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Illusion Of Missile Defence – OpEd


By Saqib Mehmood

The Defense Research and Development Organization DRDO has chosen Delhi and Mumbai, the two vital cities of India, for the ballistic missile sheet. This BMD system will be able to soot down the enemy’s missiles in both within the Earth’s atmosphere and outside it. This decision will be materialized after getting the final approval from the Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), the highest decision making body regarding the defense and security in India . The introduction of BMD to the South Asian security environment will result into the deterrence instability, crisis instability arm race instabilities and will jeopardize the prospects of arms control and disarmament in the region.

India has been embarked aggressively upon the development of BMD system since 2006,however, origin of India’s plan for missile defense, dates back to the early 1980s, when it started its Integrated Missile Development Program (IGDMP).IGDMP consisted of panoply of offensive and defensive missile plate forms such as Pritvi, Agni and Akash. As it is conceived from media the Indian BMD system revolves around the variants of Pritvi and Akash missiles. According to the Indian official sources DRDO used the Pritvi missile as simulated targets. The finally ready version, as per the Indian sources, has the capability to destroy an incoming missile with the range of almost 2000 km.

Technically, BMD system as a concept embodies two distinct but inter-related facets: Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) and National Missile Defense (NMD). The former envisions deploying of a defensive system to protect the military forces at battle field. Such system is usually precise, mobile and quickly deployable across the diverse geographic environments. While the later, in contrast to the former, envisions protecting the population, command centers and vital industrial complexes against the sea and ground based ballistic missiles of enemy.

As the DRDO has signaled out that the ballistic missile defense shield will be deployed around the Mumbai and Delhi in the first phase, which will be extended to the other major cities of India in the next phases, we can easily adjust the Indian BMD system in the NMD category.

Intercepting an incoming missile is like to hit an incoming bullet with a bullet. According to the experts of missile defense the missile interception is an extremely difficult feat even under the perfect testing conditions. But the task would have to be accomplished in an environment for which there has been no actual experience. Since there has not been any real nuclear war between nuclear weapon states, so predicting about the environmental effects on the reliability and efficiency of interceptors in a nuclear exchange would be a futile practice.

Technically there are four phases in which the incoming ballistic missile can be intercepted within the arch of ballistic missile flight to the target. The boost phase; when missile goes up into the space from earth by shedding the stages. In this phase the missile is most vulnerable, if successfully attacked by the defensive forces. Moreover the destroyed missile will fall back upon the party that launched it, creating additional damage. The post boost phase: when the missile enters into the exo-atmospheric space. In this phase the interception becomes exponentially difficult due to an environment of near vacuum, where there is effectively no drag. Target discrimination becomes an issue. The third phase or the midcourse phase also presents the same problem of target discrimination as the target remains in exo-atmospheric space. The fourth phase which is also called the terminal phase starts when the missile re-enters into the atmosphere, closing on the target at hypersonic speed. Defense at this point becomes extremely difficult due to the time and velocity of closure. Moreover if missile is suppose to be blast in atmosphere aimed at disrupting the defense through electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effect, the chances of defense become even minute.

The above mentioned difficulties in successful interception have not been totally overcome by the most advanced countries like US and Russia despite pouring down the mountainous resources, time and efforts. Still now any missile defense system in the World cannot guarantee cent percent interception because of unlimited uncertainties. So how could Indian BMD system guarantee the impenetrable defense as it is well known fact that BMD technology has been transferred to India by the US? Missile defense was a potential area for cooperation between US and India, which was identified in Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) in January 2004. Since then it is widely believed that US helped a lot India in terms of technology transfer regarding the development of BMD system.

BMD system, despite its fascination for the country like India having the ambitious global agendas, is less relevant in terms a meaningful addition to the deterrence stability; rather it will offset the offense-defense balance in the region and will bring in more suspicions, mistrust and vulnerabilities. The reliability of this system is questionable as simply increasing the offensive forces against it will neutralize its credibility. More over the use of decoys and MIRVing (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) of offensive missiles can deceive this system to much extent. Moreover the system requires a very robust space based satellite reconnaissance capability and ground based radars to detect the locations of ballistic missiles. The United States having the most advanced satellite reconnaissance capabilities is still far away from getting any credible data regarding the locations of the Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, how India could be? Furthermore the very short missile flight time also disqualifies the BMD system in the South Asian security environment. Any false alarm, computer error (as Indian BMD is totally computerized) or miscalculation can trigger the Indian BMD; the chances of accidental nuclear war will be more than ever.

From the doctrinal prospective, as it is asserted by many authors that Pakistan’s nuclear targeting doctrine might envelop the Indian major cities in the event of nuclear war after being overwhelmed by the Indian conventional attack. If this assertion is true, Pakistan will likely to increase the number of its nuclear weapons in future. As a consequence, Pakistan will be more reluctant to give even its consent for opening up of negotiations on Fissile material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Furthermore it will definitely tempt to cater its missiles with multiple warheads to overcome the Indian defense. A nuclear arms race in South Asia is imminent.

The writer is a strategic and nuclear analyst based in Islamabad and may be reached at [email protected]

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2 thoughts on “Illusion Of Missile Defence – OpEd

  • July 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Of course the technological leaps will bring the unprecedented instabilities in the region.Writer is right in his assertion that introduction of BMD system in the region will off set the offence/ defence balance, badly impact upon the non-proliferation measures and decremental to the deterrence stability in the region.

  • July 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    very well written article,
    No doubt, as India is increasing its arms and modernize its weapons, disturbing the deterrence stability in the region and exacerbating Pakistan to make more weapons and create stalemate in CD for FMCT negotiation as well. At present, Indian ABM system is becoming main cause of deterrence instability in the region, even ABM has no credibility to counter every incoming missile, but it could effects on Targeting options. to modernize its weapons, India has started the arms race in the region.


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