India’s Advanced Missile Defence Shield: Implications for the Contemporary South Asian Security Environment

General Knowledge : India's missile defence shield ready

By Haris Bilal Malik     15 December 2020

Over the last few years, India has been carrying out an overwhelming and offensive military modernization program. This has been primarily inspired by its long term strategic goal of achieving the status of great power. At the same time, India aspires to dominate the regional security environment with the provision of a strong military outlook. In pursuit of this objective, India has been enhancing both its conventional and unconventional capabilities. In this regard, while maintaining an aggressive military posture, India’s major focus has been to ensure a multilayered and advanced missile defence shield. This has been materialized with the provision of both indigenous developed and foreign acquired missile systems that are capable enough of providing a non-penetrable air defence shield. As such, this has further added to the air defence capabilities of the Indian military. These capabilities in turn would likely undermine Pakistan’s strategic deterrence posture. Consequently, the Indian military modernization drive with a more focus on the provision of a multilayered air defence shield would bring long-lasting implications for the contemporary regional security environment in general and Pakistan in particular.

As of now, India’s air defence shield is primarily based on diverse missile systems aimed at providing a multilayered aerial defence. At the indigenous level, India has developed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems like the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD), the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) also known as the Ashwin missile system, and the Akash Air Defence System. The PAD has been developed to provide interception against ballistic missiles at higher altitudes while the AAD is meant for interception at lower altitudes. The Akash system, a medium-range surface-to-air missile system, is aimed at covering multiple targets at low, medium as well as high altitudes. Similarly, as a joint venture with Israel, India has developed the Barack-8 missile system. Though this system is of Israeli origin, it has been jointly developed by both countries. It is a medium-range missile system that provides defence against a wide range of airborne threats including ballistic and cruise missiles, drones, helicopters, and combat jets. It is quite noteworthy that amid the recent border crisis with China in the disputed Ladakh region in June this year, India requested an emergency deployment of the Barak-8 system to Israel.

Most significantly, under a much-hyped foreign deal, India has signed an agreement with Russia for the purchase of five units of the S-400 missile system back in October 2018. As per the available record, the delivery with a bit delay on account of the COVID-19 pandemic is scheduled to start by the end of 2021, whereas all the additional units are planned to be supplied no later than 2025. The S-400 system is widely believed to be one of the most advanced missile systems currently available in the world. It has some very incredible capabilities which currently no other advanced missile system possesses. Like for instance, 8 launchers can fire some 112 diverse types of missiles having different ranges. It has an unmatchable tracking range of up to 600 kilometers. Furthermore, the system can engage 80 targets at a time including ballistic and cruise missiles, fighter jets, and drones at a range of 400 kilometers. These provisions make it the most lethal and deadliest missile system that has ever been developed to date. Given the Indian aggressive military posturing against Pakistan, the S-400 system once acquired would provide India a long-range air defence shield most likely against Pakistan. Also, in wake of the recent humiliating border clashes with China, India is looking forward to receiving the system as early as possible.

It would be pertinent to discuss here that India intends to acquire the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile-II (NASAMS-II) from the US as well. It is known to be one of the advanced missile systems that are more likely to protect important cities. It can intercept and destroy medium-range aerial targets with a wide array of missiles. NASAMS-II is a sophisticated missile system with the provision of 3D radars for surveillance, robust command and control, and fire distribution centers. Though the deal has not been finalized yet, this missile system holds great significance for India vis-à-vis its notion of a multilayered missile defence shield. Another very important element that needs to be considered while analyzing this proposed deal is the recently signed India-US Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). According to this, along with other benefits, the US would share classified geospatial and intelligence information with India. This would likely be ultimately utilized for enhancing the accuracy of the US’ supplied military hardware to India including the missile defence systems which rely on satellites for surveillance and pinpoint accuracy. This very much indicates the likely significance of the US origin missile system for India which would likely boost-up the proposed deal of NASAMS-II.

Hence at present, the South Asian security environment remains in a state of influx due to India’s ongoing aggressive military modernization drive. In this regard, the indigenous development of BMD systems and the acquisition of some of the most advanced missile systems from countries like Russia and the US are a clear attempt to undermine the contemporary regional security environment. With such acquisitions, India might be in a stronger position to challenge Pakistan’s existing nuclear force posture by neutralizing the deterrent value of the nuclear warhead delivery systems that majorly include ballistic and cruise missiles and jet planes. This would ultimately disturb the deterrence equilibrium in the South Asian region that prevails to date primarily because of Pakistan’s credible nuclear deterrence posture. To address this security dilemma, Pakistan, for the time being, might continue to rely on its MIRV capabilities to penetrate the Indian sophisticated missile defence shields. However, in the longer-term, the prospects of acquiring the same missile systems are needed to be considered and cannot be entirely ruled out. This seems to be a difficult but plausible way out since Pakistan might be compelled to follow the same suit.

The writer currently works as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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