- A hypersonic missile is a weapon system which flies at least at the speed of Mach 5 i.e. five times the speed of sound and is manoeuvrable.
- The manoeuvrability of the hypersonic missile is what sets it apart from a ballistic missile as the latter follows a set course or a ballistic trajectory.
- Thus, unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles do not follow a ballistic trajectory and can be manoeuvred to the intended target.
- The two types of hypersonic weapons systems are Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles.
- The HGV are launched from a rocket before gliding to the intended target while the hypersonic cruise missile is powered by air breathing high speed engines or ‘scramjets’ after acquiring their target.
- India is also developing an indigenous, dual capable (conventional as well as nuclear) hypersonic cruise missile as part of its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle programme and has successfully tested a Mach 6 scramjet in June 2019 and September 2020
- Cruise missiles can be launched from land, sea or air for land attacks and anti-shipping purposes, and can travel at subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic speeds.
- Since they stay relatively close to the surface of the earth, they cannot be detected easily by anti-missile systems, and are designed to carry large payloads with high precision.
- It is launched directly into the upper layers of the earth’s atmosphere.
- They travel outside the atmosphere, where the warhead detaches from the missile and falls towards a predetermined target.
- They are rocket-propelled self-guided weapons systems which can carry conventional or nuclear munitions. They can be launched from aircraft, ships and submarines, and land.
Importance of Ballistic Missile Defence System of India
- Hypersonic weapons can enable responsive, long range strike options against distant, defended or time critical threats (such as road mobile missiles) when other forces are unavailable, denied access or not preferred
- India has faced the threat of ballistic missile attacks since the early 90s from China and Pakistan. The increase in tensions with Pakistan after the deployment of M-11 missiles by Pakistan forced India to think about development anti-ballistic missile defence system.
- After the nuclear test of India conducted in May 1998, Pakistan also tested nuclear weapons due to which the threat of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems intensified. The Kargil War of 1999 between India and Pakistan further increased this tension.
- India began the development of anti-ballistic missile system in late 1999 in light of Pakistan eschewing of a nuclear no first use policy. The development of ballistic missile defence system accelerated after USA vetoed India’s attempt to acquire Israeli Arrow-2 interceptor missile in 2002.
- The ballistic missile defence program consists of two phases. The first phase enables the intersection of missiles up to 2000 km, and the second phase will be able to intercept missiles up to 5000 km range.
- India is developing two new anti-ballistic missiles that can intercept the intermediate range ballistic missiles. The Missile will be similar to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile of USA.
- Hypersonic technology has been developed and tested by both DRDO and ISRO. Recently, DRDO has successfully flight-tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), with a capability to travel at 6 times the speed of sound.
- A Hypersonic Wind Tunnel(HWT) test facility of the DRDO was inaugurated in Hyderabad. It is a pressure vacuum-driven, enclosed free jet facility that simulates Mach 5 to 12.
- As an advocate of minimum credible deterrence, as long as China remains vulnerable to India’s nuclear weapons, the size and sophistication of Beijing’s arsenal need not concern us too much. The bigger China’s arsenal, the bigger the problem for Beijing.
- New Delhi has wisely achieved strategic deterrence without getting into an arms race. We should stay the course.