Ballistic missile defence and India’s war preparedness

Despite conducting Pokhran-II a decade ago, India is still struggling to formulate a strategic nuclear posture to deal with hostile neighbours. Policy confusion persists even till date to formulate a suitable a counter strategy. India’s nuclear doctrine of credible minimum deterrence is complimented by a ‘no first use’ policy. As a corollary, India is willing to absorb a ‘first strike’ and suffer horrendous damage. Though there is some criticism of this policy within the strategic community, there is a broad national consensus that no first use is a viable policy.
Under the circumstances, the acquisition of ballistic missile defence (BMD) capability would make eminent sense for India as it will provide protection to the National Command Authority, India’s nuclear forces and some other high-value assets. It will also increase the uncertainty of the success of a first strike by India’s nuclear-armed adversaries and will, hence, substantially enhance the quality of India’s nuclear deterrence. Clearly then, India should opt for a BMD system to destroy incoming missiles.
The only credible counter action against BMD is for the adversary to increase the number of missiles that he must fire against each target so as to saturate the BMD system and ensure that at least some of the missiles will get through. Alternatively, the adversary may be forced to opt for multiple, independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV) so that each missile can carry multiple warheads. Both these options impose an additional economic burden on the adversary. Also, MIRV technology is so far available only to Russia and the United States (US).
Technology parameters 
BMD systems are a combination of national missile defence (NMD) for the defence of the whole nation and theatre missile defence (TMD) for a given war zone. NMD systems, akin to President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars”, require massive capital investments and extremely sophisticated technology.
Expressing grave concern on the issue, Russian and Chinese leaders have stated that the fielding of NMD systems by the US and its allies will threaten the global balance of power. In their view, NMD systems pose a serious threat to the whole process of nuclear arms control, as well as strategic stability, and will undermine major international agreements that have been negotiated after decades of patient effort. 
A cost-effective solution can also be to choose the “point defence” option to provide defence against incoming missiles during the terminal phase only and that too for a limited number of cities or other high-value assets. The efficacy of point-defence anti-missile systems is usually restricted to a small geographic area and, therefore, the system has territorial limitations in terms of the security of national airspace. The technical feasibility of BMD systems is yet to be credibly established. 
The US and Russia have worked for almost four and a half decades towards development of a national missile defence system but have yet to accomplish their techno-military objectives. Even today the US is far from being able to comprehensively secure its national airspace from missile strikes with a national missile defence system. The US claims that its efforts are aimed at denying “rogue” regimes the ability to attack its homeland with ballistic missiles. 
The current US moves in installing radars and missile interceptors in Poland and Czech Republic have further widen the gap of a broad based possible understanding between the two super powers. Russia can pierce into any missile defence that can be created by US, even by the entire world together. Thus, lesson for India is a robust and credible deterrence can only ensure substantial retaliatory capabilities, even accepting the first strike.      
DRDO effort
The Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) successful anti-missile defence test conducted in December 2007 was a significant step forward in establishing a credible missile defence system. The DRDO conducted the test with two missiles – a modified Prithvi missile fired from Chandipur-on-Sea to simulate an incoming enemy missile and an Advanced Air Defence interceptor missile fired from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal to defend against and destroy the hostile missile.
Conducted at an altitude of 15 km, this test was endo-atmospheric. Earlier, in 2006, a missile had been successfully intercepted in an exo-atmospheric test at an altitude of 60 km. The two tests are part of an effort to provide a two-layered anti-missile air defence capability to the armed forces.
The latest Indian anti-missile system is apparently a modified version of the indigenously designed and developed Akash medium range surface-to-air missile (SAM). The anti-missile technology was based on the foundation technologies, manpower, expertise, experience and infrastructure developed during the Akash SAM project that formed part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) started in the early 1980s. The anti-missile defence system involves integration of long-range tracking radars, fire control radar, mobile communications terminal and mobile launcher-fired interceptor missiles, which make it technologically complex. 
Interception of an enemy missile demands high levels of precision and accuracy in terms of identification, tracking and point-kill capabilities and several tests will be required to refine the system. To that extent this test was a successful demonstration of technology. However, the test assumes strategic significance because it signals to China and Pakistan the sophistication of Indian techno-military capabilities and thereby strengthens deterrence on the sub-continent.
Chinese moves
Among several countermeasures that China might take against the US NMD and TMD, the most destabilising one for security in South Asia, would be for China to increase the number of its nuclear warheads and ICBMs. China is also known to be considering MIRV warheads as another method to breakthrough the NMD and TMD shields of the US and its allies.
China will also endeavour to further improve its nuclear warhead technology to make the warheads more compact, lighter and more efficient with a better explosive yield to weight ratio. Once developed, China could employ all such capabilities against India. Consequently, India will be forced to develop some of these capabilities for itself to qualitatively upgrade the level of its deterrence against China.
Brahma Chellaney, an Indian strategic analyst, has suggested that “India could seek strategic co-operation with Washington to derive, among other things, missile-defence benefits to help reduce its burden of developing appropriate counter measures against the burgeoning Chinese missile might.” Pakistan would, of course, quite naturally follow suit, triggering a possible arms race in South Asia.
Notwithstanding the risks and the economic costs involved, the development of a BMD system is in India’s national interest as it will make India’s nuclear deterrence more credible and provide a limited shield to protect high value targets. India needs a combination of TMD and anti-missile systems for the defence of point targets that have high political, economic or military value.
It would also be in India’s national interest to collaborate with Israel, Russia and the US and other strategic partners to gain technical know how for the development of a BMD system.  
Since these countries are likely to be unwilling to accept one-way transfer of such cutting edge technology, India should consider entering into a collaborative agreement for the joint development of future BMD systems with one or more of them. India cannot afford to be left behind in this technological quest as success will substantially enhance the quality of India’s nuclear deterrence and, consequently, contribute to strategic stability in South Asia.
(The author is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Delhi, India)