FUTURE STRIKE: India’s Indigenous Hyper Sonic Missile
Hypersonic weapons refer to weapons that can travel at a speed faster than Mach 5 or in other words systems that can travel five times the speed of sound. The reasons why hypersonic weapons are considered deadly is because they comprise the capacities of both, the ballistic as well as cruise missile wherein they have the speed of a ballistic missile and the manoeuvrability of a cruise missile.
Hypersonic weapons are specifically designed to counter the modern ballistic missile defence system and to deliver conventional and nuclear payload at high velocities over long ranges.
China first claimed a hypersonic flight test in 2014 and had conducted six successful hypersonic tests by 2016. In September 2018, China created a record by testing three types of hypersonic vehicles at one go. In 2019, China became the first country in the world to announce the deployment of hypersonic weapons in the form of its DF-17 missile.
India has to catch up with most countries in hypersonic technology. In June 2019, the DRDO launched a Hypersonic Technology Development Vehicle (HSTDV). Although there is no official information available about exactly what the test achieved, there is broad expectation that the test was successful in propelling the next steps. The Brahmos II, which is in the pipeline, is also slated to be a hypersonic missile.
India has two indigenous Hypersonic Projects, one is the Shaurya Missile which has hypersonic parameters but not a pure Hypersonic Missile, another is DRDO HSDTV Vehicle for test and Evaluation purpose who is almost ready for first Flight.
Shaurya Hypersonic Missile
Shaurya hypersonic surface-to-surface ballistic missile, developed by Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO). It is one of the top missile in its class with advanced navigation systems, propulsion system and control technologies.It can carry conventional or a 17 kT yield nuclear warhead.
The Shaurya is actually a land variant of Indian K-15 submarine launched missile. The first flight test was conducted in 2004. Further successful tests occurred, the latest in 2011 before the missile was officially inducted into service in 2013. The Shaurya fulfills the tactical need of the country in offensive/defensive scenarios. The canister launch capability improves the mobility of the system even in rough terrains and bad weather.
The propulsion system of the Shaurya uses a two stage solid propellants to attain a speed of Mach 7.5 and flight altitude of 40 km. It is also incorporated with advanced ring laser gyroscope, resulting in a good accuracy of 20-30 m CEP Circular Error Probable (CEP).
The two stage propulsion starts with the first stage solid fuel booster pushing the missile to a 5 km low atmospheric pressure altitude. At this point the second stage starts and an inter-stage coupling mechanism (softstage) separates the missile parts. The second stage payload rises to its flight altitude and conducts in-flight maneuvers to increase the accuracy before plummeting towards it during the atmospheric re-entry. The outer temperature rises to about 700 degree Celsius and composite nozzle with metallic backup & carbon phenolic liners protect the payload, associated electronics during the re-entry stage.
Further improvements to the missile system include better operational range, accuracy and increased payload capability. Improvement in speed offers better chances of avoiding interceptors and to strike the target with minimal time.
The HSTDV is an unmanned scramjet demonstration aircraft for hypersonic speed flight. The HSTDV program is run by the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation.
HSTDV Cruise vehicle will be mounted on a solid rocket motor which is covered by fairings will take it to the required altitude and once required altitude and Mach numbers are achieved cruise vehicles will be ejected out of the launch vehicle and later Scramjet engine will be auto-ignited mid-air thus taking over to propel cruise vehicle for next 20 seconds at Mach 6.
This is dual-use technology Project which will have multiple civilian applications. It can be used for launching satellites at low cost. It will also be available for long-range cruise missiles of the future.
Israel has provided some assistance on the HSTDV program, including wind tunnel testing, as has Cranfield University of the U.K. An unnamed third country is helping as well. India’s main defense-industrial partner is Russia, which has carried out considerable research into hypersonic propulsion.
The aim of planned flight test of the project is to demonstrate autonomous flight of Hypersonic scramjet integrated vehicle using hydrocarbon fuel and also measure aerodynamics of the air vehicle, its thermal properties and scramjet engine performance. HSTDV will have a flight duration of 20 seconds at an altitude of 31 km which is also cruising altitude of Boeing 747 but at Mach 6.
India’s flight test of its hypersonic vehicle, the HSTDV, indicates that New Delhi is committed to developing hypersonic technologies. While India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) claimed the test was successful, the launch platform—Agni-I—failed to take the HSTDV to the altitude necessary for the scramjet engine to operate. Regardless, the flight test is the first step towards the realization of an indigenous hypersonic vehicle and the successful development of Brahmos II, and the HSTDV could give India two separate hypersonic cruise missile systems.
India has three key motivations for developing such a sophisticated weapons system. First, India aspires to be a world power. This means being on par with the United States, Russia, and China in the realm of indigenous technological advancement—Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has emphasized the importance of developing missiles indigenously. Second, India considers China an economic and political rival, and may feel the need to catch up to China’s emerging hypersonic capabilities. Third, hypersonic weapons could give India a strategic edge over Pakistan by complicating Pakistan’s ability to develop countermeasures. Finally, the domestic political and scientific communities in India also drive such ambitions. The above motivating factors intensify the push for developing this dangerous weapon system.
A hypersonic missile with a scramjet engine at Mach 20 plus is so indefensible .And it has tremendous range extension utility. For instance an Agni-5 with a hypersonic last stage will extend its range well beyond intercontinental distances.
Pentagon has described hypersonic flight ‘the new stealth’ for its promise of evading and outrunning the enemy fire. The effort to develop hypersonic engines is necessary because they can propel vehicles at a velocity that cannot be achieved from traditional turbine-powered jet engines.