In a major breakthrough, country's defence scientists on Monday successfully carried out a surface to surface missile interception over the Bay of Bengal, brightening the prospects of development of an indigenous anti-missile shield.
A target Prithvi missile was launched from the Interim Missile Test Range at Chandipur at 1015 hours, its trajectory continuously monitored and then successfully intercepted by another missile fired from the Wheeler Islands.
Though, the Navy has successfully conducted missile interceptions over sea using Israeli Barak missiles, this was for the first time that defence scientists successfully carried out interception of surface-to-surface missile, which could bring some relief as India actively faces a threat from the presence of nuclear capable missile in the neighbourhood.
The interceptor missile, which was in anti-missile mode, was not identified by the Defence Research and Development Organisation officials. "The interceptor missile had inertial guidance mid-course and active-seeker guidance in its terminal phase," they said.
The DRDO had for years been working on making Trishul missile into an indigenous anti-missile system, trying to incorporate into it the capability of taking on multi-targets at the same time. But the missile had failed many of its critical tests.
"The country has achieved a significant milestone in missile defence system," a Defence Ministry official said in New Delhi [Images] after the reports of successful interception came in.
"We have acquired air defence capability against incoming missile," the official said, adding: "The success of the mission assumes significance as DRDO scientists were able to 'continuously track the missile and feed its trajectory into computers to launch its interception."
Officials said the target missile interception time was programmed at 170/175 seconds while the missile from Wheeler Islands blasted off roughly 60 seconds later with interception time of 110/117 seconds. The distance between Chandipur, which is on the shoreline, and Wheeler Islands off the Dhamra coast in the Bay of Bengal, is about 72 km.
Faced with the failure of its Trishul project, India had been in negotiations with the US, Israel and Russia [Images] for procurement of an alternative anti-missile defence system.
"Notwithstanding the success of Monday's interception," Defence Ministry officials said, adding: "We will continue to observe the development of the US Patriot anti-missile shield as well as other competing systems."
Though the range of Prithvi missile system in its various marks ranges between 150 to 350 kms, DRDO officials said: "What is important was to validate the capability of interception. Once we develop this we can incorporate it in country's surface to surface missiles of various ranges."
Defence Minister A K Antony immediately patted DRDO scientists on the achievement, which comes in the midst of widespread criticism of the organisation over time and costs over-runs in its major projects, including the integrated guided missile development programme.
"Heartiest congratulations," Antony said in a message to the country's top missile scientists, including V K Saraswat, working on the key project.
Success with the missile interception could prove a shot in arm for the DRDO scientists who are now feeling confident to go ahead with re-testing of the country's most prestigious surface to surface missile, 3000-km range Agni-III. The maiden test of the missile ended as a dismal failure couple of months back.
Saraswat has been quoted as saying that DRDO might go ahead with the second trial of the missile early next year.
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