The folks here are impressed, but they still have that sometimes irritatingly patronising air about assessing anything that they haven’t made themselves from the ground up. So Lt Gen Dennis Cavin, a retired US Army man who now holds a key post in Lockheed’s air defence technology division, laughs off Saraswat’s somewhat ill-advised sobriquet for the AAD — that it’s 30 per cent better than the Patriot-3 system. Now the Patriot-3 is itself a fairly dubious system — the 99 per cent kill probability that Lockheed-Martin trumpets is definitely not accurate — or at least true under very restricted and benevolent test conditions. On the other hand, Lt Gen Cavin is of the view that the AAD’s hit-to-kill capability is at best suspect, and it’s kill probability is unproven. I told him that you obviously had to wait a few more tests to take a call on that.
Either way, Saraswat and Lockheed seem to concur on one point — that a few successful tests of a complex technology is only the beginning. The real work actually starts now. Therefore Lt Gen Cavin’s team is heading down to hold technical level dialogue with Saraswat and his team to chart out a possible partnership that, if successful, will see an infusion of PAC-3 type technology into the AAD to catalyse its progress to operational clearance. By now, the Americans are pretty clear that they’re not going to be able to push the PAC-3 pitch to India with any credibility anymore, what with the successful AAD tests looked at as deep Indian milestones in missile research.
Lockheed-Martin’s gameplan was to offer the endo-atmospheric PAC-3 and the exo-atmospheric THAADS (terminal high altitude air defence system) as a layered BMD system, though the MoD is of the view (as far as back as Pranab Mukherjee’s time, actually), that if the US is really interested in seeing India well-protected against a missile threat, it should help India’s own programme. Somehow, I find that much more gratifying than being forced to cough up billions for a bunch of PAC-3 systems.