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India Is Building Its Anti-Ballistic Missile Infrastructure

December 16, 2022


Last month saw another exceptional demonstration of Asian military technology when the AD-1 missile was launched off the Odisha coast. The November 2 live fire test organized by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) was for its long-running anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program and at this stage it was categorized as the “Phase-II Ballistic Missile Defense.” The AD-1 missile is supposed to be a two-stage system with a “solid motor”–its primary and secondary stages use solid fuel. Based on its appearance the AD-1 could have originated as separate missile types that were combined to form a new one. As shown by photos and video of the test the AD-1 was launched from a wheeled multi-axle transporter.

India is among six countries that are developing ABM systems for defeating nuclear-armed missiles in particular. For the AD-1 it was described as able to perform both exo-atmospheric and endo-amospheric interceptions, which means it can eliminate targets in-flight that are traveling below the stratosphere and even beyond it in what’s known as near space. The DRDO evaluated the November 2 test as a success where “all the subsystems performed as per expectations.” There are still no indications of the timetable for a complete ABM system incorporating AD-1 missiles that guarantees a layered defense for the whole country and its outlying islands. India’s little-known ABM program used to be separated between two prototypical intermediate-range missiles, the PDV and AAD. However, the emergence of the AD-1 indicates Delhi’s need for yet another layer of ABM defenses after it fielded S-400’s supplied by Russia. Other countries, such as Japan, harnessed their own alliances by having the US provide its PAC-3 SAMs networked with shore-based and naval AEGIS radars rather than go down the route of building a system from scratch.

The AD-1 missile launched on November 2. Via DRDO.

ABM systems are a very active niche that don’t receive enough attention. Earlier this year Russia unveiled the 98R6E Abakan ABM at its annual arms show outside Moscow. The Abakan was pitched as a long-range air defense system versus enemy ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The sudden appearance of the Abakan contrasts persistent claims that Russia’s military-industrial sector is suffering from a deep supply chain crisis as a result of sanctions imposed after it invaded Ukraine. Türkiye isn’t letting itself fall behind and become over-reliant on Western allies; its upcoming SiPER theater-level air defense system has an ABM role as well. Iran introduced its own equivalent the Bavar-373 years earlier.

Another country that is hard at work with an ABM system is South Korea and it’s called the L-SAM whose testing is expected to wrap up by 2024 with entry into service slated by 2026. The L-SAM is a two-stage system with a highly maneuverable kill vehicle tailored for defeating the very real threat posed by North Korea’s strategic missiles. Never outdone, Israel collaborated with the US to develop its David’s Sling ABM system that is now operational alongside other recent Israeli air defense systems. But India, though the persistence of the DRDO, is unique for the scope of its ambitions. Before its AD-1 test on November 2 the DRDO proved it had many adjacent programs that are coming to fruition–its successful ASAT testing and separate plans for hypersonic gliders comes to mind.

The need for an Indian ABM system is urgent because of the unique threat Delhi must anticipate from its main adversaries. Aside from the risk of China and Pakistan ever using their tactical missiles in a future conflict the neighborhood India is supposed to dominate is a hotbed for ballistic missile proliferation. To the east is a worrying arms race between Bangladesh and Myanmar, both of whom are graduating beyond large diameter rocket artillery, and then to the west is Iran’s ongoing efforts at a massive conventional deterrent. This doesn’t mean India anticipates conflict across its periphery but it can’t risk becoming vulnerable to a new generation of strategic weapons.


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