India’s First Nuclear Missile Tracking Ship

For Indian Navy, Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) has constructed its first missile tracking ocean surveillance ship called “The VC11184”. This Ocean Surveillance Ship is in its final stage of being completed as is on its way to the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) after it was ordered by the Modi government to become a nuclear missile shield for the nation.

Build under the Make in India initiative and costing and juggernaut of Rs. 725 crore, The VC11184 is one of the largest indigenous warships at over 15,000 tons which generates over 14 MW of power to power its tracking radars. The sole purpose of making this Nuclear Missile Tracking Ship is to track enemy’s missiles. This ship can also provide accurate data on tests which are routinely carried out of numerous vessels and strategic missiles.

VC 11184 has two AESA radar arrays, one in the S band and one X band. The S Band array is used for scanning large volumes of the sky for objects and for tracking missiles in flight, while the X band array is used for zeroing in on small hard to detect objects like re-entry vehicles, missile interceptors, or even tiny satellites.

VC 11184 will play a strong role in collecting data for India’s ballistic missile defence (BMD) system and will also aid in tracking the performance of Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) out there in Open Ocean fired from India’s Arihant class of Submarines. AESA radars also can track hostile ballistic missiles and can also identify decoys with actual warheads fired from multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warhead capable ballistic missiles. AESA Radars are so lethal that they can provide detailed tracking of enemy fired ballistic missiles for a ground-based interceptor to take them down and can also be used to track space objects and projects, particularly if it is related to missile defence.

Primarily against ballistic missile threat from Pakistan, India’s ballistic missile defence program was conceived many years back. The plan was to have a double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception – with these two tiers aiming to intercept incoming missile launched from 5,000 km away. The system also includes overlapping network of early warning and tracking radars, as well as command and control posts. PAD was tested in November 2006, followed by the AAD in December 2007.

With the test of the PAD missile, India became the fourth country to have successfully developed an anti-ballistic missile system, after United States, Russia, and Israel, although the system is yet to be officially commissioned. It may also be recalled that on March 6, 2011, India launched its indigenous interceptor missile which destroyed a ‘hostile’ target ballistic missile, a modified Prithvi, at an altitude of 16 km over the Bay of Bengal.

VC 11184 will be critical components in India second phase development of ballistic missile defence (BMD) system which requires detection of a hostile missile fired from long range to be picked up early, once they are launched. Due to the limitation of ground based Radars and sensors, ballistic missile tracking ships stationed at high sea thus comes in handy for such long range tracking.

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