UNITED States is now set to spend the sum of $53 billion over the
next several years pursuing the chimera of missile defence. The
original idea for this system came from the perfervid imagination of
the erstwhile American President, Ronald Reagan, and a handful of
his scientific advisers, most notably, Edward Teller. At the time, a
number of prominent scientists and strategic analysts warned that a
leak-proof missile defence system was not only unworkable but made
dubious strategic sense. Despite these scientific and strategic
questions, the Reagan administration for mostly ideological and
political reasons went ahead with this programme.
with most strategic programmes this one proved far easier to spawn
than to kill. Scientific pressure from the weapons laboratories,
bureaucratic imperatives, and political considerations kept this
questionable programme alive through both the Bush Sr. and the two
Clinton administrations, albeit in a more modified form. With the
advent of the second George W. Bush administration the programme
received a new lease on its life. Worse still, the administration
sought to sell a version of this programme to various allies facing
growing threats from ballistic missiles. Not surprisingly, Japan, a
key ally, confronting an increasingly imminent threat from North
Korea, signed on. Most surprisingly, however, India, which had never
expressed the slightest enthusiasm for any American
military-technological initiative, for once under the National
Democratic Alliance regime, chose to partially endorse this renewed
American emphasis on missile defence.
of missile defence whether in the U.S. or India, no longer argue
that they visualise a layered, area-wide defence of their respective
homelands. That grand and absurd vision has been justifiably
interred with its initial exponent, Ronald Reagan. Instead they will
argue that what is called for is really theatre missile defence.
Namely, that these missiles would be confined to particular theatres
of military operations and thereby deny an adversary an offensive
seeming attractiveness of this proposition notwithstanding, it is
fraught with almost insuperable technological limitations and
strategic flaws. The technological limitations alone should give its
proponents considerable pause. To begin with, most of these systems
whether the American Patriot or the Israeli Arrow have shown little
promise in their initial tests. Not much information is available in
the public domain about the performance of the Israeli Arrow system
but a good deal of knowledge exists about the Patriot. In its
initial version it fared rather poorly during the first Gulf War. In
subsequent tests, which have favoured the system, its ability to
shoot down targets has been quite shaky. Nevertheless, its
proponents continue to insist that these technological hurdles can
be overcome in due course.
that is the case. However, even if that felicitous future were to
materialise, the proponents have no answer for other problems that
confront any missile defence system. How, for example, would the
interceptors distinguish between real and dummy missiles? Why would
an adversary not simply flood the sky with a range of dummies? What
if the adversary were to resort to other counter-measures to deflect
what use would this terribly expensive system be against a
determined adversary, who instead of investing in missiles, simply
resorted to a "suitcase bomb"?
last point cannot be overlooked or trivialised. Both American
advocates of missile defence and their Indian acolytes have
suggested that they need these defences against so-called rogue
regimes who are capable of perpetrating execrable acts. If indeed
these adversaries would stop at little, why would they not think of
inexpensive, simple and technologically unstoppable strategies to
deliver their evil wares?
could, of course, assume for the purposes of a debate, that the
technological limitations can be overcome and that the prospects of
"suitcase bomber" getting through extensive border
controls are slender. Even if one makes those assumptions, however
untenable, other strategic considerations militate against the
pursuit of this system. The development of a successful ballistic
missile defence system is likely to provoke the worst anxieties of
an adversary. This is the inexorable logic of international
politics. Even though one state may think that its military
acquisitions are purely defensive, another may not be able to
distinguish offensive from defensive weaponry. More to the point,
weapons acquired for defensive purposes can be used for offence.
problem, referred to as the "security dilemma" by scholars
of international relations, assumes greater significance in the case
of two nuclear-armed adversaries. Indian officials may well argue
that the country's anti-ballistic missile system is simply designed
to degrade a Pakistani nuclear strike against its forces and thereby
induce Pakistan to desist from its continued support of insurgents
in Kashmir and elsewhere. Since Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear
capabilities, long before May 1998, it had come to the realisation
that India was inhibited from launching a conventional attack for
fear of escalation to the nuclear level. With a ballistic missile
defence system in place, some Indian security planners believe that
they would be able to cope with the threat of Pakistani nuclear
missiles thereby renewing the conventional military option against
the apparent attractiveness of this logic it has important flaws.
First, the Pakistanis are likely to build more cheap missiles,
thereby dramatically raising the costs of India's missile defence
program. Second, despite India's professions of a missile defence
designed to boost deterrence, Pakistani defence planners will fear
that such a system is merely a pretext for India seeking
"escalation dominance." This term means that in the event
of a crisis, one party will be able to simply ratchet up the
pressure on the escalation ladder. In the end, this will enable the
more formidable party to seek a "first strike" capability.
fears from the Pakistani standpoint are hardly unfounded. India with
its vastly greater indigenous industrial and technological
capabilities can seek to pursue such a strategy. Even if Pakistani
planners devise an initial use of nuclear weapons, India's ballistic
missile system could theoretically cope with this strike and then
retaliate with its much more substantial forces annihilating
Pakistan's capabilities in perpetuity. Though this scenario appears
far-fetched, it is precisely the dire possibility that Pakistanis
will contemplate. Stated in another fashion, India would be in a
position to strike Pakistan at will knowing that Pakistan's limited
capabilities could be dealt with through its missile defence system.
To borrow another term from the language of strategic studies, India
would be well placed to deal with Pakistan's "ragged
rub, of course, lies in a number of the underlying assumptions and
misgivings of both sides. On the Indian side, a leaky and uncertain
ballistic missile defence system may give risk-prone Indian defence
planners much incentive to strike Pakistan first in the event of a
future crisis. On the Pakistani side, the possibility of the Indian
missile defence system actually working would reduce confidence in
its existing nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal. This would
induce its already hawkish military planners to envisage a
worst-case scenario and think of possible ways of expanding their
missile forces and of hardening and dispersing their silos against
an Indian attack. All of this would only provoke more
counter-measures on the Indian side. Almost inevitably, this
action-reaction cycle would lock the two states in an arms race of
considerable proportions and at substantial cost.
course, some unreconstructed hawks in the Indian policymaking
establishment, not unlike their Reaganite counterparts, would not
see this as an undesirable outcome. They would argue that India with
its far higher and sustainable growth rates could afford to run this
race and drive Pakistan's economy into the ground. After all, this
is precisely the argument that the more inveterate Soviet-baiting
members of the Reagan administrations made about the utility of
extraordinarily high defence budgets. In turn, they argue that the
Soviet effort to cope with American military spending contributed to
its demise. The dubiousness of this argument requires a separate
if the Reaganites were correct about their assumptions about the
Soviet collapse there is little reason why Indian hawks should seek
to emulate that strategy in dealing with Pakistan. A disintegrating
state on one's borders armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic
missiles and populated with a range of jihadi groups filled
with an inveterate hatred of India is hardly a roseate future to
differ from him because he says that merely because we instal
Missile Defences Pakistan will go in for more missiles. This may be
OK in theory. But, the far more important thing is that when we
have misile defences Pakistan will always feel uncertain about our
responses to their terorist provocations. For example should we
decide to hit back militarily to an outrage like the December 13
attack on Parliament, Pakistan will think twice before threatening
nuclear escalation as they would know that with missile
defences we would have introduced an element of doubt in their minds
as to whether we can take on a first missile strike and repond so
massively that they cease to exist. This is the very basis of
having a no first use doctrine. We have made it clear that any
attempted use of nuclear weapons would meet a massive no holds
think Prof. Gangully makes good arguments against the missile
defense systems. However we must distinguish between deployment and
development. All complex systems if founded on solid principles tend
to evolve and at some point become functional. Sometimes there is
serendipity and cross fertilization from related fields which cannot
be foreseen accurately by anyone, or new avenues or opportunities
might evolve from work in a given area. Therefore, it might make
sense to continue an R&D approach to the missile defense
technology in the democracies of the world in an effort to guard
against blackmail by rogue regimes. India has a huge advantage with her
capable scientific and engineering pool. In summary, I think that it
might be prudent for India to invest in an R&D effort in
collaboration with the US, Israel and other democracies rather than
invest huge sums in deployment unless they know something not known in
the public domain.
Hindu article clearly has the effect of chipping away at Indian
defense preparedness, and argues for peace and love with Pakistan.
first agument –– that missile defence does not stop
the suitcase nuke –– is bogus. Missile defence won't
stop earthquakes or tidal waves or meteors either. But it does tell
an enemy that a suitcase nuke or any other WMD will bring massive
retaliation - and the blackmail using the threat of nukes is not at
all likely to succeed because the defense system will be up and
ready before the retaliation for the suitcase nuke gets under way.
So it deters the suitcase nuke just the same. The action it causes,
is a desire on the part of Musharraf to really keep his buddies from
acquiring uncontrolled weapons. Since I hold that the Global Terror
Enterprise is monolithic, with Musharraf very much a part of its
High Command, suitcase or missile or anything else is all controlled
from the same place. To quote General Aziz on tape during the Kargil
war, reporting to Musharraf: "Sir, we have these jehadis by the
scruff of the neck. They will do what we tell them to do".
defence also tells the PRC that India will not necessarily be
cowed down by a threat of nuclear intervention by Beijing. The
PRC won't launch if its going to lead to massive Chinese casualties
just to protect a bunch of Islamic terrorists. Without NMD over
Delhi and Mumbai, India will have to back down at the slightest move
by the PRC to deploy their missiles in a crisis.
the US, India's economy is concentrated in just a few major cities.
The defense coverage needed is not anywhere near as extensive as the
for the technical options in missile defence, the argument is quite
easy to see, without giving anything away. There are 3 phases when
you can hit a ballistic missile:
Boost Phase –– when it is slow, bulky and
vulnerable but is well inside enemy territory. Duration: a couple of
Mid-course –– in space/upper atmosphere: Warheads are still in
one piece, and has limited manoeuvrings capability. Duration:
Reentry/terminal Phase –– warheads likely to separate, and
include many dummies as well as a few real ones aimed at different
nearby targets. Some maneuvering possible, trajectory may be
slightly erratic. Traveling at hypersonic speeds, duration is just
about a minute or so.
are supposedly, efforts directed at all 3 phases. I don't give much
chance for the Boost Phase to succeed with laser weapons, unless it
seems feasible to cruise at 40,000 feet 100 miles off the
Pakistani launch sites with an airborne laser, etc. We have
discussed this option, and it appears that it can be countered
for the mid-course phase, I don't see how a rocket can be launched
quickly enough to go and hit something which is already cruising at
high speed above the atmosphere, but I know that there are some
efforts directed at that phase as well. I suspect that this is using
Space-based weapons, which no one will admit having.
leaves what is called "Theater High Altitude Air Defense",
which is what Dr. Ganguly discusses. I agree that launching a rocket
from the ground, in the hope of hitting an incoming projectile,
while it is still high enough, seems highly improbable. Basically,
one finds oneself driven to use rockets with incredibly fast
acceleration (which means, they are 50% likely to blow up during
launch). If you look at acceleration profiles, you find that a VERY
long time is wasted, in getting up to, say, 60,000 feet and Mach 2.
The ground-launched missile simply does not have that much time to
waste, if it wants to hit a warhead at, say, 150,000 feet.
the SCUDs of Saddam Hussein, nuclear warheads don't have to hit the
ground: an air blast at 5000 feet, or even at 20,000 feet, is
equally cataclysmic for a city. So, the interception has to occur
far above that altitude. Comparisons with Patriot SAMs are not valid
then, the numbers favor the attacker. As Dr. Ganguly says (no, I
don't think they are going to be "cheap"), one can build
more warheads than ground-launched missiles.
my point is that all this is fairly evident to most aerospace
engineers, Generals etc. So this is not how I (or they) would go for
"Theater High Altitude Air Defense". In times of tension,
I would simply have a few large aircraft on patrol. Each would carry
a couple of 2-stage weapons - like B-52s carrying smaller craft. The
first stage would be a booster, manned or unmanned, which in turn
will carry some 4 or 6 air-to-air missiles (hypersonic).
sensing missile launch (that's what satellites are for) the boosters
would already be traveling at 30,000 feet and Mach 0.8. They would
zoom up to 100,000 feet, getting up to some supersonic speed - and
covering a pretty wide radius. They would then launch their missiles
at all the warheads. These small missiles would be able to reach
very high speeds, and literally catch incoming warheads if
this scenario, it is easy to see that the defense system has the
advantage - you can build many more boosters and AAMs than your
enemy can build ballistic missiles and warheads. Only a very few
such systems would be necessary to cover all of North India, and a
few similar ones would ensure security of South India.
evidence is there that this is the course of action being followed?
Check into the small glimpses of news about AAMs and hypersonic
vehicles that come from the defense developers of several countries.
Meanwhile, there are these grand, well-advertised declarations of
"success" with ground-launched weapons so that the public
can have a good laugh about stupid Generals, and academicians. These
tests "explain" the defense R&D expenditures which are
needed for the real thing.
I KNOW that this is what is being done? Well...
The above makes sense to me, and I am not completely incapable
of reasoning out these things.
I know the people running such programs, and they are no less smart
than I am.
I know the people doing the R&D in India, and they are a HECK of
a lot smarter than many commentators.
In most things, these people are way ahead of me in reasoning and
If Dr. Ganguly KNOWs, then he cannot tell. If he doesn't, his guess
is no better than mine and there I AM being modest.
said and done, Musharraf, the State Department, and all their
terrorist buddies, as well as PRC, all desperately need to
stop India from developing and deploying effective missile defence.
Professor Ganguly seems to be batting for them with his ill-advised
article in The Hindu.
issue of BMD in the Indian context cannot be viewed in the same
geopolitical terms as that of the United States.
we must divorce the political agendas and ideology behind the US
system from the purely technical need for a viable BMD system for
India. Political hawks and irresponsible elements will always have
to be reined in, whether BMD systems are deployed or not.
argue that India should eschew BMD systems because they might spark
Pakistan to procure more ballistic missiles is as stupid as arguing
that countries should not invest in air defences as the opposing
side would simply purchase more strike aircraft! By extension, the
RAF should not have invested in radars, AA guns and fighters because
the Luftwaffe would only send more bombers!
BMD network in India must be aimed at deterring limited strikes from
ballistic missiles aimed at specific targets –– a nationwide BMD
network is a pipe dream - from sites in China and Pakistan.
cannot hope to do anymore than counter a limited attack.
we must also bear in mind that M-9 and M-11 type missiles will not
necessarily be fielded with nuclear warheads by the PRC vs India.
The Chinese have large numbers of these missiles and will deploy
them as they would employ long-range rocket artillery.
conventional sub-munition warheads, these may be used for the
bombardment of Indian targets such as airfields, radar sites and
even munitions depots.
suggest that no means of defence be provided for such sites is a
serious dereliction of duty and as such India must consider the
options available to it.
respect to nuclear missiles aimed at Indian cities, again, a limited
BMD network may stop at most 50–70% of incoming missiles at
addition, we must also not lose site of the fact that in the Indian
context, BMD is not a wholly new concept, but merely an extension of
an existing strategic air defence network –– one that long
lapsed in the US after the Nike Hercules and Nike Ajax SAM units
Air Force currently operates a network of SAMs and radars aimed at
protecting critical targets in the country. This network, though
currently viable, is in need of upgrading to cater for new threats.
missiles –– conventionally armed or WMD armed - are amongst the
new threats facing India's air defences. In the future, hypersonic
cruise missiles and aircraft will further tax India's defences.
systems and technologies will dramatically enhance India's
ability to defend against these threats - threats that will emerge
and must be defended against.
remember that the purpose of weapons acquisitions is to give you an
advantage. No self-respecting or responsible nation merely seeks
parity or is intimidated by the effect that procurements would have
on the enemy.
the nuclear aspect does colour and alter this perception, the lack
of BMD has not actually prevented Pakistan from nuclear sabre-rattling,
nor has it prevented them from seeking to enhance their delivery
systems to threaten India to the maximum possible extent.
deny India a BMD system capable of dealing with these threats or to
argue against the development and deployment of such a system by
India is grotesquely irresponsible.