India’s Indigenous Ballistic Missile Defence

Article by Mrs Debalina Ghoshal

Last year, this month, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Navy successfully conducted a maiden flight test of a sea-based endo-atmospheric interceptor to enable sea-based interception capability. DRDO already possesses land-based ballistic missile defence capability (BMD). As a year passes by marking the technological achievement in the BMD arena that would provide strategic leverages to India, this analysis tries to track India’s advancements in BMD capability, the reason she requires such capabilities, and the way forward.

BMD Developments in India

BMD is a defensive shield developed by states to protect themselves against enemy ballistic missile attacks. The need for BMD is crucial because states possess nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are the best delivery systems for nuclear weapons owing to their trajectory speeds. India faces ballistic missile threats from both its neighbours- Pakistan and China. To add to it, both its neighbours developed nuclear weapons and have worked towards developing sophisticated ballistic missiles that could strengthen their nuclear deterrence. Hence, a missile defence shield to protect against missile threats was a necessity for India.

The DRDO worked towards developing both exa-atmosphere missile defence shields (Advanced Air Defence or AAD) that can intercept incoming missiles at altitudes of 150kms and endo-atmosphere missile shields (Prithvi Air Defence or PAD) that could intercept missiles at altitudes of 80kms for a holistic defensive shield and is also the Phase-1 of India’s BMD shield. This makes the missile defence shield a two-tier defensive shield. In 2017, India also successfully test-fired the Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) that can engage exa-atmospheric targets above the altitude of 50kms. Another PAD variant is the Pradyumna which could intercept missiles at 80 km altitude.

Not only has India developed BMD capabilities, but it has also worked towards achieving self-sufficiency to aid the BMD in performing its tasks efficiently. The naval BMD capability is reported to be AAD-derived and fired from INS Anvesh, India’s first floating test range.

India’s venture into indigenous missile defence program commenced due to pressures from the United States to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines

A successful testing from a floating range means India is moving towards achieving greater credibility in the interception of missile systems from mobile systems. At sea, interceptors will be launched from sea-based platforms and hence, while such systems improve the survivability options for BMD, they could make the task of interception complex due to their mobility. India is also venturing into floating sea-based radar systems to enhance the intercepting capability of the interceptors by quick reaction during detection and tracking. Such capabilities would enable India to detect long-range missile capabilities from sea. India could develop a stealthy guided destroyer for ballistic missile interceptor shortly. 

In November 2022, India also conducted successfully the flight test of Phase II of the AD-1 interceptor. This AD-1 interceptor can not only neutralise long-range ballistic missiles but also neutralise aircraft. Being able to intercept myriad threats provides the AD-1 Phase-II the flexibility to use against both aerial and land-based threats. This interceptor could become a credible defence against Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) by being capable of destroying the delivery platform (for e.i. aircraft) before the cruise missile is launched.

Not only did the interceptor prove its mettle, but subsystems like the Radar, Telemetry, and Electro-Optical Tracking stations have proved their mettle. The interceptor is two-staged to make it credible against long-range missiles like the medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) of adversaries of ranges 1500-3000kms. The interceptor is propelled by a solid motor making it easier for rapid reaction.

Sea-based ‘defence by denial’ capabilities could provide a boost-phase or the boost-phase interception capability given the mobility factor

India’s venture into indigenous missile defence program commenced due to pressures from the United States to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines. This resulted in India refraining from going forward with the Israeli Arrow missile defence system, which is a component of Israel’s layered missile defence capability.

Sea-based ‘defence by denial’ capabilities could provide a boost-phase or in the boost phase interception capability given the mobility factor. In the boost phase or in the boost phase, there are no countermeasures in the ballistic missile systems. Interception is the easiest, however, technologically this phase remains the most challenging as the interceptor would need to respond and react accurately. Solid propulsion and technologically advanced warning systems that exist on the sea-based missile defence system, could resolve these glitches. Sea-based and land-based ‘defence by denial’ capabilities would provide India with greater operational flexibility and credibility. Merely possessing missile defence capabilities is not enough. These capabilities need to survive enemy first-strike/counter-strike as adversaries could target missile defence capabilities in their first/counter-strike. Possessing ‘defence by denial’ capabilities in all the platforms- land, sea and air would ensure this credibility in ‘deterrence by denial.’ Also, sea-based defensive mechanisms could be used to counter counter-force assets at sea as well as on land.

India’s BMD capabilities would help India strengthen its ‘no-first-use’ doctrine

BMD capabilities would help India strengthen its ‘no-first-use’ doctrine as such capabilities could provide New Delhi with room for launching counter-strikes on adversaries by protecting the counter-force assets. However, India would need credible capability to protect its counter-force nuclear assets.


  • Debalina Ghoshal

    A Non-Resident Research Fellow with the Council on International Policy, Canada. She is also the author of Role of Missiles in International Security. She specialises in missiles, missile defence, nuclear and related issues, she has written more than 150 articles on issues about nuclear missiles, missile defence, space, artillery and strategic issues for both national and international magazines, journals and newspapers. She is Advisor to IADN.

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