The hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched at 11:03 hours on September 7, 2020, from the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Launch Complex at Wheeler Island, off the coast of Odisha, in eastern India. Credit: Handout.

With a hypersonic renaissance already well underway in the United States, and with similar programs known to be active in China and Russia too, India’s latest “successful” hypersonic test couldn’t be more timely.

According to India, they have joined the hypersonic club with a successful first flight-test this morning of its indigenous Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle, The War Zone reported.

A product of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the vehicle supposedly utilizes air-breathing scramjet technology to propel it to hypersonic speeds.

Eventually, it’s hoped that the technology demonstrator will inform the development of future hypersonic cruise missiles, The War Zone reported. 

It isn’t any secret that India has one eye on its regional rival China when it comes to its military posture, and a hypersonic weapon would be a powerful addition.

The hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched at 11:03 hours on September 7, from the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Launch Complex at Wheeler Island, off the coast of Odisha, in eastern India, The War Zone reported.

A scramjet typically only functions properly at high speeds, requiring some kind of booster, generally a rocket motor, to accelerate it to operating velocity.

Then, the scramjet — an airbreathing jet in which the airflow is supersonic throughout the entire engine — kicks in. Hypersonic speeds are normally defined as Mach 5 or above.

The Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) was launched atop an Agni-I rocket — based on a short-range ballistic missile — which took it to an altitude of 18.6 miles and hypersonic velocity, according to a statement from the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), The War Zone reported.

At this point, the aerodynamic heat shields fell away and the cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle. The air intake for the scramjet deployed and the vehicle continued to fly for more than 20 seconds at a speed of around Mach 6. The scramjet engine was powered by kerosene fuel.

“The critical events like fuel injection and auto ignition of scramjet demonstrated technological maturity,” the DRDO announced. “The scramjet engine performed in a textbook manner.”

The entire test was monitored by telemetry stations, electro-optical systems, and tracking radars — including a research vessel in the Bay of Bengal, The War Zone reported.

On Twitter, the DRDO celebrated the achievement, describing the test as “a giant leap in indigenous defense technologies.”

India is also continuing to work with Russia on the scramjet-powered Brahmos-2 hypersonic cruise missile, with a preliminary agreement signed back in 2012. Credit: Handout.

The organization also noted that the mission “demonstrated capabilities for highly complex technology that will serve as the building block for NextGen Hypersonic vehicles.”

According to local media, the HSTDV will pave the way toward a practical weapon in the next five years, The War Zone reported.

Alongside the HSTDV, India is also continuing to work with Russia on the scramjet-powered Brahmos-2 hypersonic cruise missile, with a preliminary agreement signed back in 2012 and involving both the DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia.

It’s unclear how the two programs are related, if at all, but plans call for the Brahmos-2 to be made available in versions launched from land, sea, and aircraft platforms.

The Brahmos-2 may also leverage technology from the NPO Mashinostroyenia 3M22 Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, for which there are plans to arm a range of Russian Navy warships and submarines.