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Hypersonic Weapons: Global Threats And India’s Preparedness

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Hypersonic Weapons: Global Threats And India’s Preparedness

Hypersonic Weapons

Capable of traveling at more than 10-15 times the speed of sound, hypersonic missiles arrive at their targets in a blinding, destructive flash, before any sonic booms or other meaningful warning. So far, there are no guaranteed defences against them. Fast, effective, precise and unstoppable: these are rare but highly desired characteristics on the modern battlefield. And the missiles are being developed not only by the United States but also by China, Russia, France, Japan, EU, India and other countries. Hypersonic weapon systems can be armed with both nuclear and conventional warheads, and can hit critical/sensitive/ strategic targets with impunity like nuclear stockpiling and delivery sites, ships and strategic objectives in all dimensions of ground, air, sea and under-sea. They will be as big a game changer in strategic, security and armament environment in as much as nuclear weapons; and India with its aspirations as a regional player and a global balancing power, needs to stay in the loop of this most potent, versatile, hi-tech, disruptive technology.

Contrarian Views On Its Strategic Employment

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Commander of US Strategic Command General John Hyten has stated that these weapons could enable “responsive, long-range, strike options against distant, defended, and/or time-critical threats [such as road-mobile missiles] when other forces are unavailable, denied access, or not preferred.” Critics, on the other hand, contend that hypersonic weapons lack defined mission requirements, contribute little to a nation’s military capability, and are unnecessary for deterrence.

Type of Hypersonic Weapons/Missiles/Glide Vehicles (HW/HM/HGV)

There are two primary categories:

HGVs are launched from a rocket before gliding to a target.

Hypersonic cruise missiles are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines, or “scramjets,” after acquiring their target.

Characteristics

Unlike ballistic missiles, Hypersonic Weapons do not follow a ballistic trajectory, are highly manoeuvrable, have the ability to fly at lower altitude, making their flight path unpredictable and difficult to track, thereby reducing the effectiveness of ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems. They can approach their targets at roughly 12 to 50 miles above the earth’s surface which is below the altitude at which ballistic missile interceptors such as the US Aegis ship-based system and the THAAD ground-based system are designed to operate, yet above the altitude that simpler air defence missiles, like the Patriot system, can reach.

Officials will have trouble even knowing where a strike would land. Although the missiles’ launch would probably be picked up by infrared-sensing satellites in its first few moments of flight, they would be roughly 10 to 20 times harder to detect than incoming ballistic missiles as they near their targets. They would zoom along in the defensive void, manoeuvring unpredictably, and then, in just a few final seconds of blindingly fast, mile-per-second flight, dive and strike a target such as an aircraft carrier from an altitude of 100,000 feet. During their flight, the perimeter of their potential landing zone could be about as big as 3000 sq km. Early warning systems might sound a general alarm, but they’d be clueless about exactly where the missiles were headed. No nation currently has any defence against such systems. This delayed detection, compresses the timeline for decision makers assessing their response options, and for a defensive system to intercept the attacking weapon; potentially permitting no response/only a single intercept attempt.

Terrestrial-Based Detection of Ballistic Missiles Vs Hypersonic Glide Vehicles

Overview of Hypersonic Weapons In Different Countries

USA — The US has pursued development of Hypersonic Weapons as a part of its Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) program since the early 2000s. Endorsing Trump’s budget of $3.2 billion for 2021, the Biden administration has bid $3.8 billion for hypersonic-related research funding in fiscal year 2022. Additionally, MDA (Missile Defence Agency) has requested $8.9 billion with the goal of developing capabilities such as “a next-generation interceptor for homeland missile defence, hypersonic defensive capability, and a hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensor (HBTSS)”. The US has 70 ongoing projects that are estimated to cost over $15 billion through 2024. Most US Hypersonic Weapons, in contrast to those in Russia and China, are not being designed for use with a nuclear warhead. This implies necessity of technically challenging, more accurate Hypersonic Weapons.

Russia and China — Russia and China provide similar rationale for developing hypersonic systems: “A concern that US Hypersonic Weapons could conduct a pre-emptive, decapitating strike on their nuclear arsenal and supporting infrastructure, thus impacting their ‘second strike capabilities”. China has made systematic progress in its pursuit of hypersonics. Scientific and strategic community globally specially in the USA, feel that China is ahead of its peers in this niche-technology. At the October 2019 military parade in Beijing, marking the 70th anniversary of its founding, China paraded for the first time the DF-17 missile, that has a range of 1,800-2,500 kilometres, equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Alexander Fedorov, a professor at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology accepts that an arms race is already on in this area but adds that Russia “has experience without much money, China has money without much experience, and the United States has both, although it revived its efforts later than did Russia or China and is now playing catch-up.”

Russia is not far behind, and has made it its priority for R&D and deployment. Russian research on hypersonic technology dates back to the 1980s, the program began to pick up momentum after the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2001. The Russian military currently has two Hypersonic Missiles: The Avangard and the Kinzhal. Both are nuclear capable, reportedly can fly at 20 times the speed of sound; and according to reports, is being prepared for deployment with the Northern fleet.

India And Hypersonic Weapons

India is developing a Hypersonic Cruise Missile Brahmos-II in cooperation with Russia and launched the first test flight in June 2019, which failed. India, however, tested an indigenously designed and built Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) on 7 September 2021. It is powered by a supersonic combustion ram jet/scramjet engine which activates after being launched by a solid-fuel ballistic missile rocket motor. The test vehicle flew at an altitude of 30 kilometres at six times the speed of sound for about 20 seconds after separating from the launcher, according to reports from the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which developed the system. The DRDO confirmed that the test launch “proved several critical technologies including aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic manoeuvres.” Another three tests in the next five years “to make the platform into a full-fledged hypersonic weapon that is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads” is scheduled.

International Security And Safety Protocols

There are currently no international agreements on how or when Hypersonic Weapons (HWs) can be used, nor are there any plans to start those discussions. Instead, the rush to possess HWs has started a new dangerous arms race; one that could, some experts worry, upend existing norms of deterrence and renew Cold War-era tensions. The HGVS dangerously compress the time during which military officials and their political leaders in any country can figure out the nature of an attack and make reasoned decisions about the wisdom and scope of defensive steps or retaliation. And the threat that hypersonics pose to retaliatory weapons creates what scholars call “use it or lose it” pressures on countries to strike first during a crisis. Experts say that the missiles could upend the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, the bedrock military doctrine of the nuclear age that argued globe-altering wars would be deterred if the potential combatants always felt certain of their opponents’ devastating response.

Unlike the previous leaps in military technology, like chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles with multiple nuclear warheads, which were controlled through superpower treaty negotiations: The ‘big three’ haven’t seriously considered any sort of accord limiting the development or deployment of Hypersonic Weapons. The UN Office of Disarmament Affairs has officially implored nations to sit down to negotiate a protocol. For years the big powers have cared mostly about numerical measures of power: Who has more warheads, bombers and missiles, and negotiations have focused heavily on those metrics. Only occasionally has their conversation widened to include the issue of strategic stability, a topic that encompasses whether specific weaponry poses risks of inadvertent war.

Conclusion

Hypersonic Weapons are strategic and geo-political game changers, and are here to stay. A new arms race involving hypersonics is clearly already underway. No one is interested in hypersonic weapons limitation talks. In any case due to present regime of distrust, every nation which has potential, would like to own HW/HGVs. The portents are even more lethal and deadly than what transpired with nuclear weapons. As a regional power, India needs to be part of this geo-politically and militarily essential club, as also use its soft power to cajole the international community specially the ‘big three’, to initiate protocols for its development, deployment and use.

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INS Arihant’s Nuke-Capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile ‘Ready To Roll’

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INS Arihant’s Nuke-Capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile ‘Ready To Roll’


NEW DELHI: India tested its nuclear capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), designed to have a strike range of 3,500 km, for the second time in six days on Friday. The missile test, as the one conducted on January 19, was undertaken from an undersea platform in the shape of a submersible pontoon off the coast of Andhra Pradesh according to a report by Rajat Pandit of TOI.

The solid-fuelled K-4 missile is being developed by DRDO to arm the country’s nuclear-powered submarines in the shape of INS Arihant and its under-development sister vessels. INS Arihant, which became fully operational in November 2018 to complete India’s nuclear triad, is currently armed with the much shorter K-15 missiles with a 750 km range.

“The K-4 is now virtually ready for its serial production to kick-off. The two tests have demonstrated its capability to emerge straight from underwater and undertake its parabolic trajectory,” said a source.

India has the land-based Agni missiles, with the over 5,000-km Agni-V inter-continental ballistic missile now in the process of being inducted, and fighter jets jury-rigged to deliver nuclear weapons. But INS Arihant gives the country’s deterrence posture much more credibility because nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles are considered the most secure, survivable and potent platforms for retaliatory strikes.

Once the K-4 missiles are inducted, they will help India narrow the gap with countries like the US, Russia and China, which have over 5,000-km range SLBMs. The K-4 missiles are to be followed by the K-5 and K-6 missiles in the 5,000-6,000 km range class.

The 6,000-ton INS Arihant, which is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core, in turn, is to be followed by INS Arighat, which was launched in 2017. The next generation of nuclear submarines, currently called S-4 and S-4*, will be much larger in size.





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After Upgradation, Sukhoi Su-30MKI Indigenisation To Reach 78%

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After Upgradation, Sukhoi Su-30MKI Indigenisation To Reach 78%


India has received clearance to upgrade 84 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets, which will result in 78% indigenization after the upgrade

In a significant step towards bolstering its military might with indigenously developed technology, India is poised to witness its Russian-origin Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets evolve into a domestic platform. Speaking at a recent lecture.

The upgrade program is being led by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in partnership with the Indian Air Force and other partners. The upgrade is expected to cost US$7.5 billion.

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the upgrade. The upgrade is part of India’s efforts to improve the capabilities of its primary fighter aircraft, it refers to as the “Super Sukhoi”.

This initiative is a part of a larger effort by the Indian Air Force to modernize its ageing fleet. Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari asserted the critical role of an offensive air force as demonstrated in current global conflicts and emphasized India’s move towards an indigenized arsenal. To this end, the IAF has been proactive, from upgrading its Mirage 2000 to enhancing its MiG-29 fleet.

In summary, the IAF’s commitment to updating their combat forces with the latest technology, including shifting to fifth-generation fighter jets, ensures operational preparedness and a strong deterrence capability. The gradual indigenization of its air fleet marks a pivotal shift in India’s defence landscape, reducing dependency on foreign imports and fostering technological sovereignty.





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Akash Weapon System Exports For The Armenian Armed Forces Gathers Pace

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Akash Weapon System Exports For The Armenian Armed Forces Gathers Pace


According to unconfirmed reports, Armenia is a top contender for an export order for Akash SAM system manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

While there is no official confirmation because of the sensitivities involved, documents suggest that the order for the same has already been placed the report further added.
There are nine countries, in turn, which have shown interest in the indigenously-developed Akash missile systems, which can intercept hostile aircraft, helicopters, drones and subsonic cruise missiles at a range of 25-km. They are Kenya, Philippines, Indonesia, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam and Algeria reported TOI.

The Akash export version will also be slightly different from the one inducted by the armed forces. The 100-km range air-to-air Astra missiles, now entering production after successful trials from Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, also have “good export potential”, said sources.

Akash is a “tried, tested and successfully inducted systems”. Indian armed forces have ordered Akash systems worth Rs 24,000 crore over the years, and MoD inked a contract in Mar 2023 of over Rs 9,100 crores for improved Akash Weapon System

BDL is a government enterprise under the Ministry of Defence that was established in 1970. BDL manufactures surface-to-air missiles and delivers them to the Indian Army. BDL also offers its products for export.

Akash Weapon System

The AWS is a Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) Air Defence System, indigenously designed and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). In order to meet aerial threats, two additional Regiments of AWS with Upgradation are being procured for Indian Army for the Northern borders. Improved AWS has Seeker Technology, Reduced Foot Print, 360° Engagement Capability and improved environmental parameters.

The project will give a boost to the Indian missile manufacturing industry in particular and the indigenous defence manufacturing ecosystem as a whole. The project has overall indigenous content of 82% which will be increased to 93% by 2026-27.

The induction of the improved AWS into the Indian Army will increase India’s self-reliance in Short Range Missile capability. This project will play a role in boosting the overall economy by avoiding outgo of precious foreign exchange to other countries, increasing employment avenues in India and encouraging Indian MSMEs through components manufacturing. Around 60% of the project cost will be awarded to the private industry, including MSMEs, in maintaining the supply chain of the weapon system, thereby creating large scale of direct and indirect employment.





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