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India Developing Laser-based Missile Defense
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Arms Control NOW

By Eric Auner

Global Security Newswire reports that the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) wants to protect itself from incoming missiles using a "directed energy" system.

"Lasers are weapons of the future. We can, for instance, use laser beams to shoot down an enemy missile in its boost or terminal phase," the Times of India quoted Anil Kumar Maini, who heads the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization's Laser Science and Technology Center, as saying.

One device under development would fire a 25-kilowatt laser at a ballistic missile to destroy the weapon as its fell toward its target, Maini said. The system would render a missile harmless by rapidly heating it to between roughly 400 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit, the official was quoted as saying.

This is not the first Indian missile defense system, but its development indicates that the Indian government will continue to emphasize missile defense going forward. The Indian desire for missile defense is understandable, given its unstable neighborhood and nuclear-armed neighbors, but there is a real concern that the deployment of this system could hasten the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent. The Pakistani government seeks nuclear parity with India, and the deployment of Indian missile defenses could push the Pakistanis to build more weapons to compensate.

The U.S.-India relationship has been improving in recent years, due in part to the U.S.-India nuclear deal, which should give the U.S. more influence over Indian threat perceptions. If done correctly, the Indians could eventually come to see missile defense as less necessary.