As India and Russia’s most productive and beneficial joint venture defence programme, the Brahmos is an ideal vehicle for developing hypersonic cruise missiles, which in turn could further strengthen bilateral ties between both countries, Indian security analyst Pravin Sawhney said in an opinion piece in Indian daily The Tribune.
Hypersonic missiles incorporate the speed of a ballistic missile with the manoeuvring capabilities of a cruise missile. Such missiles refer to weapons that travel faster than Mach 5 (6174 mph) and have the capability to manoeuvre during their entire flight.
Sawhney’s observation about New Delhi’s concerns was made in the context of China recently showcasing its Dongfeng 100 (DF-100) hypersonic cruise missile and Dongfeng-17 (DF-17) medium-range ballistic missile fitted with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV), each with a range of 2,000 km.
“Hypersonic missiles will be the new disruptive, game-changing technology in this century, which would, between India and China, replace nuclear deterrence with non-nuclear deterrence, Sawhney opined.
Apart from China only two other countries – the US and Russia - have made significant strides in creating, procuring, harnessing and exploiting this technology, he said, adding that once in active use, these missiles will “reshape the rules of conventional war-fighting and transform geopolitics.”
Highlighting the differences between ballistic cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles, Sawhney said the former stay within the atmosphere; fly at low altitude to evade ground-based radars at Mach 3 speed (3,704 mph) are powered and guided throughout their flight in a near-flat trajectory till they hit the designated target.
Hypersonic missiles, he said, have a speed upwards of Mach 5 (6,174 mph), follow a defined elliptical trajectory to intercept and neutralise ballistic missile warheads before they cause damage. Their kinetic energy (derived from motion) itself is enough to destroy hardened and underground facilities.
Hypersonic missiles also fly at low altitudes and are challenging to detect by terrestrial or land-based radars because of their ability to change course rapidly.
“There is a need for India to urgently review its nuclear deterrence capability vis-à-vis China,” Sawhney said, adding that in spite of the huge infusion of funds for indigenous ballistic missile defence, (the investment ) has “unfortunately not demonstrated satisfactory results.”
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