Star Wars setback as DRDO interceptor missile malfunctions - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 April 2015

Star Wars setback as DRDO interceptor missile malfunctions

The AAD Ashvin interceptor, as seen by Broadsword in the DRDO complex in Hyderabad

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Apr 15

The Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) internationally watched programme to develop an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield suffered a setback on Monday, when an interceptor missile missed its target. The ABM shield aims to protect Indian cities against nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles from Pakistan or China.

DRDO sources involved in the test say the Ashvin Air Defence (AAD) interceptor missile being tested blasted off at 11.45 a.m. from the Chandipur test range on the Odisha coast.

The missile was launched for the first time from a canister, which went off exactly as planned; and the AAD’s newly developed composite rocket motor functioned “perfectly”. However, seconds into the test, the missile deviated from its planned path and it quickly became clear that it would not hit the target as planned, at an altitude of 20 kilometres above the earth.

This test was conducted with a “virtual target”, instead of the Prithvi missile that the ABM programme has previously used to simulate an incoming enemy ballistic missile. The Prithvi can simulate only shorter-range missiles, while this test involved shooting down a longer-range enemy missile that is harder to engage. Such a test required a computer-simulated target image.

“We will analyse why the AAD fell short of its mission objectives, and which sub-system malfunctioned. We will know within a couple of days”, a DRDO missile scientist told Business Standard. There is no official word from the DRDO on the test.

The DRDO believes it can correct the problem and conduct another test within 30-45 days.

This was the seventh time the Ashvin interceptor was being tested, and the first time DRDO scientists have acknowledged system failure. One earlier test was not successful when the Prithvi target missile malfunctioned.

The ABM shield comprises three functional components: First, a ground based radar network that detects incoming enemy ballistic missiles, picking up the missile soon after launch when it rises into the atmosphere. Satellite-based radar will increase the reaction time by detecting the missile on the ground itself, as soon as it is fired. Second, a command system tracks the enemy missile’s flight path, and assigns interceptor missiles to destroy the incoming missile, within the few minutes available. Finally, there are two kinds of interceptor missiles for destroying the enemy missile before its nuclear warhead fires. Each is guided towards the target by a “guidance radar”, while an on-board seeker takes over the job during the last few milliseconds, when the target and interceptor are moving towards each other at several thousand kilometres per hour.

The long-range interceptor, the Pradyumna, strikes the enemy missile while it is still more than 50 kilometres above the earth. This is backed-up by a shorter-range missile --- the Ashvin, that was tested on Monday --- which strikes the incoming missile in the upper atmosphere, i.e. at altitudes of 20-40 kilometres.

While the government has not yet sanctioned the deployment of an operational ABM system, the DRDO has said that New Delhi would soon have an ABM shield.

Nuclear strategists and non-proliferation activists have criticized India’s ABM programme as “destabilising”, alleging that it would encouraging Pakistan to expand its arsenal. Experts also argue that ABM systems simply do not work. Were India to protect cities like Delhi and Mumbai with ABM shields, they say Pakistan would simply plan to fire a larger number at defended cities, to saturate and overwhelm their ABM defences. 


  1. NSR says ---

    I worked on air and missile defense for 2 decades and it is very common occurrence...

    Fix, improve and keep flying until the system is perfected...
    Fix, improve and fly...
    Fix, improve and fly...

    Try to acquire some S-400 batallions until these systems becomes perfect..and to keep the Chinese at bay...

    That is the only way to go for India...

  2. NSR says ---

    A missile program project takes almost 10 to 15 years to succeed fully...For India, subject to technology denial modes, it will take much longer...

    So the key is to keep going forward in a determined way on missile interceptors, Astra, Akash, Nag, GPS guided shells, etc

    Whenever and wherever an opportunity arises, India must form joint development projects for seekers, sensors, controls, guidance, etc This way both partners can end up with advanced technology very quickly...No one gives away technology for free...

    Javelin is a great anti-tank missile used by entire western world...India should take USA offer and go with it and then form a joint project to develop next generation Javelin...This way both countries will end up with technology...a win-win partnerships...

    Keep up with all the missile programs in full speed.. do not spend $5 billions on Maitri...Buy their naval missile and partner with them on next generation naval missile...this method will be quicker and both parties will end up with missiles and technology for future...

  3. Bad luck ! Never mind. India is with you.

  4. Regarding the last comment: "Pakistan would simply plan to fire a larger number at defended cities, to saturate and overwhelm their ABM defences". India will not watch and twiddle its thumbs to see Pak trying to overwhelm its missile defenses.
    The ABM defense gives precious time to retaliate and stop the missiles, keeping the cities alive and so it is necessary.

  5. Sir I love the names of the weapon systems. Can you do a write on naming philosophy followed in DRDO in particular, and weapon system developers in general.

  6. Col. Shukla :

    Would you please consider writing about effects of the Iranian nuclear deal on Pakistan, in the light of Saudis asking the Pakistanis to fight in Yemen?

    Thank you

  7. Good luck to our scientists - I am sure they'll soon be able to correct this.

    - Tanuj, Noida

  8. I dont see how its destabilizing. Most western experts and their indian copycats are ignoring the fact, that by increasing the costs for Pakistan to take down any Indian city, they are saving so many more possible targets. Also by forcing to constantly commit to strategic assets, Pakistan will have to reduce investment on conventional ones, forcing weakness which India can exploit. For instance, a terror attack in J&K, responded to by cross border arty by India would have a weaker response by Pakistan. We are for all purposes in an undeclared war with Pakistan. By forcing them to commit more and more to one resource/element, we essentially hobble their options elsewhere and also hurt them economically. In short a BMD system is essentially to India's advantage, and this is why many western commentators don't like it. They want an artificial parity between India and Pakistan, wedded as they are to their notions of a Hindu India to be offset by a Muslim Pakistan or by real politik (their establishments dont want the next regional power to emerge and seriously challenge the status quo). Pakistan is a useful dogsbody which has shackled the lethargic Indian elephant and kept it bleeding. Via methods like Cold Start (and even talking about it), BMD etc, India is slowly but steadily taking the edge from Pakistan and setting the stage wherein Pakistan reacts and not India, as till date it was mostly vice versa. India has to continue to do what it should without being shackled by the west (and their local peace/non proliferation supporters who are parked by them in other nations) and their pronouncements on what is good or bad for India. Ironically enough, Americans brag it was their Star Wars which ultimately accelerated the fall of the FSU. But they don't want India to replicate anything that works!

  9. @NSR
    Bang on....u have to be relentless in pursuing ur goals no let up is required here.

    @Anon 7 April 2015 at 13:01
    You r right as soon as PAK fires its nukes on Indian soil,India's Nuclear doctrine comes into play which is retaliation of massive nuclear force towards the target country.

    @Anon 8 April 2015 at 19:59
    Yes,you are absolutely right those so called Nuclear strategists and non-proliferation activists are nothing but proxies of the west & of our enemies,we don't have heed to their line of thought.Its kinda of India's "Bleeding by thousands cuts" for Pakistan with full payback.And the west is paranoia about Indias' rise,btw that is inevitable (some may not like it but truth is truth) that India will be a future powerhouse.Untill then India coast along.

  10. These are common in technology development. West has paid a heavy price in money , time & most important lives to develop crucial aeronautical technologies. Same with china, they may stolen,but getting drawings made to real working stuff is hard work.
    That is why all this ToT is hogwash. We need to sweat , shed tears & blood to develop the same.


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