Prithvi Defense Vehicle (PDV) is capable of destroying incoming threats at high altitude


One of the greatest threats facing India today is the increasing proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in the region. India’s nuclear-armed bellicose neighbors, namely China and Pakistan, have significant cruise and ballistic missile capabilities. China and North Korea continue to proliferate on a wide scale and could increase in the long run as the technology is transferred. A rogue nation like Pakistan make these investments because ballistic missiles provides it with the means to project power both in a regional and strategic context and a capability to launch an attack on India from a distance. However, there are several reasons to doubt that Pakistan will ever launch a ballistic missile at India. Perhaps the most important relates to attribution – a missile launch could be easily detected, and retaliation would be swift and brutal at least as far as the purpose of the Modi government in Delhi is concerned.


India has initiated a demonstrable indigenous capability in Theater Ballistic Missile Defense development, a step to predominantly protect India from enemy ballistic missile attacks. The Advanced Air Defense (AAD) "Ashwin" Missile defense technology being developed, tested by DRDO is designed to counter ballistic missiles of varying ranges namely short, medium, intermediate and long. Since ballistic missiles have different ranges, speeds, size and performance characteristics, the AAD system has an integrated, “layered” architecture that provides multiple opportunities to destroy missiles and their warheads before they can reach their targets. Due to a realistic threat perception from its chief adversaries Pakistan and China, the need for a comprehensive and convincing protective cover became imperative.

Experts also believe that an effective missile defense infrastructure will provide India space for limited wars against China and Pakistan. China is superior in its ballistic missiles force level while on the other hand Pakistan's ritual flaunting of its nuclear capability and a belligerent 'First Use' policy has left India but with no choice to develop a deterring shield to defuse such a dangerous situation. The program consists of a two-tiered architecture consisting of the Prithvi Defense Vehicle (PDV) missile for Exo-atmospheric (Outside the atmospheric regime) interception and the Advanced Air Defense (AAD) Missile for Endo-atmospheric (within the atmospheric regime) interception. The two-tier system is intended to intercept ballistic missiles at distances of over 600 km. In the Phase-1 Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program development, interceptors fly at 4.5 Mach supersonic speeds to tackle hostile missiles with a 2,000 km strike range. The Phase-2 BMD program will intercept Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) with 5,000 plus Km range with interceptors flying at Mach 6-7 hypersonic speeds. The third and the final layer is planned to tackle low-flying cruise missiles, artillery projectiles and rockets in line with the overall aim to achieve “near 100% kill or interception probability”. 

The deployed system will consist of multiple launch vehicles, support equipment such as the indigenous "Swordfish" Long Range Tracking Radar, Launch Control Centers (LCC) and the Master Mission Control Center (MCC). These systems will be geographically distributed evenly to cover vulnerable locations such as metropolises, defense industries, defense bases, command and control centers, nuclear forces, weapons stations and vital economic zones etc., and will be connected by a sophisticated secure communication network.


The Endo-atmospheric missile, capable of intercepting incoming targets at an altitude of 15 to 25 kms successfully destroyed the incoming missile was successfully test-fired on March 01, 2017

The AAD interceptor comprises the lower tier, and the higher-altitude, two-stage Prithvi Defense Vehicle (PDV) interceptor currently comprises the upper tier. Like the U.S.Patriot system, both of these Indian systems intercept ballistic missiles in the so-called terminal phase, in which the incoming missiles are descending toward their target. The AAD interceptor uses an explosive warhead to destroy the target missile as the interceptor approaches it. In contrast, most U.S.missile defense systems, including the ground-based mid-course defense and sea-based Aegis systems, rely on “hit-to-kill” interceptors that destroy a target solely via impact. India first tested the AAD interceptor in December 2007 and has subsequently conducted 8 successful tests.

The Indian Ballistic Missile Defense System is said to be far superior to the US Patriot Missiles

Typically ballistic missiles follow a Three trajectory path: boost, mid-course and terminal Phases:

There are three phases during which this technology could plausibly target a missile - the boost phase (initial rocket launch and ascent), the mid-course phase (while the missile is in sub-orbital flight), and the reentry phase (which is when the missile is diving back into the atmosphere towards its target). The boost phase is theoretically easy to target, but requires close proximity, an extremely fast launch cycle, and an insane amount of acceleration - remember, the system is trying to catch a good-sized rocket headed for Low Earth Orbit within 60-300 seconds. The re-entry phase is a poor option because the missile is already on-target blowing up a nuclear or chemical rocket might just drop the warhead slightly outside of town as opposed to on the city center. That leaves the mid-course phase, which is the preferred target point.

The system’s architecture includes:

  • deployment of both Endo and Exo atomospheric kill vehicles, integrate Exo and Endo-atmospheric systems to offer a hit-to-kill probability of 99.8 per cent;
  • networked sensors (including space-based) and ground and future sea-based radars for target detection and tracking;
  • ground and sea-based (future development) interceptor missiles for destroying a ballistic missile using either the force of a direct collision, called “hit-to-kill” technology, or an explosive blast fragmentation warhead;
  • command, control, battle management, and communications network providing the operational commanders with the needed links between the sensors and interceptor missiles;
  • deployment of key early warning radar installations across the country to protect potential threat perceptions;
  • future sea based radars located in the Indian Ocean to support flight testing and actual defensive operations;


India's strength is in the software, in the ballistic missile defense shield if there are glitches in the software, it cannot be excused. It has to work perfectly. There are a thousand lines of code (KLOC) in the entire system. The on-board software runs in real time in the interceptor missile. Several tests have proved the capability of DRDO to handle multiple targets with multiple interceptors simultaneously. The complete radar systems, communication, networks, launch computers, target update systems, and state-of-the-art avionics were successfully proven in these missions. DRDO has indigenously developed key Radio Frequency seeker technologies and sophisticated digital processing software. This is a remarkable achievement considering only five other countries have demonstrated this capability.

The Advanced Air Defense (AAD) system can provide a permanent presence and discourage Pakistan or China from believing they can use ballistic missiles to coerce or intimidate India. In times of crisis, we can surge mobile missile defense capabilities into specific regions to enhance deterrence and, if a missile is launched, improve protection of critical assets and limit damage over a wide area. The ultimate goal of missile defense is to convince adversaries that ballistic missiles are not militarily useful or a worthy investment and place doubt in the minds of potential aggressors that a ballistic missile attack against India cannot succeed and would be detrimental and would have disastrous consequences.

The Chinese and Pakistani reaction to Indian missile defense developments is not yet clear, the new capabilities and counter-capabilities add to the already vexed issue of arms race in the region, Therefore, ballistic missile proliferation in India’s neighborhood requires the development of a more capable missile defense system. According to DRDO, AAD has already demonstrated a capability to intercept ballistic missiles with a range of 1,500 kilometers. Considering the gargantuan economic disparities between India & Pakistan, there’s no way Pakistan can match India missile for missile. Overspending on defense could well bankrupt Pakistan, especially in the backdrop of western economies no longer having the inclination or the capacity to bail it out because of its scatterbrained support to Kashmir specific Jihadi outfits against India.

According to DRDO, the AAD system has a range of up to 1,500 km in the Exo-Atmospheric variant, which will allow India to comfortably control its airspace from enemy attacks. India would also benefit tremendously from acquiring the defensive weapon, if we consider, for example, the security environment around India, the AAD can provide invaluable assistance in the event of any conflict, with our two potential aggressors either from the eastern or western part of the border.


1) The technical challenges related to the development of such a sophisticated system was under estimated by DRDO. Hence, it has taken an inordinate amount of time for the system to mature as a credible technology, it required huge amount of funds, valuable time and man-hour efforts to realize this technology. For almost 20 years, the United States had poured money into developing a missile defense system that would be capable of shooting down ICBMs and cruise missiles before they impact their launch targets. Despite the effort, the system has never worked. Pakistan has recently acquired the rather primitive HQ-16A BMD system from China which is in turn is a clone of the Soviet era BUK air defense system. Though China does not have a modern BMD system it will however, receive Russia's latest S-400 ABM system by 2018. The Israelis have been the most successful of the countries to field a ABM system, they posses a multi-layered system capability comprising of Iron Dome, David's Sling, Arrow and the Spyder systems to cater to various threat scenarios. One of the reasons Israel’s Iron Dome system works is because the insurgents it defends against can’t hurl many missiles into Israeli airspace in a matter of minutes and the rockets are also of Soviet vintage. Even so, it’s more of a psychological protective measure than an effective one.

2) Qualitatively it is risky to predict a positive outcome of the current anti missile capabilities since it involves high costs and technological complexities to demonstrate definitive target termination success, since a 2,000 km range ballistic missile launched in the regular trajectory will have high velocity of more than Mach 9-10, such a scenario has not been tested yet, because unfortunately India at present does not have any missile which would mimic such a target vehicle at this speed and range. It may be also inferred that DRDO may be constrained to conduct such tests on account of range limitations.

3) In all the tests, Prithvi missile was used as the attacker missile which simulated the trajectory of a 600 km range missile. This missile has an actual range of 350 km. Despite the fact that Prithvi’s trajectory was altered to simulate a missile with a longer range, it does not simulate a longer range missile as claimed.. Firstly, the re-entry velocity of Prithvi is very low. Though DRDO claims to have increased the re-entry velocity by adding additional boosters, it is not clear whether it attained the required velocity to imitate a longer range missile.

4) The interceptor should constantly maintain a specific speed of Mach 4.5 or more and the closing speed before interception, should be at 2 km/sec.

5) The ballistic coefficient of Prithvi could be lower due to the larger surface area of the re-entry body unlike that of a separating warhead especially if the system is dealing with Multiple independently targetable reentry warheads (MIRV). The warhead does not separate from the body of a Prithvi missile, which makes it a large target for both ground based radar and the radio frequency seeker to acquire and track. In the Pakistani M-9, M-11 (supplied by China) and other Chinese missiles with ranges up to 2,000 km the warhead separate from the missile body. According to Jane’s Strategic Weapons System, the warhead of the M-9 and M-11 separates either after burnout or before re-entry.


1) To derive the capacity to produce a desired effect more Exo-atmospheric interception tests should be done to validate the overall performance of a decisive upper layer termination (PDV) which would proportionately reduce the burden on the lower tire (AAD).

2) Deployment of BMD system should not be done in haste as it would be wiser to deploy after this system is fully tested under various realistically simulated conditions such as inclement weather circumstances, protracted testing profile, automated classification, threat evaluation, prioritization and missile launch functions, clustered air environment (to discriminate actual target) and situational awareness to avoid friendly fire.

3) In the India-Pakistan context, the nuclear blackmail edge, which the latter advocates, will eventually erode as India has made the move to cleverly build a strategically credible redundant terminal defense system to provide effective protection for multiple target probabilities, however the risks still persists. As far as China-India strategic equation is concerned, an all out conventional war is predicted as a convention however, a resultant nuclear conflagration as a hypothesis cannot be ruled out which enforces the need to strengthen India's defense security because of China's qualitative (MIRV capability) and quantitative missile superiority.


Testing must account for the ever-changing ballistic missile threat scenarios and the latest technological developments. Ground and flight tests should provide data for highly advanced modeling and simulation activities that allows the scientists to measure and predict the performance of all missile defense technologies. Successful and foolproof flight tests in multiple simulated modes can impart greater confidence in the system’s capabilities. Because of the exorbitantly high costs, it would at best be able to provide protection to only a small number of its high-value politico-strategic assets, considered to be vital for the Nation’s survival. But, contrary to some critics, the very issue of national survival makes it mandatory for India to acquire BMD capabilities, given the policies of two nuclear armed irritants in our neighborhood. As India sees it, any delay in developing countermeasures like BMD will result in a technology gap that may not close as easily as it opens, leaving India at a long-term disadvantage.

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