Jeffrey LewisIndia To Conduct Hit-to-Kill Test

Update | 8 March 2010 Well, damn. That story is dated March 4, 2009. My parents used to get the year wrong when I was a kid. I’d roll my eyes and they warned me that it would happen to me someday. Wow.

India is planning a test of its hit-to-kill theater missile defense system:

The launch will feature two missiles. The “enemy” missile will be a modified version of Dhanush, a surface-to-surface missile. It will take off from a naval ship in the Bay of Bengal and simulate the terminal phase of the flight of a ballistic missile with a range of 1,500 km, similar to Pakistan’s Ghauri. As it zeroes in on the Wheeler Island, off Damra village on the Orissa coast, a Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile will lift off from the Wheeler Island, intercept the incoming “enemy” missile at an altitude of 70-80 km in the last one second and a half of its flight and pulverise it.

Loyal readers will know that the rapid proliferation of hit-to-kill technologies, and the total neglect of this development, is one of my hobby horses:

First, once uncommon hit-to-kill technologies are now at the early stages of spreading around the world. Second, the broad focus on space weapons and ASAT technologies, many of which are quite unrealistic and exotic, distracts from the technological challenge posed by the proliferation of hit-to-kill systems. Third, partial arms control measures, such as a ban on kinetic ASAT testing, may mitigate the most threatening aspects of hit-to-kill technology while avoiding some of the difficulties associated with more comprehensive agreements.


  1. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    2024 is going to look at lot like 1914. With little nuclear arsenals on hair trigger alert, and the worlds poly-polar powers spending themselves into oblivion trying to build offensive and defensive systems. With no real idea on how to balance the two. Then some low brow ethnic chip will be knocked off someone’s shoulder and it will be a very fast escalation from conventional to a regional nuclear exchange. Then we’ll get to see what’s worse, fallout plumes or pulverized plutonium from intercepted warheads.

  2. MarkoB

    Correct. I wonder, however, whether an arms control process likes this can succeed in the absence of measures to stem the proliferation of ballistic missiles, especially MRBM’s. We seem to be in a classic situation reminiscent of arms control 101.

    Critics of arms control argue that arms control has a pretty poor record when it comes to halting developmental military technologies. Your emphasis on hit-to-kill is important for this reason, but I wonder whether arms control would be up to the job, especially in the absence of arms control processes designed to stem ballistic missile proliferation. I think the two need to go together as part of a single arms control process. It’s time for some creative ideas and research.

    I think we need to take into account wider political contexts as well. For arms control this is always of absolutely vital importance. Zbig Brzezinski, when speaking of his policy on Afghanistan, stated “what’s a few agitated muslims compared to the fall of the Soviet Union.” Growing strategic ties between India and the US probably will see Pakistan invest more in missiles; what’s a few agitated muslims compared to profits for military-industrial companies (but also others like Areva and GE etc) in India?

    I have seen one high ranking former Indian officer claim that if Pakistan builds up its missile force in response to BMD then “so be it.” Not much you can do with people like that.

    A Baker-Hamilton process for Iran, giving back the Golan to Syria, a comprehensive approach in South Asia policy and meaningful bilateral talks with North Korea would go a long way towards creating the political context needed for arms control to work here. Absent this the scope for successful arms control is pretty narrow.

  3. Cameron (History)

    Well if this works I look forward with trepidation to the ensuing arms race. Would anyone like to speculate as to the results of this on Pakistan? I’d assume that they’d see this as a reason to begin to doubt the deterrent ability of their nuclear arsenal. A bad thing in my eyes.

  4. ravinder (History)

    Very Messianic. Do you do Stock charts also.

  5. Sparsh

    You are mixing up the test conducted last year and the one that is coming up in a few weeks time.

    That Hindu article you have linked to is from last year and is talking about the March 6, 2009 test.

  6. Mark Gubrud

    Jeffrey, there have certainly been many unrealistic space weapons proposals over the years, but just what is exotic or unrealistic about co-orbital intercept and (destructive or non-destructive) interference by micro- or other maneuvering space vehicles? What is so exotic or unrealistic about ground-based lasers for dazzling or even heat damage, at least against low-orbit satellites? What is so exotic about hacking and jamming?

    These are the preferred technologies for ASAT warfare today. They are the real space arms race, led by the US, with China coming along and the rest of the world ready to jump in.

    Hit-to-kill may be spectacular, but it is technologically harder to do than co-orbital intercept, and the unavoidable debris creation, as well as the fact that it cannot be covert, makes it undesirable for space warfare, if you can avoid it.

    And how would a KE ASAT ban “mitigate the most threatening aspects of hit-to-kill technology” when exactly the same weapons can be developed and thoroughly tested as “missile defense” which is, if anything, a more difficult mission?

    The proposed KE ASAT test ban would accomplish less than nothing to stop the emerging space arms race. It’s unlikely that India or any other nation currently plans any test that would violate such a ban. But the Indians do intend to develop and test the weapon – as “missile defense.” And the US and China intend not only to continue their programs in this area, but more significantly for space, to continue developing and testing the weapons they would prefer to use (if any) against satellites. The KE ASAT ban, by pretending to solve the problem, would implicitly license other ASAT technologies, which are neither exotic nor unrealistic, as you know from your own work on the microsatellite issue.

    We need a comprehensive ASAT and space-based weapons ban. If this problem presents too many “difficulties” for you, then I would suggest you should stick to nukes, instead of making a “hobby horse” out of the very serious and very real space weapons problem.

  7. guest469 (History)

    In this case this hit-to-kill stems from the sale of US technology by Israel to India. It’s reasonable to assume this level of intercept ability is available to whoever has the money to buy it. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize if India has it than Pakistan will want her own ABM systems too.