Our country achieved the distinction of being among the top FOUR nations of the world possessing multi-level strategic deterrence thanks to range of indigenous missiles designed and developed by India’s DRDO. My original article published in the April 2016 issue of DSA – Defence and Security Alert, expanded with more contents and images briefly touches upon the saga.
The Saga of Weapons of Peace
Sun was preparing to set on that cloudy evening amidst frequent lightning while attention of the whole world was focused on the small island in bay of Bengal. Yes literally, the eyes in sky, the satellites of every capable nation were zooming on to the region. Already the buildings, hangers, hostels had been vacated and bulk of the people had been shifted to giant boats and sent to safe distances. Those needed on island were to be confined to specially designed building called block house before range safety officer could give a go ahead. Waiting in my room for signal to shift with two wonderful friends to the block house, I was still in my room, when I got a brief call from Dr Vijay Kumar Saraswat, then SA to RM (Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri) and DRDO chief: “We will do it tomorrow morning, you can tell”. History was in making on 18th April 2012 when after due assessment of situation caused by incessant lightning, the maiden launch of three stage, solid rocket propelled Agni 5 (or simply A5), India’s first long range ballistic missile capable of delivering devastating blow to an enemy as far as more than 5000 km away with two digit (meters) precision had to be postponed, in order to avoid possibility of losing part of desired sub-second information about health of numerous on board subsystems during the flight.
Critical In-flight Data
When test firing of a delivery vehicle of such class is carried out during peacetime, the most valuable output is not just the magnificent rise of giant missile from the launch paid or the long journey covered in few minutes, or the splashdown at desired target point, but the voluminous data sent by specially installed onboard sensors and devices. The information and its analysis apart from building confidence in reliability of effectiveness of the weapon system helps in further refining the system and designing still more advanced ones in the never ending maddening game of “how come his shirt be whiter than mine” thrusted upon even a peace loving nation like India by the prevalent threatening expansionist environs.
The Importance of A5
Mix of curiosity and anxiety among international power circles was understandable. Successful launch of A5 was going to be a game changer for several reasons. Indigenous, like it’s predecessors in Agni series, A5 in fact was far more advanced terms of technological refinement, being second to none. A5 was going to be realization of long cherished dream of acquiring much needed visible and credible strategic deterrence commensurate with its threat perception against blackmail of a nuclear threat. Designed to be stored and carried in a canister and transported on road-mobile indigenous launcher cum transporter, the phenomenal reach of A5 could be visualized by placing center of a 5000 km radius circle at various places near periphery of the nation.
Enthusiasm of Young Scientists
Our colleagues had begun to return to the rooms for some rest. The three of us, with mixed feelings and somewhat sad or perhaps annoyed with the rain gods, were still discussing in the corridor when a group of young lady scientists noticed us and shouted reassuringly “Don’t worry sir, it’s going to fly tomorrow morning”. It is not that we had any doubt in our minds, but the sparkle in their eyes was indeed a reflection of deep involvement of young minds, their commitment and unshakable self-confidence. Bubbling with energy, there was no sign of tiredness though entire team A5 had been working, more or less day and night, away from families and small children back home for several days, weeks in some cases, reassuring themselves that the components and subsystems developed by them were going to behave flawlessly as part of the giant system of systems. Indeed, those were unique and proud moments to see the beautiful, serene and otherwise lonely island that has been now renamed as “Abdul Kalam Island”, bursting with round the clock activity amidst tight but barely visible security, with people sporting informal dresses, irrespective of age, rank or gender, including the DRDO chief, working together as an extended family. (DRDO is the popular name for Defence Research and Development Organization of India’s Ministry of Defence, engaged in design, development and leading to production state of art military systems, material, processes and equipment for armed forces)
Red Letter Day
History was indeed created when the next day, ie. 19th January 2012, Agni 5 roared into the morning sky at 0807 hrs, meticulously followed the assigned trajectory, dropping on way it’s three stages including the innovatively designed and fabricated conical composite rocket motor that has significantly contributed to reduced weight of A5, and finally splashing down in the target area about 5000 km away in the Indian Ocean south of equator, with great precision. The flight was closely monitored throughout its path by land and ship based sensors, besides possibly by the global powers peeping down through their air and space based assets. “MD announces the successful completion of mission A5-01” Dr Avinash Chander, the Mission Director of A5-01 declared with a visible sense of pride and satisfaction. A pridefully elated Dr Saraswat congratulated the team and said “We have made a history by successfully launching A5-01 – Heartiest Congratulations…”. The block house was erupting with blissful ecstasy with people affectionately carrying their leaders on their shoulders and hugging each other. The news was breaking barriers of boundaries with channels across the globe focusing on India’s entry into the elite club of just a few nations possessing similar capabilities. A5 was now on way to join the arsenal of “Weapons of Peace”, as indeed they are in the hands of Bhaarat, the peaceful and responsible largest democracy of the world.
Beating The Boycotts
Notably, the maiden and fully successful flight of A5 had taken place within three years of sanction of the project in 2009, a good enough indication of techno-managerial maturity of the organisation in terms of conceptualising, executing and taking to conclusion technologically complex projects involving not just development of giant system of systems, but newer technologies as well, in a speedy manner.
The test has since been succeeded by two more trials. The last one A5-03 being historic in its own way, firing the missile from a canister, was held on 31st January 2015. A canister is a complex tube like structure specifically designed to store the missile during transportation, protecting the missile, enhancing its shelf life, sharply reducing response time and offering advantages of camouflage. The canister pops up the missile in air before missile’s motors are fired. In nutshell, it gives capability to launch missile from anywhere, at very short notice.
Challenges Before the Newborn Nation
In post independence India, initial work on developing guided missiles had begun in DRDO soon after its formation in 1958 and was pursued in unfavourable circumstances. Bhaarat, once a great and flourishing nation that once ruled the world markets had to pass through a down phase caused by wrong decisions and priorities of its people combined with betrayals by disgruntled, selfish enemies within, giving opportunities for invaders to initiate a long era of loot, plunder and socio-cultural onslaught. Downsized from Bhaarat to India, not only its wealth was systematically destroyed or looted away, it also lost bulk of it’s traditional knowledge and skills, time tested deep rooted India had to struggle with aftermaths of “partition bloodbath”, “post independence wars”, “droughts”, “endless red-tapes meticulously crafted by colonial rulers for slaves and faithfully adopted by subsequent rulers”, roller-coaster “international fuel prices”, free falling currency, mounting corruption, numerous divisive forces and not really conducive (often obstructive) policies.
Cradle of Indian Missiles
Metcalfe House on the banks of river Yamuna had come to house the Defence Science Laboratory DSL (now renamed as LASTEC), often called the mother of DRDO labs. DSL had a small group called SWDT (Special Weapons Development Team) working on missile technologies and was able to successfully test fire its small tactical missile from the sands of riverbed. The activity was shifted to Imarat Kancha in outskirts of Hyderabad during early sixties itself. In the background discussed in preceding paragraph, the nation had many other priorities. Resultant resource crunch faced by DRDO kept the progress much slower than achievable. With “never say die spirit” next two decades witnessed slow but significant progress in terms of learning and mastering many key technologies as also few systems such as “Devil” surface to air missile. However, emerging geopolitical scenario and dynamics of wars thrusted upon people of India led to enhancement in priority for indigenous development of state of art guided weapons. Thus, the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program – IGMDP was conceptualised in a scenario of “Control Regimes” set to deny India access to required guided missiles or any associated technology, test equipment or machinery.
‘Can Do IT’ Aplomb
The IGMDP, sanctioned in 1983, under leadership of visionaries like Dr VS Arunachalam, the then SA to RM and Dr Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Director, Defence Research and Development Laboratory – DRDL, was a mega program in view of magnitude of R&D activities ever undertaken in India. The program aimed at development of four guided missiles namely Prithvi, Akash, Nag and Trishul. The fifth major objective was development and demonstration of reentry technology essential for long range ballistic missiles. Such systems and associated technologies available in only a few powerful nations and denied to India, necessitated them to be reinvented. It was done, and was done successfully at a fraction of cost elsewhere. But the biggest contribution of IGMDP has been a “CAN DO IT” feel for people of India and not just DRDO. India’s academia and industry – both public and private sector had participated on an unprecedented scale. A unique ecosystem and program management structure had been evolved, making India’s entry among “Haves”. Unique centres of excellence and specialized facilities were created. Research Centre Imarat – RCI was formed to develop denied technologies indigenously whereas Advanced Systems Laboratory – ASL was formed to focus on long distance ballistic missiles and reentry technologies. Integrated Test Range was established to provide infrastructure for safe test launches of missiles and to monitor the missiles throughout their flight path with the help of suitably located radar and telemetry stations and electro-optic tracking systems. The work centers for IGMDP were not limited to DRDO laboratories such as R&DE(E), HEMRL, ARDE, SSPL, TBRL and so on but many other R&D and academic institutions as well, with Dr Kalam as a powerful unifying and binding force generating synergies. The success of IGMDP laid foundation for development of many advanced guided weapon systems and generated capabilities to achieve contemporary systems in reasonable time. Spectrum of missiles emerged with success of IGMDP as base and are still emerging. Here are a few:
Strategic Deterrence – The Weapons of Peace
Prithvi: Powered by indigenous liquid propellant rocket motor Prithvi tactical missile had its maiden flight on 25th February 1988 at 1123 hr and was inducted in 1994 as a tactical weapon. Later, variants were evolved for differents users namely Army, Navy, Air Force, SFC with ranges varying from 150 km to 350 Km and payloads 1000 kg and 500 kg.
Agni series: These (Agni 1 to 5) are solid rocket propelled platforms with high payload capacity and designed to deliver strategic weapons with high precision even at long distances and cover ranges from about 300 km to more than 5000 km. Technologies and capabilities developed in the process have opened new possibilities such as “satellite launch on demand from anywhere”, “MIRV” (Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicle) and “Anti Satellite Weapons”.
Underwater Launched Strategic Missile – BO5: Yet another feather in the cap, the fully indigenous ballistic missile designed to be launched from a submarine completed pre-production trials about three years back. A nuclear powered submarine equipped with such strategic weapons is till date the ultimate deterrence with unmatched reach.
What is Strategic Deterrence? The course of second world war (and that of India’s freedom struggle led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose) was abruptly altered by the Infamous “Little-boy” and “Fat-man”, the two nuclear bombs that annihilated two very thickly populated cities of Japan, namely Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to unconditional surrender of an otherwise determined Japan. That’s the power of a strategic weapon. Now, if Japan had similar weapons and capability to drop them across pacific, would US have still dared to use atom bomb against? This scare of “eye for an eye”, the “fear of retaliation” is called Strategic Deterrence.
Would arm twisting by sending 7th fleet during 1971 war taken place if India had had its own Weapons of Peace?
Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System
The threat of an ‘eye for an eye’ is perhaps insufficient to deter a Rogue Nation or a ‘Non-State Player’ that may not think of human values before launching a nuclear attack . Once launched, the only way to counter a ballistic missile is its physical destruction. Till date, the only practical and reliable all weather defense is by means of an interceptor missile. Stakes are too high. A Ballistic Missile Defense system is a highly complex precision weapon armed with a capability that is superior to hitting a bullet with bullet. The endo-atmospheric interceptor AAD capable of interception upto the reaches of atmosphere ( ~30 km) has been successfully tested several times by DRDO against physical targets simulating trajectory of a typical 2000 km range ballistic missile.
Range of Tactical Missiles
Akash SAM based Air Defence System
Akash is a cost effective, command guided, fully integrated, mobile, multi-directional, multi-target air defence system, equipped with advanced Electronic Counter Countermeasures (ECCM). It offers point defence as well as area defence in a fully autonomous mode of operation allowing automated management of air defence functions such as programmable surveillance, target detection, target acquisition, tracking, identification, threat evaluation, prioritization, assignment and engagement. Akash can operate between altitudes around 30 m to over 18 km with a wide no-escape zone. With orders worth more than Rs 23,000 crore from our own Army and Air Force already under execution, more in the pipeline, Akash system with is low cost and high performance has huge export potential.
Astra Air to Air Missile
ASTRA is India’s the first indigenous “Beyond Visual Range” Air-to-Air Missile. It possesses very high Single Shot Kill Probability (SSKP) making it highly reliable. Astra is an all weather missile with active Radar terminal guidance, excellent ECCM features, smokeless propulsion and possess improved effectiveness in multi-target scenario, making it a highly advanced, state-of the-art precision weapon.
Long Range Cruise Missile – Nirbhay
A thousand kilometer class cruise missile under development, Nirbhay is powered by a turbofan engine and guided by an advanced navigation system. It is designed with capability of flying very low to dodge enemy radars and loiter near the target to strike at the most optimum moment with precision.
Helina Anti Tank Missile
Helina is the helicopter launched version of Nag anti-tank missile. Helina, a “Lock-on before Launch”, “Fire and forget” missile with a range of over 7 km is capable of attacking in top attack mode as well.
In the direction of developing systems to drop bombs with high precision from safe distances, a 1000 kg glide bomb was successfully tested by DRDO over a year ago. The bomb dropped by an Indian Air force aircraft and guided by its ‘on board navigation system’ had glided for nearly 100 km before hitting the target with great precision.
BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile jointly developed and manufactured by BrahMos Aerospace, an Indo-Russian joint venture of DRDO with “NPO Mashinostroyenia” of Russia formed in February 1998 amalgamating strengths of the two organizations. It flies at supersonic speeds throughout its flight range of about 290 km (restricted due to MTCR). Vertical launch from canister, high precision, target discrimination capabilities, combined with steep diving even at supersonic speeds make BrahMos a unique and deadly weapon that is designed to be launched from ground, ship, submarine and aircraft. Indian Navy and Army have already inducted BrahMos in large numbers. Aircraft launched version for Air Force is likely to be inducted soon.
Future is Bright
DRDO had to pass through a phase of struggles, learning, capacity building and often ‘reinventing the wheel’ because of unethical denials enforced directly or indirectly by the giant players of ‘Arms Bazaar’ is. Thanks to them because that made DRDO work from the basics and self-learn all the associated ‘know-why’ and not just ‘know-how’ resulting in placing India’s missile program on a firm foundation with capability to develop any required strategic missile within few years. In the arena of tactical missiles too, missiles like ‘Astra’ and ‘Akash’ are proof of India’s technological strength. Recent changes in the policies related to ‘Defense Procurement’ and ‘Defense Production’ in particular and improvements in ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in general combined with the strength of indigenous capacities and capabilities are sure to boost ‘Self-reliance’ and ‘Made in India’.
MD announces the successful completion of mission A5-01
We have made a history by successfully launching A5-01 – Heartiest Congratulations.