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Do not get carried away, warn scientists

Scientists and strategic experts have cautioned against getting carried away by the hype generated by the successful surface-to-surface missile interception, reports Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2006 02:34 IST

Scientists and strategic experts have cautioned against getting carried away by the hype generated by the successful surface-to-surface missile interception over the Bay of Bengal on Monday.

The view emerging here is that the outcome of the test may signal that the country is inching towards acquiring the basic building blocks for theatre missile defence but the truth is that the objective is still nowhere on the horizon.

K Santhanam, former chief adviser Defence Research and Development Organisation and ex-director general Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, told Hindustan Times: "A great deal of hard work remains to be done before a successful flight trial can be concerted into fieldable system. Many more trials are required and the systems need to be refined before they can be fielded. And all this should happen within a reasonable time frame."

The mid-air interception is a breakthrough in terms of experimental validation of the design, said Santhanam, adding that it was a significant milestone in the technology development chain from design, development, testing, validation and later production. "The country has achieved a significant milestone in missile defence system. We have acquired air defence capability against incoming missiles," a defence ministry official said.

The optimistic note struck by the Ministry of Defence, however, does not resonate with strategic affairs experts like Bharat Karnad, who is a Research Professor at the Centre For Policy Research. Karnad, a well-known critic of the ballistic missile defence programme, told HT: "In the present technological scenario, physics is against any such missile defence system. Even advanced systems like the Arrow 2, Patriot PAC-3 and S-300 missile defence interceptors have a mere 70 per cent hit probability in controlled conditions. It will be even less in real time."

He said missile defence technology would take at least 30 more years to mature and at this stage it would be nonsensical to invest in systems that are not fail-proof.

Strategic affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney said the effort was to make the missile technologically more capable by being able to master its trajectory and control its manoeuvrability right up to the impact point.

He explained, "At this stage, it does not make sense to project Prithvi as a missile defence system. The objective of the test was to upgrade the missile and make it more potent by giving it a strategic dimension." Chellaney said the test, at best, served to illustrate that India is progressing towards acquiring technology for building missile defence capability for which Prithvi would only be an instrument. It would require integration with cutting edge technology.

Email Rahul Singh: rahulsingh@hindustantimes.com