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Mon. August 08, 2022
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Hypersonic Technology in South Asia: Implications for the Region


By Ahmad Ali

In September 2020, India joined the club of countries with hypersonic technology by claiming a successful flight test of the scramjet-powered Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) for military purposes. It is likely to initiate a new arms race in South Asia as Pakistan would try to maintain deterrence stability. With the successful test of scramjet-powered HSTDV by the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India will be able to develop hypersonic missiles in the next five to ten years. Previously, Russia, China, and the USA have this technology.

Lethality of Hypersonic Missile

HSTDV is a carrier vehicle for a hypersonic cruise missiles. The hypersonic missile can carry conventional warheads as well which can be used to target military facilities. The speed and accuracy of the hypersonic missile are unmatchable which makes it more deadly. It can travel at least five times faster than the speed of sound and some can even travel twenty times faster than the speed of sound. Just Speed is not the major quality of this type of weapon but the combination of speed and maneuverability over long ranges makes it lethal. The weapon’s maneuverability makes its flight path and final destination harder to predict. This indigenously developed HSTDV by India achieved the speed of Mach 6. After India’s failed test of HSTDV in June 2019, successful development in September 2020 has disturbed the balance of power in South Asia. India, by testing HSTDV, has gained superiority over Pakistan. Military Hypersonic technology seems to be flawless in hitting counterforce targets and performing decapitation strike. Due to its extraordinary speed and maneuverability, the current type of missile defense is not adequate to defend against hypersonic missiles.

Implications for the Region

In South Asia, Pakistan and India both possess nuclear weapons. Both these countries have rivalry mainly because of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan is conventionally weaker than India so deterrence plays a very important role in maintaining peace in the region. Hypersonic technology would bring instability in the region. Due to proximity between both countries, the chances of miscalculations are very high. Most importantly, there is not much geographic distance between both countries and hypersonic technology will critically reduce the time taken to launch and execute a nuclear attack. During the Pulwama crisis, both the countries singled each other to use missiles on each other but third part intervention helped reduce the tension. The development of hypersonic missiles would greatly affect the strategic stability in South Asia. India’s development of hypersonic technology has brought instability in the region. Pakistan is already behind in supersonic missile technology from India. Hypersonic missiles will give India, the advantage over Pakistan to conduct the first strike against the strategic assets of Pakistan. It will take five to ten years for India to test hypersonic missile and will take more than a decade to become fully mature in terms of hypersonic technology. India already has developed supersonic missile BrahMos and has tested an extended range of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with a range of 450 km on September 30, 2020, and India is also working to develop BrahMos-II, a hypersonic cruise missile with the speed of Mach 7, in collaboration with Russia. This missile is being developed by India and Russia in collaboration but the development of HSTDV signals that India is also planning to develop hypersonic cruise missiles indigenously.

Previously, India has acquired nuclear submarine and is also working on acquiring more. India is also working on modernizing its conventional capabilities keeping in view the Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD). India is trying to engage Pakistan on multi-fronts. Pakistan has a declared policy not to engage in the arms race in South Asia but Pakistan has to adopt policies to counter this emerging threat. Being an expensive and new technology, Pakistan will have to go for alternate policies for now but in long run, Pakistan needs to develop hypersonic technology to maintain the element of deterrence. China is another factor, particularly in India’s military planning, as India pursues longer-range missiles that are more relevant to deterring China than Pakistan. Being a rival of China, India competes with China which is a security dilemma for Pakistan. This creates a complex nuclear geometry in Southern Asia, because of this the developments intended to provide stability often have the opposite effect. India claims that China is a major threat to India but practically, most of the troops of India are deployed along the Western border which suggests otherwise. Indeed, some of the recent developments by India raise serious concerns about stability in South Asia.


In a nutshell, Pakistan is facing many economic challenges at this time which are restricting Pakistan to get involved in the nuclear arms race with India. In near future, Pakistan has to go for either hypersonic technology or an alternate option to deter India from taking any unacceptable action against Pakistan. India’s testing of HSTDV has created a security dilemma for Pakistan and it is likely to initiate a new arms race in South Asia.

Ahmad Ali is a third-year undergraduate student of Strategic Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad. He is currently working as a Research Intern at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).


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