Friday, October 16, 2009

India's developing mutliple-warhead missile

Pinaki Bhattacharya

This one is on the lines of free-market commercials: Ask for one and get at least four free! The difference is that it is not a shirt or a pair of jeans. It's a single rocket capable of delivering multiple warheads - even non-conventional nuclear systems - at different targets.

The country is on the verge of getting one as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is validating technologies that will help India deploy multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) on its missiles.

Currently, the country has missiles that can deliver only one warhead at a time. The defence research establishment has confirmed that it has made significant progress over the past few years in developing an indigenous technology for the single-rocket-multiplewarhead system. In another three-four years, this ultimate war machine will be ready.

The DRDO says the platform for re-entry vehicles would be different from the indigenously developed Agni series of missiles. Since it would be precision device, sources said the guiding system would require a high degree of accuracy to offset even a small circular error of probability or a negligible deviation from the intended target.

Another reason for this overbearing inclination for detail and accuracy is that the destructive potential of smaller warheads on multiple vehicles is low. Hence, these warheads will have to hit the intended targets at the accurate point and optimise the damage. That apart, the scientists will have to miniaturise the size of the warheads and develop a superior guidance system.

The MIRV system is not a new concept. Senior analyst G. Balachandran of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses said the technology was conceived in the early 1960s by the US to enhance the limited capacity of its nuclear submarines carrying ballistic missiles.

It triggered a major escalation of the arms race between the US and Russia (then USSR) in the Cold War period. The Soviets retaliated by developing a similar technology but placing the warheads on larger rockets. This enabled them to put more warheads into one missile.

Eventually, the two countries signed several strategic arms limitation agreements, reducing the number and weight of the warheads.

The Indian MIRV could also kick up a storm on whether it is against the principle of "nuclear restraint" that guides the country's nuclear doctrine.

Senior journalist Praful Bidwai, also an anti- nuclear activist, said the move would "escalate a disastrous arms race with China". In 2002, China successfully tested its first MIRV - to offset the advantage the US enjoyed with its American National Missile Defence System.

Bidwai said China would surely view the Indian development as threat. "It also strikes at the root of the concept of minimum, credible deterrence as multiple warheads on a missile would surely hike the Indian arsenal manifolds." But Balachandran and Air Commodore (retired) Jasjit Singh, who is now the director of the Centre for Air Power Studies, begged to differ.

"Escalation is a condition that the other party denotes on the basis of its perception. If a single missile delivers multiple warheads, it actually reduces the number of launch vehicles," Singh explained.

Prominent strategic analyst K. Subrahmanyam said the multiple warheads would increase the survival chances of the weapons in case of a nuclear attack.

4 comments:

By the time India develops this, China will probably have lasers that can shoot missiles from the sky as part of their anti-missile defense system, at least according to this article from 10 years ago:

http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=15233

Here's the first few paragraphs of the article for those who can't be bothered to go to the link:

*****
Not only is the Chinese military advancing rapidly in the field of anti-satellite, anti-missile laser weapon technology, but its technology equals or surpasses U.S. laser weapons capabilities currently under development, informed sources have told WorldNetDaily.
According to Mark Stokes, a military author specializing in Chinese weapons development, Beijing's efforts to harness laser weapons technology began in the 1960s, under a program called Project 640-3, sanctioned by Chairman Mao Tse-tung. The Chinese, he said, renamed the project the "863 Program" in 1979, after a Chinese researcher named Sun Wanlin convinced the Central Military Commission "to maintain the pace and even raise the priority of laser development" in 1979.

Today, Beijing's effort to develop laser technology encompasses over "10,000 personnel -- including 3,000 engineers in 300 scientific research organizations -- with nearly 40 percent of China's laser research and development (R & D) devoted to military applications," Stokes wrote in an analytical paper provided to WorldNetDaily.

China's "DEW (Directed Energy Weapons) research (is) part of a larger class of weapons known to the Chinese as 'new concept weapons' (xin gainian wuqi), which include high power lasers, high power microwaves, railguns, coil guns, (and) particle beam weapons," Stokes said. "The two most important organizations involved in R&D of DEW are the China Academy of Sciences and the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND)."

To underscore Beijing's fixation with laser weaponry, the Hong Kong Standard reported Nov. 15 that the Chinese have developed a laser-based anti-missile, anti-satellite system.

"China's system shoots a laser beam that destroys the [guidance systems] and causes the projectile to fall harmlessly to the ground," the paper said.

The report also noted that Beijing had "conducted tests of its new technology since August 1999," and said the system was "similar to the laser defense system technology being developed by the U.S. Air Force."
*****

Any missile defense system of the foreseeable future will not be effective against a comprehensive MIRV-based strike. And the Chinese are certainly no more advanced in this regard than the US, who will not have a comprehensive DEW-based missile shield for many years.

I dont see the point of the article though. The Chinese themselves will be hard pushed to put MIRVs on their missiles themselves, because their missile force is still to small in numbers to remain a credible second-strike force for the years to come.

"Chinese are certainly no more advanced in this regard than the US, who will not have a comprehensive DEW-based missile shield for many years."

The US seems to be coasting along, with funding being reduced or even discontinued on some projects, while China seems to be on the fast track, and so should have momentum on its side in regards to developing future weapons systems.

China also has a bigger bang for its buck, so that spending 1 billion dollars for them is probably the same as the US spending 4 billion dollars or more due to lower wages for the Chinese researchers compared with the overpaid US researchers.

The US-projects were on slow-down, because it was realised that the currently most capable option, chemical-based lasers, do not offer a desirable platform for operational use.

The true breakthrough will occur, when solid state lasers can be produced in significant size and quantity and with a respectively high power output. The research funding for this is very solid (no pun intended) and creates synergies with civilian research, making it less transparent than your typical DARPA-effort (which is not exactly transparent itself). What it comes down to is that US DEW-research is very much alive and healthy, but focusing on long-term efforts in solid-state laser technology. Chemical lasers such as on the ABL or the C-130-project seem to be a dead end because of the very principles of chemical laser operation.

The challenge here exists on very basic levels because of the principles of physics. Thats why the Chinese cannot simply and surprisingly "leap ahead". The research involved takes place on quite a global level as well.

Last but not least I have yet to see any kind of experimental Chinese system equal to T-HEL etc. that would quantify serious research efforts. I do not doubt that they exist, but it seems that they try to walk exactly the same paths and the output in statements does not indicate, that they ahead in the race. Having a "working" system is an issue of point of view. The US and Israel have systems that proved to work for years now. That does not make them capable of IOC.

But all this includes much speculation, so I respect your opinion here.

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