Nov 15, 2008

India - Opening up new options

The Indian missile programme has been forging confidently ahead in recent years. On Wednesday, the Defence Research and Development Organisation successfully launched Shourya, a land-based version of the K-15 (Sagarika) ballistic missile that is designed for launch from a submarine. The Sagarika was test-fired from a submerged pontoon in February this year. An underwater launch requires gas generators that can eject missiles from the tubes in which they are carried onboard a submarine. The same technology has now been used to create a land-based missile that can be stored and fired when needed from a canister. The closed canister serves to protect the missile from temperature fluctuations, dust, and vagaries of the weather. These missiles can be easily stored, handled, and transported. The protection of the canister also gives them a longer life. In addition, the Shourya is said to be highly manoeuvrable, making it less vulnerable to interception by anti-missile defence systems.

If further tests confirm the Shourya’s reliability under operational conditions, it is conceivable that this missile and its successors would be considered for a variety of roles. For one thing, India’s strategic forces will potentially have one more avenue to ensure the survival of their nuclear-tipped missiles. Hitherto, the country’s land-based nuclear-armed missiles have been designed for mobility by road and rail so as to make it difficult for hostile forces to locate and destroy them. The Shourya test has established that placing missiles in underground silos is another option. Canister-based missiles can also be transported on and launched from mobile platforms. Thus, with a range of about 600 km, the solid-propellant-based Shourya might become a replacement for the Prithvi, a cumbersome liquid-propellant missile that has a maximum range of over 300 km. If it turns out that a canister-based missile like the Shourya has significant operational advantages, the DRDO may want to consider a similar storage mode for its long-range ballistic missiles like the 2,000-km range Agni-II and the 3,500-km range Agni-III as well as for the 5,000-km range Agni-V that is currently under development. It is worth noting that China’s two frontline solid-propellant long-range ballistic missiles, the DF-21 with a range of 3,000 km and the new DF-31 with a range of up to 14,000 km, are both canister-based. Thanks to the DRDO’s vigorous development efforts, the country is today better placed to protect itself from nuclear threats than ever before. Yet, while such technological advances enhance defence capability, the need for continuing the efforts to build bridges of friendship and trade with countries such as Pakistan and China cannot be overemphasised.

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