India is increasingly making her place in the Defence Sector, with dual use capability that would catapult her into being a frontline manufacturer within India’s Defence Industrial Complex.
The DRDO shot India into the exclusive club of Hypersonic technology as it tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) from Kalaam Island off the coast of Odisha.
Technology to the rescue
It needs to be seen how this technology would be translated into manufacturing. India’s private Defence manufacturers need to take this opportunity to seek clarity where they can sink their capital to get a respectable return on investment and that their product would be acceptable for deployment by the Indian Armed Forces or to have assured scales in the export market.
Currently, Public-Private-Partnership and the Indian government procurement policies are the two factors which dictate the direction that private defence manufacturers would take. The Transfer of Technology is a far cry and evasive. In the absence of the environment, the Defence R&D has remained confined to DRDO/ISRO and manufacturing capability largely limited to the Defence PSUs.
It needs no emphasis that there are no runners up in war. While India does have highly experienced and trained military, but future wars are not going to be based purely on glory and guts but on technological capability to win wars, at least against known adversaries. There are glaring military-technological gaps that need to be urgently addressed.
One of the significant gaps was the hypersonic capability. Currently, no known BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) or Air Defence interception System can defend an attack from a hypersonic weapon. Hypersonic systems fly/glide/cruise at the speeds of 5 Mach and above, which is five times the speed of sound, speed of sound being 761 miles or 1217 Kms per hour, making it near impossible to detect and predict their intended target.
Looking deeper into hyperoinic technology
A hypersonic missile is highly maneuverable, unlike a ballistic missile which follows a defined trajectory. The two types of hypersonic weapons systems are Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles.
The HGV are launched from a rocket before gliding to the intended target while the hypersonic cruise missile is powered by air breathing high speed engines or ‘scramjets’ after acquiring their target. Cruise missiles can be launched from land, sea or air for land attacks and anti-shipping purposes, and can travel at subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic speeds.
Since they stay relatively close to the surface of the earth, they cannot be detected easily by anti-missile systems, and are designed to carry large payloads with high precision.
Hypersonic weapons can enable responsive, long range strike options against distant, defended or time critical threats (such as road mobile missiles) when other forces are unavailable, denied access or not preferred.
DRDO and ISRO both have developed Hypersonic technology with DRDO successfully flight-testing the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), with a capability to travel at six times the speed of sound. The HSTDV project was to demonstrate the “performance of a scram-jet engine at an altitude of 15 km to 20 km.” With the scram-jet engine, the HSTDV can travel at Mach 6 (7408.8 km/h).
A Hypersonic Wind Tunnel (HWT) test facility of the DRDO has been set up which is a mandatory facility to test the prototypes. It is a pressure vacuum-driven, enclosed free jet facility that simulates Mach 5 to 12. In 2020, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had tested the hypersonic air-breathing scramjet system for propulsion under the HSTDV programmme that attained a speed of Mach 6 for 23 seconds during the testing.
A scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) is an engine designed for speeds beyond Mach 6, which mixes fuel into air flowing through it at supersonic speeds; it is intended for hypersonic aircraft. A scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) is an engine designed for speeds beyond Mach 6, which mixes fuel into air flowing through it at supersonic speeds.
Last year, Russia announced it had fired a hypersonic ballistic missile, the Kinzhal, to destroy a huge underground arms depot in western Ukraine. In India, military planners have been keenly awaiting the dawn of the country’s own hypersonic missile. Missile scientists associated with the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos are working on the hypersonic missile technology, which only Russia and China possess.
In India, the BrahMos-2 will be the hypersonic version of the cruise missile and will probably have a range of 1,500 km. Trials have put its speed at almost Mach 8, making it the fastest in the world. It is likely to enter the prototype stage in the near future. Series of tests of the missile were conducted at the speed of Mach 6.5. BrahMos-2 hypersonic missile is expected to be modelled on Russia’s Zircon hypersonic missile.
From strength to strength
India is also developing an indigenous, dual capable (conventional as well as nuclear) hypersonic cruise missile as part of its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle programme. India’s hypersonic weapon Brahmos made her the fourth country in the world after the US, China, and Russia to develop and test such technology.
The Chinese North-Western Polytechnical University claimed that a test flight of a brand-new hypersonic aircraft, Feitian 1, had been successful which used a combination of a rocket and an air-breathing engine and produced a thrust higher than Mach 5.
An air-breathing engine is a jet engine that sucks in air from the front and then pushes it out from the back, and the air going through the engine helps propel. The rocket and scramjet engines burned kerosene, a low-cost fuel making this test different from all others.
What China is doing
China also is known to have successfully tested a small civilian unmanned hypersonic prototype called Nanqiang No 1. The test program aimed to build a flyable prototype by 2025.
As China, Russia, and the US battle to develop hypersonic technology, China has tested a new air-breathing engine during a simulated flight test achieving hypersonic speed.
Chinese scientists have been working on hypersonic missile technology for years and reportedly, they have found a breakthrough in creating a hypersonic missile that will use hydrocarbons as fuel and employ a rotating detonation engine. A spinning detonation engine can produce 50 percent higher fuel efficiency than a jet engine in the future.
The Chinese scientists are also trying to create a hypersonic weapon that will be capable of hitting a moving target. Such a weapon would accurately track and zero on to the target at high speeds which the current thermal tracking systems are incapable of doing. They seem to have found a solution by employing motion sensors to create a full image, keeping all the variables in mind.
In another dimension yet there are reports of China testing a new missile system, known as Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), have fuelled concerns about the nuclear weapon state’s advancing military capabilities and the consequences for the United States.
The flight tests conducted in July and August 2021 saw a rocket launched into orbital flight, which later re-entered the atmosphere and released a manoeuvrable glide vehicle travelling at hypersonic speeds. Long-range missile systems like this can carry nuclear or non-nuclear warheads.
With no official explanation from the Chinese government, some American commentators were quick to assume the worst – a new Chinese ability to bombard the United States from outer space with nuclear weapons.
The race to develop the next generation of hypersonic missiles has become fierce in the recent decade. The US, China, Russia, North Korea, and India are leading. Earlier, the US military tested its hypersonic missile prototype, based on the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). US Air Force successfully released an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, that achieved hypersonic speeds. China also tested its current YJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile. Russia also has hypersonic weapons such as the 3M22 Zircon that can fly at speeds of up to six mach. These missiles at low atmospheric-ballistic trajectory have the capability to penetrate traditional anti-missile defence systems including the US’ defence system.
Considering that India is relatively advanced in the development of Hypersonic systems, it would be necessary for the defence manufacturers to take a step forward towards manufacturing and equipping the Indian Defence Forces with this potent capability that would act as a deterrent over the nuclear capability.