India has been working on setting up an anti-missile defence (ABM) shield against nuclear-tipped missiles for several decades. In its Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme the Defence Research and Development Organisation has achieved success in a series of surface-to-surface missiles with ranges that now cover all of Pakistan and most (including Beijing and Shanghai) of its mentor China.
With the failure of the Trishul short-range, quick reaction surface-to-air missile for ship point defence India turned to Israel for a joint venture project to reconfigure the Prithvi surface-to-surface missile to an anti-aircraft /anti-missile role. The result has been a spectacular success, prompting the Government of India to use it to defend New Delhi the political capital of India and Mumbai, the economic hub.
An anti-ballistic missile system depends heavily on the ability to detect an incoming missile of any size (including a shell), track it and direct an anti-missile missile to destroy it. At the early stages India acquired the Green Pine radar from Israel. On this it based the Prithvi Air Defence system. As part of a continuous upgradation of capabilities India created the Swordfish radar with significant improvements in target acquisition and detection of multiple incoming objects. Increasingly, satellite reconnaissance has become integrated to the ABM system.
Nonetheless, an effective anti-ballistic missile system must be a multi-layered system with endo-atmosphere (within the atmosphere) and exo-atmosphere (outside the atmosphere) interception capabilities. Israel has had experience of using ground-based air defence systems to protect its territory in hostile conditions. It was noticed that while interception has been successfully executed there is still the possibility that parts of the enemy missile are only deflected to undefended portions of its territory. Hence the need to ensure interception at longer and higher distances.
At the same time there needs to be in place additional tiers of interceptors which can deal with near miss situations and the use of decoys and multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) that are intended to saturate the defensive system and effect a penetration to target.
India is tapping into the Israeli experience and had at one time sought to buy the Israeli Arrow air defence system. The US which has several of its companies involved in providing systems and components to the Arrow project raised objections and the idea was dropped. Nonetheless with Israel becoming the second largest provider of military equipment to India avenues for cooperation in all fields have opened up. Israel is a major supplier of drones to the world market and its sensors and radar systems have been incorporated in India’s Airborne Warning and Command Systems aircraft created by the conversion of the Russian Il-76 multirole aircraft by installing the Israeli Phalcon system on board.
As an offshoot of the Green Pine radar, India developed the Swordfish long range tracking radar capable of picking up and tracking an object as large as a cricket ball. The central requirement in the Swordfish radar is an improvement in the range at which it can pick up an incoming object. Even though it is based on the Israeli Green Pine radar, almost every parameter has been upgraded ranging from more powerful power packs and incorporation of Indian transponders, computers and signal processing systems.
It can vector the Prithvi Air Defence missile to targets at an altitude of 80 kms from the earth (work is on to improve this to 150 km thereby ensuring that the interception takes place well away from the intended target in outer space . The range of the Swordfish radar itself has been enhanced to 1,500 km. It is being used to also enhance the performance of the Ashwin medium-range air defence missile which currently forms part of the second tier of protectors.
India and Israel have been working on creating a ship/land based missile by modifying Israel’s Barak missile to Indian specifications. Currently the shipboard version has been made operational in the indigenous stealth destroyers of the Kolkata class. Land based versions have been placed at vital areas and vital points like aerodrome defence.
The Barak-8 is a joint venture project involving India’s DRDO and Israel’s Aerospace Industries inclusive of Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure and technologies developed by Elta Systems, Rafael and other Israeli entities. The 4.5 meter long missile is vertically launched, its radar providing 360 degree coverage and an ability to intercept an incoming hostile object as close as 500 meters from the intended target.
It is believed that the range has been extended to nearly 100 km which implies a beyond-the-horizon capability. Its all-up weight of 275 kg includes a massive 60 kg warhead which blows up on proximity to an enemy missile ensuring hit-to-kill capability. The ability to intercept at ranges from 500 meters to 100 km covers a wide bandwidth of threats ranging from the very short to the upper limit of medium range.
The missile can counter a wide variety of air-borne threats inclusive of anti-ship missiles, aircraft, UAVs and supersonic missiles. When coupled with a modern air-defence system and multi-function surveillance track and guidance radars (as it is in the Kolkata-class destroyers) the Barak-8 facilitates simultaneous engagement of multiple targets during saturation attacks. India has already conducted tests on a multiple-attack battlefield scenario and made successful simultaneous interceptions. This paved the way for the establishment of at least two metropolitan ballistic missile defence systems.
However, there are several other vital points and vital areas on the Indian landscape that must be protected from a nuclear attack and, therefore, there is need for a multiplicity of anti-ballistic missile systems. There are also requirements to deal with non-nuclear platforms that, because of their intrinsic standoff range of operations like AWACS aircraft that demand the deployment of long-range radars and missiles.
To be able to deal with this particular kind of situation where it becomes necessary to pose a threat to an enemy AWACS to prevent it from spying on air activity within Indian territory India is acquiring long range missiles from the Russians. The S-400 contract signed with the Russians recently is largely intended to be AWACS specific but can tackle other hostile airborne platforms as well.
Collectively, the numbers of the Prithvi Air Defence, the Ashwin and the Barak-8 (and the still in the drawing board hypersonic missile) produced indigenously at a higher scale so as to ensure safety at lower cost.
Both India and Israel face existential challenges and they can cooperate in creating ABM networks with greater coverage in a cost-effective manner. Both are aware of the threats posed by missiles in the neighbourhood and the need to protect both populations and productive centres from pre-emptive attacks. They can continue to cooperate in extending both the range of interception to the point that it takes place within the territory of the launcher before it executes its ballistic curve at the high point of its flight. For this the missile needs to be both long range, faster in flight and extremely confident in its ability to search out and hit the intruding missile.
In the final analysis, the best deterrent would be a boost phase interception of the enemy missile in the short period it is taking off from the launch silo. Both can work towards eliminating a common threat.