India’s Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is preparing for longer trials of its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) later this year. This marks a significant step forward in the country’s quest to develop hypersonic weapons, capable of travelling at speeds exceeding Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound).

The HSTDV program has seen a mixed bag of results so far. The first test in June 2019 was unsuccessful, but the second one in September 2020 achieved a breakthrough. The scramjet-powered HSTDV maintained Mach 6 speed for 22-23 seconds after separating from its launch vehicle at an altitude of 30 kilometres.

In early 2023, another successful test extended the flight duration to nearly a minute. However, DRDO’s ultimate goal is to conduct a 400-second test, translating to roughly 6.6 minutes of hypersonic flight later this year. This ambitious target, if achieved, would propel the HSTDV over 800 kilometres, a substantial leap from the 47 kilometres covered in the 22-second test at Mach 6.

Hypersonic weapons offer several advantages over traditional ballistic missiles. Their manoeuvrability makes them more challenging to intercept, and their shorter flight times can significantly reduce warning times for targets.

India’s focus on hypersonic technology stems from its desire to develop a credible deterrent against potential adversaries like China and Pakistan, both of whom are actively pursuing their hypersonic programs.

Beyond the Demonstrator Phase

Successful completion of the extended HSTDV trials will pave the way for the actual development of hypersonic weapons in India. DRDO envisions two main types:

  • Hypersonic cruise missiles: These missiles would be powered by scramjets throughout their flight, offering sustained high speeds and manoeuvrability.
  • Hypersonic glide vehicles: Launched atop ballistic missiles, these vehicles would glide towards their targets at hypersonic speeds, utilizing their aerodynamic shape for control.

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