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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

US offers advanced missile system to India

NEW DELHI: The US is offering India one of the world's most formidable shipboard missile systems that has the potential of being integrated with the country's indigenous missiles.

There was "some interest" in the Indian defence establishment in the Aegis system but neither has the US made an offer nor has India made any formal request for it, says Royce Caplinger, managing director of Lockheed Martin India, whose US parent manufactures the system.

"I am sure though that if you ask for it, you will get it," India Strategic defence magazine quotes him as saying.

The feelers to sell the Aegis are obviously part of the US government's agenda to help India become what the State Department called in its May 2005 policy statement "a global power."

Apparently, it is also part of the steps that are systematically being taken - like the civil nuclear deal - to draw New Delhi closer to Washington.

Aegis is named after the shield of mythological Greek god Zeus. Its sale, like of most military systems, is governed through government-to-government deals under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) or other US programmes. It appears, though, that Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest military vendor, has informal clearance to showcase the system to India.

The integrated combat system can track more than 100 missiles through its supercomputers and engage them according to priority, depending upon their velocity and height, including the sea-skimming attackers.

It is designed for multi-pronged, simultaneous warfare to engage and strike targets in the air, on sea, on the surface, as also sub-surface. Aegis has also been successful in half a dozen tests to intercept ballistic missile targets outside the earth's atmosphere.

Caplinger said Aegis had been successively modified and upgraded in technology over the years and that it was "the most advanced shipboard system" in the world to counter a variety of threats, including from aircraft and ballistic missiles.

Asked if it could be integrated with India's indigenous missiles, including the India-Russian BrahMos, he replied: "Theoretically yes." It could even be matched with the new anti-missile missile that India recently tested, "but that would depend entirely on the Indian scientists and India's requirements."

"The MK 41 Vertical Launching System (that is integrated into the Aegis system) is not currently configured to integrate the BrahMos or Agni, but it can be adapted," Caplinger added.

The fact that the Aegis system could manage vertical launch of missiles was important, particularly as the Indian Navy had a long-term plan to build several ships equipped with the facility to meet its projected requirements.

Its sophisticated SPY-I phased array radar and high-speed supercomputers read each oncoming threat 360 degrees, prioritize them according to their threat value, and then automatically launch appropriate missiles to neutralize them.

The latest version of the system is called Aegis BMD 3.6. In June 2006, it successfully intercepted even the separating warhead of a target missile in a test at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

The system's command and decision-making core is notable. Its computers differentiate between missiles, debris, and friendly aerial vehicles - and attack only what needs to be attacked.

Thus far, Aegis has only been sold to close US allies, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Australia. It is deployed on 69 US destroyers and cruisers and is being added on 17 more destroyers.

Thus, it is the mainstay "total weapon system" of the US Navy. According to Caplinger, Aegis was a very powerful system and would give an edge like no other to the Indian Navy.

The Aegis programme was launched in 1969 due to the changing nature of warfare that required transition from guns to missiles.

In 1967, a Soviet-built missile had sunk an Israeli destroyer in the Arab-Israeli war while in 1982, Argentina successfully used an Exocet missile to sink a Royal Navy frigate during the Falklands conflict. In 1988, when two Iranian vessels fired on US ships, the US Navy had used Harpoon missiles to neutralise them.
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