India may have just joined the hypersonic scramjet club with its first flight-test of its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle, according to a Monday press release from the nation's Ministry of Defence.
India reportedly tests its first hypersonic vehicle
India's Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) reportedly took to the air from the "Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Launch Complex" at Wheeler Island with a scramjet engine on Monday — at 11:03 AM, local time, reports The Drive.
Scramjets generally only work at high speeds, which means they need a booster — typically a rocket booster — to accelerate to full operating velocity. Once it's reached a good clip, the scramjet — a jet in which airflow remains supersonic as it moves through the engine — activates, accelerating the vehicle to speeds of Mach 5, or higher.
DRDO with this mission, has demonstrated capabilities for highly complex technology that will serve as the building block for NextGen Hypersonic vehicles in partnership with industry.— DRDO (@DRDO_India) September 7, 2020
India's hypersonic scramjet flew for 20 seconds
The HSTDV was launched aboard an Agni-I rocket — scarcely different than a short-range ballistic missile — which lifted the vehicle to an altitude of 18.6 miles (29.9 km) and the requisite hypersonic velocity, according to the press release from India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
When this happens, the aerodynamic heat shields fall away as the cruise vehicle undocks from the launch vehicle. The scramjet's air intake deploys as the vehicle flies for more than 20 seconds at a speed of roughly Mach 6. Kerosene powers the scramjet engine.
"The critical events like fuel injection and auto ignition of scramjet demonstrated technological maturity," announced the DRDO. "The scramjet engine performed in a textbook manner."
India proving next-gen hypersonic technology
The test was monitored via telemetry stations, tracking radars, and electro-optical systems — including a research vessel stationed in the Bay of Bengal.
The HSTDV aims to prove next-gen technologies for future weaponry — and could potentially be a way for the Indian Navy to challenge the Chinese Navy's push into anti-ship ballistic missiles, reports Forbes.
Hypersonic scramjet vehicles lose range with speed
The hypersonic scramjet vehicle has a short range, and as of writing carries no warheads. But an anti-ship missile built on the same technology could have a range of several hundred miles. However, increased velocity could come at the expense of range.
The tactical value of hypersonic missiles lies in their speed: objects at high velocity are extremely difficult to counter. If India did launch its first hypersonic scramjet vehicle, it joins a highly-exclusive club, consisting of Russia, China, and the United States. War is changing, but, as always, the most advanced military powers in the world are pushing the envelope in aerospace technology.