As DRDO launched the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) calling it a "giant leap in indigenous defence technologies", India joined a select group of countries which achieved a significant milestone.
The test puts India into the select club of nations who have demonstrated this technology. India has become the fourth country after the USA, Russia, and China to demonstrate this technology.
Entire family of very high cruise missiles
The test was conducted off the south-eastern coast of India on Abdul Kalam Island, formerly known as Wheeler Island.
The test is essentially the first step towards the development of an entire family of very high cruise missiles and other weapon systems.
SCRAM jet engine
"The hypersonic test demonstration vehicle which is successfully flight tested from an interim test range off the coast of Bay of Bengal from Odisha, is a major technological breakthrough of the country. The SCRAM jet engine has been successfully flight tested at hypersonic speeds within the atmosphere," G. Satheesh Reddy, chief of India's defence research and development organization, said.
"The DRDO has today successfully flight-tested the hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle using the indigenously developed scramjet propulsion system. with this success, all critical technologies are now established to progress to the next phase," India's defence minister tweeted.
Aerodynamic heat shields
The hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched using a proven solid rocket motor, which took it to an altitude of 30km where the aerodynamic heat shields were separated at hypersonic Mach number.
The cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle and the air intake opened as planned. The hypersonic combustion sustained and the cruise vehicle continued on its desired flight path at a velocity of six times the speed of sound that its nearly 2km/s for more than 20s.
Hypersonic test demonstration
The scramjet engine was monitored by multiple tracking radars, electro-optical systems and telemetry stations. A ship was deployed in the Bay of Bengal to monitor the launch.
"The hypersonic test demonstration vehicle which is successfully flight tested from an interim test range off the coast of Bay of Bengal from Odisha, is a major technological breakthrough of the country. The SCRAM jet engine has been successfully flight tested at hypersonic speeds within the atmosphere," DRDO's Reddy asserted.
India's missile test comes amid a report by Pentagon last week which said that China is expected to at least double the number of its nuclear warheads over the next decade from the low 200s now and is nearing the ability to launch nuclear strikes by land, air and sea, a capacity known as a triad.
The Pentagon said that China has nuclear warheads in the low 200s, the first time the U.S. military has disclosed this number. The Federation of American Scientists has estimated that China has about 320 nuclear warheads.
The Pentagon said the growth projection was based on factors including Beijing having enough material to double its nuclear weapons stockpile without new fissile material production.
India vs China
The Pentagon's estimate is in line with an analysis by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Earlier this year, China's Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times said Beijing needs to expand the number of its nuclear warheads to 1,000 in a relatively short time.
The report said that in October 2019, China publicly revealed the H-6N bomber as its first nuclear capable air-to-air refuelling bomber.
China's nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the United States', which has 3,800 nuclear warheads stockpiled, and Russia's, which has roughly 4,300, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
The Pentagon report, based on 2019 information, said China's military continued to "enhance its readiness" to prevent Taiwan's independence and carry out an invasion if needed.