India's New Hypersonic Missile Heats Up Its Rivalry With China

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September 8, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IndiaChinaHypersonicsHypersonic Missile

India's New Hypersonic Missile Heats Up Its Rivalry With China

India just successfully tested their first indigenously-designed hypersonic missile.

In a tweet, the DRDO, otherwise known as the research and development branch of the Indian Ministry of Defense, announced the successful test-launch of the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), an indigenously designed hypersonic missile test platform.

According to an Indian government press release, this latest HSTDV test demonstrated the efficacy of the demonstrator’s scramjet engine.

“The hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched using a proven solid rocket motor, which took it to an altitude of 30 kilometres (km), where the aerodynamic heat shields were separated at hypersonic Mach number. The cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle and the air intake opened as planned. The hypersonic combustion sustained and the cruise vehicle continued on its desired flight path at a velocity of six times the speed of sound i.e., nearly 02 km/second for more than 20 seconds. The critical events like fuel injection and auto ignition of scramjet demonstrated technological maturity. The scramjet engine performed in a text book manner.”

This Land was Made for You and Me

Coming on the heels of this announcement, reports on the ongoing China-India border dispute surfaced stating that Indian troops fired warning shots at Chinese troops in the Ladakh region.

1996 agreement between the two countries bars the use of guns within two kilometers from the Line of Actual Control, a somewhat ambiguous line that separates Indian- and Chinese-controlled areas in the region. In the latest kerfuffle, both sides accuse the other of provocation, though what exactly happened remains somewhat unclear.

It’s not the first time the area has seen conflict between the two countries. In 1962, China and India faced off in what is now known as the Sino-Indian Border Conflict. The Chinese victory was a difficult humiliation for the Indian side, and an event New Delhi would like to prevent from ever happening again.

Not the First, not the Last

Although India lauds the HSTDV as a dual-use technology that can be used for launching satellites, the test vehicle has a clear military application as a hypersonic cruise missile. It is not, however, India’s first foray into hypersonics.

The somewhat-similar looking BrahMos-II is a jointly Indian-Russian developed hypersonic missile project, and if outside reporting is to be believed, the missile can travel at around Mach 7 speed. While Russia currently has the Zirkon hypersonic missile in service with their naval ships and submarines, India does not currently have that capability. But, by moving forward with an indigenous hypersonic platform, Indian is increasing pressure on Beijing.

China, China, China

On a ship-for-ship basis, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is currently bigger than the United States Navy, and it probably won’t get smaller anytime soon. In particular, the Chinese Navy is expanding the number of aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and submarines in service.

But, with hypersonic sea-based missiles, New Delhi is upping the ante in the Indian Ocean—and possibly elsewhere. The hypersonic missile club is quite exclusive, only the United States, China, Russia, and India are members, and advancing Indian hypersonic technology might give the Chinese Navy—and Army—pause for thought.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Reuters