India's Ballistic Missile Defence Programme

The Indian ballistic missile defence program aims to develop multi layered ballistic missile defence system for protecting the Indian territory from ballistic missile attacks. The advancements in Technology has allowed various countries to develop anti ballistic missiles for destroying the incoming ballistic missiles before they hit the ground. India developed the anti ballistic missile system countering the threat of missile attack from China and Pakistan etc. The Indian ballistic missile defence programme consists of Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) and Advanced Air Defence (AAD) projects.

Ballistic Missile and Ballistic Missile Defence System

  • A ballistic missile is the one that follows the ballistic trajectory after it's launch. It is guided in the initial phase of the launch i.e. lift of phase, the rest of the trajectory depends on gravity and friction force and require minimal guidance.
  • Ballistic missile defence system refers to a missile defence system that shields the territory against ballistic missile attacks. The purpose of the ballistic missile defence system is to defend against the attacking missile by intersecting its projectile path.
  • The ballistic missile can be intercepted by the ballistic missile defence system in three phases viz. during terminal phase ( atmospheric descent phase); mid-course interception of the missile ( inflight interception); lift of phase interception that targets the launch point.
  • Usually, the ballistic missile defence system consists of two tier automatic system. It consists of Advanced radar early warning system, integrated command and control centre, and the interceptor missile batteries located strategically on land and sea.

Ballistic Missile Defence System of India

  • India has faced the threat of ballistic missile attacks since the early 90s from China and Pakistan. The increase in tensions with Pakistan after the deployment of M-11 missiles by Pakistan forced India to think about development anti ballistic missile defence system.
  • After the nuclear test of India conducted in May 1998, Pakistan also tested nuclear weapons due to which the threat of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems intensified. The Kargil War of 1999 between India and Pakistan further increased this tension.
  • India began the development of anti ballistic missile system in late 1999 in light of Pakistan eschewing of a nuclear no first use policy. The development of ballistic missile defence system accelerated after USA vetoed India's attempt to acquire Israeli Arrow-2 interceptor missile in 2002.
  • The ballistic missile defence system consist of two land and sea based interceptor missiles, viz. The Prithvi Air Defence for high altitude interception and the Advanced Air Defence for lower altitude interception.
  • India tested the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile in November 2006, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) in December 2007. After the test of PAD missile, India became the fourth country to develop an anti-ballistic missile system after USA, Russia and Israel.
  • The ballistic missile defence program consists of two phases. The first phase enables the intersection of missiles up to 2000 km, and the second phase will be able to intercept missiles up to 5000 km range.
  • India is developing two new anti ballistic missiles that can intercept the intermediate range ballistic missiles. The Missile will be similar to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile of USA.
    Components of India's Ballistic Missile Defence System
    Prithvi Air Defence (PAD)
    • Prithvi Air Defence ( also known as Pradyumna ballistic missile interceptor) is a ballistic missile interceptor that has been designed for the interception of the inbound ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere. Prithvi air defence system is a two-phase missile that has the highest deflection height of 80 km.
    • The first stage the missile consists of the solid fuelled motor, and the second stage consists of a liquid fuelled motor. The movement thrusters of the missile can produce a lateral acceleration of over 5gs at a height of 50 km.
    • Prithvi air defence system has a maximum range of 2000 km and the deflection height of 50 to 80 km. It can achieve a speed of Mach 5 that is enough to hit incoming medium range ballistic missiles.
    • The inertial navigation system provides the guidance. It uses LRTR for mid-course updates. It uses active radar homing in the terminal phase.
    • PAD uses Swordfish Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR) as the fire control radar and for target acquisition. It can track 200 targets at a range of 600 km. The improved versions of this missile defence system use gimbaled directional warhead for this purpose, the technology currently being used by countries like Israel, Russia and the US.
    • India conducted Prithvi air defence exercise in November 2006. The Prithvi air defence missile successfully intercepted and destroyed a modified Prithvi 2 missile at an altitude of 50 km. The Prithvi 2 missile was modified for mimicking the trajectory of M11 missiles used by Pakistan.
    • In March 2009, the second successful test of Prithvi air defence interceptor missile was conducted. The ship launched Dhanush missile which followed the trajectory of a missile with a range of 1500 km was tracked by LRTR radar and was destroyed by the Prithvi Air Defence interceptor missile at height of 75 km.

      Advanced Air Defence (AAD)

      • Advanced air defence AAD is ballistic missile interceptor developed by DRDO for deflecting the incoming  missiles in the endo-atmospheric region at a height of 30 km.
      • AAD consists of a single stage solid rocket propelled guided missile.
      • Its guidance is the same as that of Prithvi air defence system. The guidance consists of the inertial navigation system, and it receives the mid-course updates from the ground based radar system. In the terminal phase, it uses active radar homing.
      • On December 6, 2007, the advanced air defence successfully intercepted an incoming modified Prithvi II ballistic missile. The interception was carried out at a height of 15 km in which the target was destroyed and broken into multiple pieces.
      • The successful launches of AAD interceptor missile system, has paved the way for the development of extended range surface to air interceptor missile having a range up to 150 km.
      • Several tests of Advanced air defence interceptor missile has been carried out till now. The latest successful test was carried out on 3rd August 2018, in which one of the multiple incoming targets simulating a 1500 km class ballistic missile was successfully destroyed.

      Prithvi Defence Vehicle

      • Prithvi defence vehicle is the successor of Prithvi air defence interceptor missile. It is a new exoatmospheric interceptor missile being developed by DRDO codenamed PDV.
      • Prithvi defence vehicle will be a two stage missile powered by solid propellants. It uses an innovative system to control the interceptor missile at an altitude of more than 150 km.
      • PDV will replace the existing Prithvi Air Defence interceptor missile in the PAD/AAD combination. It will replace the PAD with more powerful missile interceptor and will complete the Phase 1 of the ballistic missile defence system.
      • It will use an Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) seeker for the kill vehicle.
      • Till now 3 test of Prithvi defence vehicle has been conducted. The first test was conducted by DRDO on April 27, 2014. On February 11 2017, the second test for Prithvi defence vehicle interceptor missile system was successfully conducted by DRDO. On February 12 2019, the third successful test of this missile interceptor was conducted.
      Other developments in the ballistic missile defence system of India
      • S-400 Triumph missile defence system is being procured from Russia. It will be capable of destroying the incoming ballistic missiles along with other enemy targets such as fighter jets, cruise missiles, UAVs etc.
      • Barak 8, naval long range surface to air missile (LR-SAM) jointly developed by India and Israel can also destroy the ballistic missiles along with other targets such as anti-ship missiles, aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, cruise missiles etc. However, its capability to destroy powerful ballistic missiles is limited.
      Configurations of ballistic missile defence (BMD)

      There can be five possible configurations of the ballistic missile defence system. These are:
      • Land and sea based ballistic missile defence system against the incoming ballistic missile threats. This configuration of the ballistic missile defence system requires very high technological and infrastructural development and it is very expensive too. It is the safest configuration of ballistic missile defence but still, it is not 100 percent secure.
      • The second configuration involves deployment of the ballistic missile defence system for the protection of critical population centres, important cities, control and command centres, critical infrastructure centres such as nuclear power plants and the major economic zones etc. It is more pragmatic both strategic early and economically than the first configuration of BMD.
      • The third configuration involves deployment of a ballistic missile defence system for the protection of command and control centre, nuclear weapons and nuclear forces, and most important citizen population areas.
      • The fourth configuration involves deployment of ballistic missile defence for the protection of command and control centre, nuclear forces and the national capital. Considering the early stage of India's ballistic missile defence programme and financial cost of the deployment of BMD, this is the most suitable configuration for a country like India. This configuration protects the critical nodes of governance as well as the capability of retaliation and counter attack.
      • The fifth configuration involves the deployment of ballistic missile defence system around the command and control centres and the national capital. This is a defensive deployment of BMD and does not provide the capability of retaliation and counter attack through nuclear forces.
      Reasons for the development of ballistic missile defence for India
      • India does not have very friendly relations with nuclear armed neighbours such as China and Pakistan which make it more pragmatic for India to develop ballistic missile defence capability. This reduces the incentive for the nuclear capable enemy state to attack with nuclear weapons.
      • India has the no first use policy for its strategic nuclear weapons. An efficient ballistic missile defence system provides the capability for retaliation and counter attack in case of a nuclear attack by an enemy state.
      • The terrorist fractions and non-state actors in Pakistan have made efforts for obtaining missile technology. Ballistic missile defence would provide a shield from missile attacks by these non-state actors and can avoid unnecessary nuclear war between the two nuclear-armed nations.
      • The development of indigenous ballistic missile defence capability will also reduce the import bill of defence systems from foreign countries.
      • This will also provide the capability for better reconnaissance, tracking and detection of enemy attacks.
      Challenges and apprehensions on the deployment of a ballistic missile defence system
      • Any Ballistic missile defence system cannot guarantee 100% success rate in the interception of incoming ballistic missiles. In certain cases, there are chances of damage even after the interseption of the incoming ballistic missile. This can happen if the incoming missile is destroyed in the terminal phase. There cannot be any full proof defence against nuclear attack through ballistic missiles.
      • Deployment of the ballistic missile defence system is very costly which puts huge pressure on the government exchequer. For example, the American Continental ballistic missile defence system costs around $100 billion.
      • Deployment of BMD can start an arms race with Pakistan and China. They can develop more powerful missiles and their own ballistic missile defence systems. This can disturb the static balance.
      • Further, the wide and segregated geographical area of India creates difficulties in the protection of all critical centres of India.
      Deployment of the ballistic missile defence system in India
      • According to DRDO the PAD and AAD will work in tandem to provide a hit probability of 99.8%. The phase 1 of this missile defence system has been completed it can be deployed for protecting to Indian cities at short notice.
      • The national capital New Delhi and Mumbai have been selected to be deployed with the ballistic missile defence system. Other major cities of India will get the ballistic missile defence shield after the successful implementation of BMD in Delhi and Mumbai.
      • This BMD shield will be able to intercept incoming ballistic missiles launched from as far as 2500 km. After the completion of Prithvi Defence Vehicle, it will be possible to intercept incoming ballistic missiles launched from as far as 5000 km.
      • The government has cleared allocation of 850 hectares of land in Rajasthan for setting up radars for tracking the incoming ballistic missiles.


      The recent geostrategic and geopolitical situations in India's neighbourhood require India to strengthen its defence capabilities. The recent tensions with Pakistan after Pulwama attack and China's consistent backing of Pakistan based terrorist Masood Azhar force India to think more strategically and make itself ready for any situation. Ballistic missile defence system becomes an important pillar in India's defence capabilities as it also has a psychological effect on the enemy state. Deployment of indigenous BMD will also bolster India's make in India programme and would aid to its No First Use Policy.

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