New Delhi joins the race to acquire a hypersonic weapon

by IDD Bureau

India has joined the race to acquire a hypersonic weapon. A new test facility of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in Hyderabad is likely to be operational soon, sources said.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is likely to inaugurate the facility soon. Explaining the need for India to explore a hypersonic weapon, the former Director-General of Military Operations, Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia said “Hypersonic weapons will become very critical in the near future. China has demonstrated that it has the technology. Others like the US and Russia may already process to acquire such a weapon. It is right time that India starts looking at these technologies as well.”

And, recently, the Indian Science Research Organisation (ISRO) tested a scramjet -engine powered Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HTDV) on June 2019.  The Brahmos II missile that is currently under development with Scramjet technology is likely to be the user of the hypersonic technology  A scramjet engine operates at hypersonic speeds and allows supersonic combustion getting the name; Supersonic Combustion Ramjet, or Scramjet.

Currently, the BrahMos missile – a joint venture between India and Russia – files at 2.8 Mach. But the range of the BrahMos missiles is around 300 KM only.

After unmanned aerial vehicles, beyond visual range missile systems, hypersonic weapon – missiles that travel at several times the speed of sound, or a few miles every second- are set to be the new frontier in the field of weapon development and expectedly has trigged the next arms race.

China, Russia, and The United States are each trying to outdo the other to acquire and induct the hypersonic weapon. China announced in 2018 that it had conducted the first successful testing of a hypersonic aircraft.  Indeed, it wouldn’t be wrong to call the arrival of a hypersonic weapon the current century’s V2 rocket moment of the Allies during the last phase of World War-II. Current intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) re-entry vehicles also travel at superfast speeds, but the hypersonic glide vehicles now in development are far more manoeuvrable. As a result, tracking and intercepting is nearly impossible. Moreover, hypersonic weapons allow the capability to destroy critical enemy infrastructure with far more ease since missile defence shields are unlikely to work. Hypersonic missiles can carry conventional or nuclear payloads. There is, however, thinking within the strategic community that arming hypersonic weapons with nuclear warheads would increase the chances of mistaken nuclear retaliation. “A launch of hypersonic weapon carrying conventional weapon could very well be mistaken to be a nuclear strike,” sources in the Indian strategic community said.

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