Testing of Defence Systems : New Tool of Adversarial

Also Published in The Daily Guardian

Intent behind Heightened Testing by India

  • Since Chinese intrusion in May 2020, India has tested a number of weapons and defence system. These tests range from missiles to hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HDTV). Most of these tests have been successful. Coming in a concentrated manner during an ongoing border spat with China raises obvious question whether these tests were pre-planned or they have been orchestrated in response to the current India – China face off. Given the manner in which the tests have been conducted, it is obvious that they have been done as a response to the face off. Therefore, the next obvious question is what purpose are they serving? Question assumes importance for it is a common knowledge that the period between testing and operationalization of a weapon system takes considerable time. In fact some systems have been inordinately delayed, for example the Trishul, Akash and Nag, the Arjun tank, Nishant UAV, have taken so long to develop that they are now obsolete. This aspect is a common knowledge and it is highly unlikely that China will be unduly concerned by these tests. But to assume that the current phase of testing various types of missiles is mere optics meant to demonstrate Government of India’s intent to counter the Chinese threat may also not be true. A subterranean analysis is needed to decipher the gains that these tests will provide to India’s Defence Preparedness. The recent statement of the DRDO chief G Satheesh Reddy that “India has achieved self-reliance in the field of missile systems and can produce whatever is required by the armed forces within the country itself” would have been based on a realistic appraisal of DRDO’s capability and not merely an emotional response post these tests.

Systems Tested in the Past Few Months

  • 11 tests of various types of missile systems were conducted successfully by DRDO. Only testing of Nirbhya subsonic missile having a range of 1000 km conducted on 12 October, 20 developed a snag and had to be aborted. Some of the important defence systems tested in the recent past are discussed below.

Test of Supersonic Missile Assisted Release Torpedo (SMART) System. India successfully tested indigenously developed “game changer” SMART torpedo system on 05 Oct 2020 for the first time. SMART is a missile assisted release of lightweight anti-submarine torpedo system for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations far beyond the torpedo range. This launch and demonstration is significant in establishing anti-submarine warfare capabilities of India. However, the point to be noted is that this was the first test and many sub – systems of the missile are yet to be tested. It will take considerable time to operationalize the missile.

Testing of 400 Kms Brahmos. India successfully test-fired on 30 Sep 2020, over 400 km strike range Brahmos supersonic cruise missile. The surface-to-surface cruise missile, featuring indigenous booster and airframe section along with other Made in India sub-systems, blasted off from the launching complex-III of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) near here, a defence statement said.

Test Firing of Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle. India on 08 Sep 20, successfully tested Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle putting India in select group of nations. This small club includes the US, Russia and China. After the Anti-Satellite Test conducted last year, this is the biggest achievement by DRDO in terms of proving new technology. It is a dual use technology. It can also be configured to deliver nuclear warheads as well. While USA has refrained from its operationalization, Russia and China plan to use it for nuclear weapon delivery also. In the civil arena, it can be used to launch small satellites at cheaper cost. India has just done a technology demonstration.

04 Oct 2020. The new missile would be inducted in the strategic forces to complement one of the existing missiles in the same class. DRDO claims it to be amongst the top 10 missiles in the world. Shaurya” missiles has a very small profile. It is truck portable and can be launched from either from a single truck or a silo. Hence, it can be located anywhere. Moreover as per DRDO it cannot be detected by satellite imaging, the sources said. Given its short range, portability, difficulty of detection and nuclear capability it is an ideal tactical missile it would be an ideal deterrence weapon in the super high altitude terrain of Tibet. Strategic Forces Command it is believed is in the process of operationalizing it in Ladakh region shortly.

Test of Laser Guided Antitank Missile. On 23 Sep 2020, DRDO successfully test fired laser-guided anti-tank guided missile.The laser-guided anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) is supposed to enhance the firepower capability of the Indian Army particularly along the frontiers with Pakistan and China. There is a long felt need by the Indian Army for an indigenous ATGM and the success of this venture has been eluding the DRDO since long.

Test Firing of Dhruvastra. India’s indigenously developed anti-tank guided missile ‘Dhruvastra’ was test-was fired on 23 Jul 2020. India has successfully conducted three flight tests of its indigenously developed anti-tank guided missile ‘Dhruvastra’ from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur in Odisha.

  • on 24 Sep 2020. The trial of the missile, which has a strike range of 350 km, was carried out from a mobile launcher from ITR complex. This missile is already operational. It was a user trial test. Under the garb of testing, besides validating technical parameters, it provided the much needed practice to the users to deploy and fire this weapon if called upon into battle. It should go to the credit of SFC and the DRDO to utilize the flurry of tests to enhance the defence preparedness of the users.

Test Firing of ASAT. Last year in March, India test

  • -SAT missile under ‘Mission Shakti’. The successful testing has demonstrated its anti-satellite technology.
  • Test Firing of Rudram Missile. In continuation of testing various missiles, India, successfully test-fired Rudram 1, its first anti-radiation missile designed to to take down enemy radars on October 9, 2020. The anti-radiation missile can be launched from Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets. The missile has a launch speed of up to 2 Mach, twice the speed of sound. This will enhance our air combat power manifold and it is hoped that the DRDO will operationalize this capability at the earliest.

Analysis of the testing Game

Limited Value

  • While India’s operational capabilities do not get a boost by such tests in the short term, it does convey a strategic message of India’s increasing technical capabilities and the resolve to deal with our adversary. Having said that on the flip side we must not get complacent by these tests and continue to be realistic on their impact on the enemy. In fact,  some experts say that “the surge of tests by the DRDO is welcome; however, ability to deploy these systems needs greater emphasis and visibility.” If the aim of these tests is signaling to the domestic audience it may have served the purpose, but experts are unlikely to be impressed. Historically too, if we take the record of the journey from final testing to operationalization of a weapon system, it varies from 8 to 10 years. For example, Prithvi 1 was tested in 1988 and finally it came in to service in 1994. Similar story exists for most of the systems under development by DRDO. The technology demonstrator to operationalization is a journey by itself and incurs considerable financial commitment besides technical, human expertise and financial challenges of commercialization and finally operationalization.

Likely Gains

  • Enhanced Technical Prowess. Above limitations notwithstanding, the missile journey of India is a success story, comparable to any leading military power in the world.On the positive side, a number of advantages these weapon tests bring to the table. Weapon tests do add up to a country’s technological capabilities.
  • Hard Power Image. Conducting the weapon tests in a concentrated manner during an ongoing face off conveys an image of strong hard power orientation and resolve of the nation to its adversary. China though not worried by these tests would be cautious while responding to us especially since most of our existing systems provide dual capability of conventional and unconventional employment.
  • Encourage Defence Exports. Successful testing of new defence weapon systems generate acceptability of India’s capability to produce quality weapon systems that too at much lesser cost. This will facilitate export of defence systems by India. It is therefore not surprising that in the past few years our export of defence systems have increased by 700 percent in the last three years. India is now exporting defence weapons and equipment to 42 countries, which includes the likes of US, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, South Africa, and Sweden, Azerbaijan, Seychelles, Estonia, Indonesia, Guinea and the Philippines. India’s exports in 2014 stood at meagre Rs. 2000 cr, which in 2019 stood at Rs. 17000 crore and India intends to increase it by $ 5 billion (about Rs. 35000 cr.) in the next 5 years. Improved technological threshold will encourage our neighbouring countries to go in for imports from India.
  • Countering Chinese Influence on our Neighbours. Increased acceptability of defence equipment due to display of high end technology demonstration will also help in weaning our neighbours away from Chinese influence. For example the decision to provide a Kilo Class Submarine, Tanks, artillery guns, ammunition for T-72 tanks, radars, sonars and 500 bullet proof jackets to Myanmar’s military may have been influenced by India’s increasing technological capabilities. A similar help to Bangla Desh and Sri Lanka will go a long way in countering the Chinese influence in our backyard.
  • Enhanced Defence Preparedness. Increased testing leads to induction of indigenous equipment in the long – run at lower costs. Also, some of the equipment tested are on the verge of being inducted into the service such as the Shaurya missile system. There are reports that Strategic Forces Command (SFC) has begun looking for deployment of the weapon system in Ladakh. Further, these tests also help in providing the much needed user practice and revalidation of existing stockpile of our systems. Conduct of the 350 km range Prithivi 2 from the existing stock pile is a case in point. Deployment of Shaurya missile, world’s top 10 missile and ability to practice and validate existing strategic weapons does give us a better response capability against our arch rival China.

Parting Words

  • India has come a long way especially in space and missile technology it can be compared amongst the leaders. Our strategic capability despite the 1998 sanctions following the Pokharan tests speak for themselves. DRDO does have major limitations in development of air craft, tanks, and weapon systems especially for the infantry and armoured. But it makes it up with the Integrated Missile Development programme and the Space programme. Fortunately these are systems of the future and when coupled with its niche technology  development programme in robotics, artificial intelligence, ship building and UAVs we expect India to rapidly move in the direction of self-reliance especially if the private defence sector is boosted appropriately. The new DAP 2020 with an option for leasing of defence systems is a good provision to tide over our short term needs at relatively lower costs till we achieve greater self-reliance and increase our exports as rightly aimed by the present government. It would be not be out of sync to mention that India is on the path of projecting itself as significant power in the region and the testing of new defence systems is a right step in that direction.

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