Hypersonic Weapons: A Global Perspective
Indian military platforms be ready too
In 1526CE in the battle of Panipat between Babur and Ibrahim Lodhi, history witnessed techniques of warfare which were new to the Indian subcontinent. Babur with his superior artillery and stratagem defeated the larger army of Ibrahim Lodhi’s allied forces and paved the way for 200 years of Mughal rule in India. Since then, the technology of weapons has changed and been upgraded from time to time.
On July 16, 2020 Pentagon revealed some glimpses of President Trumps’ “super-duper hypersonic missile”. Defence officials have revealed that the hypersonic missile, a new military weapon that is part of a major effort to catch up with Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons programs. Pentagon officials attributed the capabilities of this hypersonic missile which is that it travelled at 17 times the speed of sound when tested over the Pacific and the test was officially described as successful. The accuracy of the missile is claimed to be phenomenal – nearly half foot from the pin-point. The American efforts still lag behind those of Moscow and Beijing’s already fielded weapon systems. The US missile system is unlikely to be fielded until 2023.
The grim situation on the Indo-Chinese border and Pakistani covert stratagem encouraged our defence planners to boost our weapons program. We have only ‘Brahmos’ and ‘Shourya ‘missile systems which have a very short range compared to our adversary China which has a powerful weapon, the DF-17.
Russia has already tested these weapons near Crimea and Black Sea. Russia claims that the ‘Avangard’ nuclear hypersonic missile system is the best in the world and is deployed near the Ural Mountains. The Russian military has also tested an air launched version of hypersonic missiles known as ‘Kinzhal’. This missile has been used in the Ukraine war. These weapons are seen as having a range of 1000 miles or greater but are more expensive and larger than cruise missile variants. The US is working on much more traditional cruise missile such as Tomahawk missiles, a weapon long used by the military to strike enemy targets. The new missile would travel up to ten times faster than the Tomahawks.
Now, the question arises, what should India do? We presently have no such development programs to deploy these missiles in strategic areas which are crucial to our defence. In future battles, hypersonic weapons can tilt the balance in the aggressors favour. So, India cannot be lagging behind in the development and deployment of these missiles of longer range. As per data recorded in Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, Alexandria, seven countries namely Russia, China, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Yemen including some Non-state actors have a missile arsenal. India is not included in the list. It is a cause of concern.
India’s Hypersonics Programme
Like the other countries, India’s programme also remains classified, and only some limited information is available. As outlined above, India is undertaking hypersonic research through the Defence Ministries, the DRDO, and another autonomous agency’s called BrahMos Aerospace (a joint venture with Moscow). The DRDO’s prototype is known as the HSTDV (Hyper-Sonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle), and BrahMos Aerospace is known to be developing the BrahMos-II.
The HSTDV test on Sep 7, 2020 from the Dr. Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast to demonstrate the autonomous flight of a scramjet integrated vehicle, propelled India right into an extremely exclusive hypersonic club consisting of the US, Russia, and China as of now. The Three countries of course are leagues ahead in the race to develop aerodynamically manoeuvrable hypersonic weapons that can defeat enemy missile defence systems. BrahMos II, which is slated to be a hypersonic cruise missile, is currently under development. Initially, this missile was expected to have a range of less than 300 km (speed of Mach 7) and this range has to be increased. The BrahMos-II could be a variant of one of the hypersonic anti-ship missiles developed by Russia. Potential of Hypersonics
The term ‘hypersonic’ commonly refers to the obtainment of speeds greater than Mach 5. After all, most ballistic missiles fly at speeds well above the hypersonic threshold, and these systems have been around for many decades. The true innovative quality of aerial hypersonic weapons is their ability to maintain hypersonic speeds within the atmosphere. This ability allows them to use aerodynamic forces to manoeuvre and follow less predictable flight paths than traditional ballistic missiles, which makes it challenging to map their flight trajectories.
The development of India’s Hypersonic programs hold the promise of providing us with an advantage that may yet be unmatched as most nations are still in the initial stages of development with this technology being in its nascent stages.
At the moment, there are several countries that already possess currently functional hypersonic capabilities, or are in the process of acquiring them over a near-future timeline, of which China, Russia and the United States are the most predominant ones making significant investment and breakthroughs into Hypersonics.
For instance, the USA has allocated almost 3% of its entire defense R&D budget towards hypersonic weapons programs, amounting to a remarkable increase from the $3.2 billion allocated in the previous year, with separate programs for each of its tri-services across different deployment mechanisms.
China too, has been investing heavily in infrastructure and R&D capabilities in this front, having recently built a wind tunnel capable of simulating flights at speeds nearing Mach 30. Similarly, Russia is pursuing two hypersonic weapons programs—the Avangard and the 3M22 Tsirkon (or ‘Zircon’)—and has reportedly fielded the Kinzhal (“Dagger”), a maneuvering air-launched ballistic missile. Some experts believe that Avangard, specifically, operates as a hypersonic glide vehicle launched from an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and possesses an “effectively ‘unlimited’ range.
An Overview of Current Hypersonic Development Programs.
|Hypersonic Weapon System||Country of Origin||Classification||Status||Estimated IOC Timeline|
|Lingyun – 1||China||HCM||Experimental Prototype||N/A|
|3M-22 Tsirkon (Zircon)||Russia||HCM||In development||Unknown|
|Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARROW)||United States||HGV||In development||2021-22|
|Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW)||United States||HGV||In development||2023-24|
|Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS)||United States||HGV||In development||2027-28|
|Mayhem System Demonstrator||United States||HCM||In development||Unknown|
|Brahmos II||India and Russia||HCM||In development||2025-28|
|Hypersonic Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV)||India||HCM||In development||2020 Tested|
|Hypersonic Cruise Missile||Japan||HCM||In development||2024-28|
|Hypervelocity Gliding Projectile||Japan||HGV||In development||2024-28|
|Perseus||United Kingdom and France||HCM||In development||2030|
|Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE)||Australia and United States||HCM||In development||Unknown|
|Sharp Edge Flight Experiment II (SHEFFEX II)||Germany||HGV||In development / Unclear (Possibly halted due to fund reallocation)||Unknown|
|14-X Hypersonic Aerospace Vehicle Project||Brazil||HGV||Feasibility Analysis Stage||Unknown|
|Hwasong-8||North Korea||HGV||In development||Tested on Sep, 2021|
|Raytheon Hypersonic Weapon||United States||HAWC||In development||Tested on Sep,2021|
Technology Need of the hour
With such intense competition between countries in trying to develop their hypersonic capabilities, experts hold a varying range of opinions on what this will mean for the future of military systems. At present, the hypersonic race at the global level as well as its emergence in South Asia poses a serious threat to international and regional security. Currently, there is no credible anti-missile system or interceptor that could successfully detect and destroy hypersonic weapons.
To put aside the Russo-Ukrainian war the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in December will be a landmark in history. Russia is historically a trusted and time tested friend of India. Recently, the Chinese test of a hypersonic missile which revolved around the earth trajectory in space and then hit the target, and also made an advanced Electromagnetic warfare station at South China Sea is a cause of worry for US, India and the world community. Such a crucial technology and Rocket Forces equipped with nuclear capable hypersonic missiles which can create turbulence in the world balance of power. China aspires to be a Global Superpower up to 2049CE on the centenary of CPC. So, we must collaborate with the US, Russia, Japan and Israel. Future military balance of power based on the coteries of these nations.
(1) Vincent A Smith, The Oxford History of India Third Edition by Percival Spear, Part-II Chapter Book-VI, “The Mughal Empire.” pp.321-322.
(2) V.P Dutt India’s Foreign Policy in Changing World, Vikas Publishing House, 2004.
(8) India successfully tested scramjet technology for hypersonic missiles, The Times of India Sep 8, 2021.
(9) P.K Vasudeva, “ Raise Defence spendings to meet challenges,” The Tribune Feb 6,2021.
(10) N.N Vohra,” CDS: Days of frontal attack over; technology need of the hour;Forces need to be cohesive to deliver a punch.” The Tribune Sep 16,2021 p.14.
(11) Malcolm Claus,” China extends the range of its hypersonics missile system,” Janes Defence weekly Nov 3, 2020.
(12) Harris Bilal Malik, The Global hypersonic weapons race and India: Pak Media June 27,2020.www.indiandefencenews.in
(14) North Korea joins race for new hypersonic missile with the latest test, The Indian Express (e-paper) Sep 30, 2021.