DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar briefed the media on an Indian “high-speed flying object” that fell in Mian Channu, Khanewal district on Wednesday night. He said:
“On March 9, at 6:43 pm, a high-speed flying object was picked up inside the Indian territory by Air Defence Operations Centre of the Pakistan Air Force.”
“From its initial course, the object suddenly maneuvered towards Pakistani territory and violated Pakistan’s air space, ultimately falling near Mian Channu at 6:50 pm.”
“PAF continuously monitored the complete flying path of the object, from its point of origin near Sirsa, in Indian Punjab”, to its point of impact, near Mian Channu.“ PAF initiated requisite tactical actions,” he said.
“It is important to highlight that the flight path of this object endangered many international and domestic passenger flights — both in Indian and Pakistani air space — as well as human life and property on the ground.”
“Whatever caused this incident to happen, it is for the Indians to explain. It, nevertheless, shows their disregard for aviation safety and reflects very poorly on their technological prowess and procedural efficiency,” he said, adding that “this could have resulted in a major aviation disaster.”
Read more: Pakistan warns India after “supersonic missile” violates air space
Responding to a question, DG ISPR stated that the supersonic projectile was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet before it fell near Mian Channu. Replying to another question, he said that the object fell due to some technical fault and was not shot down. A few questions arise:
Was it a ballistic or a cruise missile?
Going by the video footage of the wreckage, the flying object was most probably a cruise missile.
A cruise missile flies at the treetop level to avoid the enemy’s air defences. Why was this object flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet, making it vulnerable to ground-launched air defence weapons?
Range and stealth, the two major requirements for a cruise missile, are compromised at supersonic speeds. Look how: Once anything crosses the speed of sound it creates a wall of compressed air in front of it which it has to keep pushing to move forward. The higher the speed, the denser the wall of compressed air, and the more energy needed to push it. At higher altitudes air is thin and this effect is less pronounced. At lower altitudes air is dense and the problem is magnified. For a missile flying at high altitudes to fly its maximum range, the stealth is compromised and the enemy sees it from far away.
India has two supersonic cruise missiles in its inventory – BrahMos (Brahmaputra-Moskva) and Nirbhay. Due to the compressed air limitations, both these missiles are constrained to fly at high altitudes till short of the target. They get into the terrain hugging/sea-skimming mode only in the terminal stage, at subsonic speed.
Thus to travel its 295 km maximum range, Brahmos has to fly at an altitude of 14 km (45,500feet). Nirbhay, with a maximum range of 1500 km, is deployed along the Line of Actual Control between India and China. It has a lower ceiling – its maximum flying altitude is 4 km (13000 feet). Both these missiles have to fly at high altitudes to push forward the shock wave of compressed air created at supersonic speed. That’s why their ranges get reduced at low altitudes. So, most probably it was a BrahMos missile.
Read more: India gets slammed for ‘accidentally’ firing missile into Pakistan
India’s BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is a stripped-down version of Russia’s P-800, developed and produced by the private company NPO. India has been given the technology to produce the land, air, and sea versions of BrahMos. The P-800 in use with Russia has a range of 600 Km whereas Brahmos’ range has been purposely reduced by the Russians to 295 km. Reason- the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) restricts Russia from exporting the technology of cruise missiles having a range of more than 300 km.
Did the flying object crash due to a technical fault, or was it shot down?
DG ISPR said the object fell, probably due to some technical glitch, however shooting down cannot be dismissed altogether. The cruise missile either strayed into Pakistani airspace, or it was sent to test Pakistan’s air defence capabilities. DG ISPR’s statement, it looks, is to keep the Indians guessing.
Why has Pakistan not gone for a supersonic cruise missile?
A supersonic missile is too fast to make tight turns and go round mountains to avoid detection by rapidly changing its flight path. It is for this reason NATO armies prefer sub-sonic cruise missiles. Ostensibly, Pakistan’s armed forces do not need a supersonic cruise missile, which has glaring drawbacks in range, size, weight, maneuverability, stealth, and installation on aircraft and ships.
A comparison of BrahMos with Pakistan’s Babur cruise missile:
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.