US firm may develop BMD system
Barely a month after carrying out successful tests of Interceptor missiles, India is in talks with a leading American aerospace firm to apparently seek collaboration to develop a robust ballistic missile defence (BMD) system.
"We are still in touch with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) officials," Dennis D Cavin, Vice President, International Air and Missile Defence Strategic Initiatives (IAMDSI) of Lockheed Martin, told PTI.
The IAMDSI is developing the PAC-III anti-missile system for the US.
US experts said New Delhi could be looking for Washington's help and that of other nations in developing crucial sub-systems for the BMD.
Cavin, who would be flying to India next month, said India could be looking at US help to develop "hit-to-kill" technology for its interceptor missiles.
The American official said he would be meeting Dr VK Saraswat, who is known as the father of the Indian interceptor missile programme.
US is developing a multi-layered anti missile defence system of which, PAC-II, III and THAAD would form essential components.
While, the PAC-II and III systems are being deployed to tackle the threat from air-breathing cruise missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) threats, the THAAD system is developed to take care of threats from "Eco and Endo" atmospheric ballistic missile threats.
The Americans, who have already deployed PAC-II and III systems, are likely to deploy THAAD system between 2009-2010 to give cover to US troops deployed overseas.
In his briefings to the media, DRDO scientist Dr Saraswat had said that India's interceptor missiles had used "proximity fragmentation" in its missile interception programme.
Cavin said that US approach was to seek a direct 'hit-to-kill' method in destroying incoming missiles.
It is possible that New Delhi might be looking at acquiring such a capability for its missile interception programme, Cavin said.
"Our doors of co-operation with India on the BMD system are open," the US official said.
Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system has been described by Lockheed officials as top layer of the proposed US ballistic missile system.
Cavin, the company's leading missile man, said so far 24 flight tests have been carried out, both in Eco and Endo modes, of which 21 had hit the bull's eye.
"THAAD is a vital key in our missile defence system," another top US missile expert said.
"It has the capability to intercept all short, medium and high altitude incoming missiles," she said.
US army has recently ordered induction of two firing units of the THAAD system, comprising six launchers, each carrying 24 missiles, equipped with battery controller and a radar station.
Though Washington has offered to sell PAC II and III BMD systems to India, it hasn't said anything on whether THAAD could be made available to India.
"I won't challenge it," Cavin said on India's attempt to develop its own indigenous BMD system. He said US was willing to co-operate in giving final shape to such a system for India, including collaborating in development of key subsystems.
Lockheed Martin officials said three firing units of the THAAD BMD system were equipped to take care of a battle theatre defence.
Washington has designed THAAD and the multi-layered BMD system to give protection to US troops deployed overseas.
Expert said a country of the size of Afghanistan where US and NATO troops are deployed could comprise of 2-3 theatre commands and if such a multi-layered system was proposed to be deployed in India, 8-10 such units could give protection to country's major strategic assets.
The Americans have already ordered commercial production of combined firing units of PAC III and THAAD system even as final trials and tests of the THAAD system are still to be undertaken over the next five to six months.
While claiming that the PAC III and THAAD BMD systems were being developed at "affordable costs", US missile experts did not give out the price tags for these systems.
However, sources said the US army had been quoted a price of 619 million dollars for its first firing units of the THAAD BMD system.
Lockheed Martin has simultaneously initiated a new project called MEADS, to come up with a new light and highly mobile Patriot BMD system.
The NATO Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) management agency on Thursday awarded a 66 million dollar contract to incorporate the Lockheed martin PAC III Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missile as the baseline interceptor missile.
According to Lockheed Martin statement, the new interceptor increases the range and lethality over the baseline PAC III system.
The Lockheed Martin officials said the new PAC III MSE missile, which is under development, was even more powerful than the combat proven hit to kill missile now in production.