One of the world's most formidable shipboard missile systems, the Aegis weapons system, may well be on offer to India, if the country's defence establishment should feel sufficiently interested. According to American aerospace major Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the system, Aegis has the potential to be integrated with the country's indigenously developed missile systems.
Lockheed Martin India president, Royce Caplinger, in an interview with the India Strategic magazine, conceded that though there was "some interest" in the Indian defence establishment in the Aegis system, no offer for supply has been made by the US government, or for that matter, has any formal request for the system been made by India. However, he dropped a broad hint in the interview. "I am sure, though, that if you ask for it you will get it," India Strategic magazine quotes him as saying.
According to Caplinger, the Aegis system, after years of modification and technology up-gradation, was by now "the most advanced shipboard system" in the world, which could tackle a variety of threats, including those from aircraft and ballistic missiles.
On the issue of the system being capable of integration with India's indigenously developed missile systems, including the Indo-Russian BrahMos, Caplinger said, "Theoretically, yes."
Interestingly, he even said that the system would be compatible with the new anti-missile system recently tested by DRDO. He would have been referring to the anti-ballistic missile test, the Prithvi Air Defence Exercise (PADE), that India recently tested. According to Caplinger, such integration, however, "…would depend entirely on the Indian scientists and India's requirements."
"The MK 41 Vertical Launching System (that is integrated into the Aegis system) is not currently configured to integrate the BrahMos or Agni, but it can be adapted," Caplinger added.
According to analysts, an offer for the Aegis system would obviously be part of the US government's agenda to help India become what the State Department called in its May 2005 policy statement "a global power." It would also be in tune with other initiatives that are being systematically taken, such as the civil nuclear deal, to draw New Delhi into Washington's ambit.
Analysts also surmise that Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest military vendor, may well have received informal clearance to showcase the system to India. The sale of such a system, like of most military systems, would be governed through government-to-government deals under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) or other US programmes.
An integrated combat system, such as the Aegis, can track more than 100 missiles with its electronic systems and supercomputers, and engage them according to their threat priority. It can engage, and strike, targets in the air, on sea, on the surface, and also sub-surface. The system's command and decision-making core allows its computers to differentiate between missiles, debris, and friendly aerial vehicles, launching an attack only on what needs to be attacked.
The Aegis Ballistic Missile defence system has also been successful in half a dozen tests to intercept ballistic missile targets outside the earth's atmosphere. The latest version of the system is called Aegis BMD 3.6.
So far, Aegis has been supplied to close US allies, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Australia. It is also deployed on 69 US destroyers and cruisers and is slated to be added on 22 more destroyers.