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Pic: Twitter/@DRDO_India
Pic: Twitter/@DRDO_India

India successfully test fires Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle

  • India first tested the HSTDV last year in June. The HSTDV is an unmanned scramjet technology demonstrator that can cruise up to a speed of mach 6 (or six times the speed of sound) and rise up to an altitude of 32 kilometres in 20 seconds.

NEW DELHI : India on Monday conducted a successful test flight of the indigenously developed Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), joining an elite group of countries i.e. the US, Russia and China, who possess the technology.

The HSDTV has a range of uses, including missiles of the future for air defence, surveillance and reconnaissance besides in the development of energy-efficient, low cost and reusable satellite-launch vehicles.

It comes in the wake of India acquiring the ability to use a missile to shoot down a satellite in space last year and demonstrating that the country had acquired submarine based nuclear deterrence capability in 2018.

Coincidentally Monday’s test also comes at a time when ties between India and China are frayed due to intrusions by Chinese troops into Indian territory and tensions are at unprecedented levels with thousands of troops facing off across the borders.

The success of Monday’s flight test of the HSTDV was confirmed by India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

“The @DRDO_India has today successfully flight tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle using the indigenously developed scramjet propulsion system. With this success, all critical technologies are now established to progress to the next phase," Singh said in the first of two posts on Twitter.

“I congratulate to DRDO on this landmark achievement towards realising PM’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat," he said referring to prime minister Narendra Modi’s “self reliant" India campaign that aims to transform Asia’s third largest economy into a manufacturing hub. “I spoke to the scientists associated with the project and congratulated them on this great achievement. India is proud of them," Singh said.

In its statement, the DRDO described the achievement as “historic."

“India successfully flight tested Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), a giant leap in indigenous defence technologies and significant milestone,"it said.

“DRDO with this mission has demonstrated capabilities for (developing and delivering) highly complex technology that will serve as the building block for NextGen Hypersonic vehicles in partnership with industry," it said.

India first tested the HSTDV last year in June. Like last year, Monday’s test was also conducted from the Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Launch Complex at Wheeler Island, off the coast of Odisha.

Giving details of the test, the statement said the hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched using a previously tested solid rocket motor, which propelled it to an altitude of 30 kilometres where the aerodynamic heat shields separated at hypersonic Mach number or speeds.

“The cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle and the air intake (channel) opened as planned. The hypersonic combustion (was) sustained and the cruise vehicle continued on its desired flight path at a velocity of six times the speed of sound i.e. nearly 2 km/s for more than 20s. The critical events like fuel injection and auto ignition of scramjet demonstrated technological maturity. The scramjet engine performed in a text book manner. The parameters of launch and cruise vehicle, including scramjet engine was monitored by multiple tracking radars, electro-optical systems and Telemetry Stations," the statement said.

“The scramjet engine worked at high dynamic pressure and at very high temperature. A ship was also deployed in the Bay of Bengal to monitor the performance during the cruise phase of hypersonic vehicle. All the performance parameters have indicated a resounding success of the mission," the DRDO said.

“With this successful demonstration, many critical technologies such as aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic manoeuvers, use of scramjet propulsion for ignition and sustained combustion at hypersonic flow, thermo-structural characterisation of high temperature materials, separation mechanism at hypersonic velocities" were tested, it added.

Besides its utility for long-range cruise missiles of the future, the dual-use technology will have multiple civilian applications too. For instance, it can be used for launching satellites, according to DRDO officials.

What gives a hypersonic missile its potency is the speed at which it travels, said Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, an expert on space and nuclear technology at the New Delhi- based Observer Research Foundation think tank. Countries like Russia and China have perfected this technology which makes it key for India to acquire it, she said. “This test today puts India in an elite club of nations definitely, but India will have to perfect the technology with many more tests," said Rajagopalan.

A hypersonic missile is a “quick reaction missile" which makes it invaluable in offensive as well as defensive uses, Rajagopalan said. In case of defence, it can be used to intercept incoming missiles in the outer atmosphere or in the inner atmosphere. It will help add to India’s ballistic missile defence capabilities, she said.

India has been developing a range of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles to meet its security challenges under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. These include the Prithvi and Agni missiles as well as the anti-tank Nag and surface to air Akash. India in collaboration with Russia has developed the Brahmos cruise missile.

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