial threats against the capital.
“Once the Phase-I of the BMD [ballistic missile defense] system is operational,” a source told the Times of India, referring to the AAD and Prithvi systems, “it will be deployed to protect cities like Delhi and Mumbai... The NASAMS, in turn, is geared towards intercepting cruise missiles, aircraft, and drones.”
Washington, DC is also protected in part by the NASAMS.
Zachary Keck (@ZacharyKeck) is a former managing editor of The National Interest.