Friday, December 19, 2008

India and Russia Agree on Helo Deal, Review Joint Defense Projects

India agreed to buy 80 Mil Mi-17V-5 helicopters worth $1.2 billion during a visit to Delhi by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev early this month. These will replace 35-year old Mi-8 choppers the Indian Air Force currently flies. The deal includes weapons options and an offset obligation worth $405 million. Accompanying Medvedev were Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdukov and United Aircraft Corp. chief Alexei Fedorov.

Most of the key Indo-Russian defense projects were discussed during the visit, including the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA); modernization and transfer of Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov to India; multipurpose cargo aircraft, a long-mooted joint development; and the delivery of more Su-30MKI combat aircraft and licensed production by Hindustan Aeronautics.  Regarding the FGFA, Fedorov said the two countries would sign a contract early next year to jointly develop the fighter. Sukhoi is already working on the project.

Additionally, Medvedev said the two countries must agree on a revised contract for the troubled modernization and transfer of the Admiral Gorshkov carrier to India, but no progress was reported during the talks. In 2004, Rosboronexport signed a $750 million contract for the work, but Russia subsequently claimed another $1.2 billion would be required to overhaul the ship and deliver MiG-29K fighters and Ka-27/31 helicopters.

Indian military tests Smerch MLRS

Indian defence scientists have successfully tested the Russian-manufactured Smerch (Tornado) Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

At least five tests, which gauged flight stability, accuracy and consistency, were held at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur. 

"The Smerch can launch 12 rockets at a time," a defence scientist told Express Buzz. "It is able to fire single rockets or salvo from two to all 12 rockets. A full salvo lasts 38 seconds."

The scientist also explained that the MLRS was capable of launching surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles. "The system can be integrated with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide a new dimension to artillery defence system," he added.

According to Army Technology, the 9K58 Smerch 300mm MLRS was designed to defeat soft and hard-skinned targets, artillery and missile systems. The MLRS fires a 300mm 9M55K rocket with a solid propellant rocket motor capable of a 20-70km range.

The 9M55K rocket, which measures 7.5m in length and weighs over 800kg, can be fitted with a warhead containing 72 HE-FRAG (High-Explosive Fragmentation) submunitions. Alternatively, the rocket is capable of handling a HE-FRAG separable unitary warhead as well as five Bazalt MOTIV-3F anti-armour submunitions.

It should be noted that the Indian Army  test-fired a modernised Smerch-M system in 2002, which featured an automatic rocket preparing and launching system, along with an increased projectile range of up to 90km.  X

Thursday, December 18, 2008

India builds defence missile shield with US

India is soon to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United States to boost its missile defence system. The MoU is aimed at giving India the state of the art technology that will allow it to intercept any threat from ballistic missiles.

In the cold war era Russian and Americans were in a state of conflict, tension and competition. Both the superpowers were engaged in costly defence spending and in a massive conventional and nuclear arms race and numerous proxy wars.

Then American President Reagan's dream-dubbed star war didn't quite shape up but was scaled down to a more realistic version of ground-based anti-missile systems.

India's Agni missile -- a strategic strike missile -- is being tested. Now, India is joining hands with the United States of America to create its own missile shield to protect and destroy.

The missile defence programme is intended to be a defensive screen with the ability to track and destroy incoming ballistic missiles. The command centre communicates target information to ground-based interceptors. This can then intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missile warheads outside the earth's atmosphere. Called kill vehicles, these interceptors isolate the warhead from the missile decoy.

India will now have access to these technologies and will also ask the US to allow it to observe missile tests like this. The crucial help will come in enhancing capabilities of its own command centres which will act as the brains of the missile defence system.

India will now use this advance technology to defend its territory and keep its forces in a state of readiness.

India's first, BrahMos launched in vertical configuration

BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with a strike-range of 290 kms was on Thursday successfully test-fired in a vertical launch configuration for the first time by the Indian Navy.

With this launch, BrahMos has become the world's first and only supersonic cruise missile capable of being launched from both vertical and inclined positions from naval platforms. "BrahMos missile was successfully test fired in vertical-launch configuration from an Indian Navy ship in the Bay of Bengal today," Defence Ministry sources said.

The test, the sources said, was carried out at midday from a moving Rajdoot class warship. The vertical launcher used in the test has been designed and developed by the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos Corporation.

"The test has proved and demonstrated the new universal vertical launcher designed and developed by the Corporation," they said. "The mission objectives of the test were fully achieved," the sources said.

The launch, carried out in presence of senior Navy officers and DRDO scientists, will give a boost to the future deployment of BrahMos in the naval platforms, they said.

"This will give a boost to ongoing programme of future ship installation for the missile. It will be installed in vertical launch configuration in all the future ships of the Indian Navy. This will include the both ships under construction and the ones who come back to shipyards for refurbishment," the sources added.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tejas (LCA) Fighter Jet High-Altitude Trials at Leh Successful: DRDO

India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has achieved a major milestone when its prototype landed at Leh air base in the high-altitude Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. "Tejas (LCA) programme reached a major milestone when the prototype vehicle PV-3 landed at Leh on December 13 this year at 1326 hours," Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) officials said here on Tuesday.

The event is seen as significant on many counts as Leh airfield is situated at an altitude of 10,600 feet and is one of the highest airfields in the world with a temperature variation ranging from plus 5 degrees Celsius to minus 20 degrees Celsius. The objective of the current phase of flight trials at Leh was to expose the on-board systems to the extreme low temperatures while making an assessment of the aircraft performance in the rarefied atmospheric conditions, DRDO officials said.

Two Tejas prototypes PV-3 and LSP-2 were involved in this important environmental test. The LSP-2 prototype powered by the latest IN20 engine with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) is in the Standard of Preparation (SOP) that would be cleared for induction into the IAF service soon. As per reports received from the trial location, the current phase of flight trial was progressing well with aircraft and systems performing well, as expected, officials said.

The aircraft were soaked overnight in cold weather, with temperature around minus 20 degrees Celsius and powered up next day for operation, officials said.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Missile defence for Delhi

A missile defence system for the national capital is being deployed by the Indian Air Force.

Three Israeli-made balloon or blimp-held radar called Aerostat will be deployed around New Delhi after an intelligence alert of a threat from low-flying aircraft. An Aerostat is also being deployed in Agra for the Taj Mahal.

The Aerostat-based missile defence system is a generation behind the systems used by the US. India is in talks with the US and Russia to check out their more advanced missile defence systems (such as the Patriot III and the SV-300). Its Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is also carrying out trials for an indigenous Prithvi Air Defence system.

The Aerostat radar has been used along the international border in Punjab and in Gujarat (Kutch). The radar is currently in use in south India after the LTTE used aircraft to bomb Sri Lankan military facilities last year.

An official of the Indian Air Force said the decision was taken after defence minister A.K. Antony held a meeting last week and asked the service to mount an extraordinary vigil. Following that, security was beefed up at airports.

The deployment of the Aerostats is in line with that measure, the officer said.

The EL/M 2083 Aerostat radar was bought from Israel in 2004-2005. The blimps have a maximum altitude of 13,000 feet. They are tethered to the ground. The radar they carry has coverage of up to 300km.

The radar is used for surveillance and also has IFF (identification friend or foe) capability. For the national capital, the Aerostat will be connected to batteries of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

If the radar signals an unidentifiable aircraft approaching, it can be programmed to trigger the SAMs automatically.

However, the Indian Air Force usually alerts fighter aircraft squadrons in the vicinity of the capital — in Gwalior, Hindon or Ambala, for example — to be ready to scramble.

The officer said Delhi has no-fly zones over strategic areas (such as over Rajpath and Raisina Hill). Besides, the threat perception for the city was assessed to be higher than that for other urban centres in the country.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

‘Sudarshan’ aims to strike with precision

After registering significant success with conventional missile systems, India is all set to test its first laser-guided missile at the Interim Test Range, Balasore.

The missile, Sudarshan, is the latest weapon system developed indigenously to occupy the niche of a precision delivery mechanism. It can neutralise any target in a 800-1,000 km range with a zero margin of error.

Developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment, Bangalore, Sudarshan is a versatile missile that can be used by the army, navy and air force. It suits the requirements of the artillery for a long-distance strike weapon. The navy can also fire it from an onboard launcher.

“The first version will use a ground-based launcher. However, subsequent ones could be fired from a flying fighter or drone. This will enhance the range,” a source told Express.

Sudarshan will use a laser of a specific frequency bandwidth to locate the target. The laser creates a heat signature on the target. The missile recognises the signature and homes in on it even if the target is moving, sources said. “The target can be spotlighted using laser beamed from a ship or air. The onboard systems can light it up and the missile follows the reflected light to reach targets that need pinpoint accuracy,” said the source.

However, unlike the practice of giving continuous laser guidance to a missile using an aircraft or a handheld designator, Sudarshan’s instrumentation enables it to chase a target once the navigation systems lock in on it. The ADEis equipping the missile with global positioning system technology. Like all modern missiles, it will have a three-dimensional locking mechanism using latitude, longitude and elevation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

India developing new-gen radars

India is developing new generation radars with multi-function capability that can be integrated with any weapon system, a Defence Research and Development Organisation official said on Tuesday.

Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), a DRDO lab, has initiated development of medium power radar and a 150 km low level transportable radar with such capabilities, including surveillance, interceptive guidance, raid assessment, target ac quisition, close tracking and potential ones like fire control, LRDE Director S Varadarajan said.

For example, Rajendra radar that LRDE developed is tied-up or “totally married'' with surface-to-air-missile Akash but the new radars being developed with hardware, configuration and power level that are highly programmable.

“Our ultimate mission is to extend it for multiple missions and multiple functions'', Varadarajan told reporters here. “The radars that we are making will be a little-more broadbased. It can be integrated with any weapon system''.

“Once these radars are put into the inventory of users, depending on the software configuration, they can be made to work in different environment'', he said. LRDE is also developing a synthetic aperture radar which would be capable of generating images of targets.

“SAR will be capable of measuring the target up to a metre of accuracy''. Varadarajan also said LRDE has initiated development of active electronics scanning array radar for airborne applications. These radars are intended to be integrated with Tejas Li ght Combat Aircraft-Mark II in 2012-13.

“An active electronics scanning array radar in a fighter aircraft is one of the key elements to managing weapon systems, giving enhanced surveillance and fire power'',

Advanced Technology Vehicle

Called the Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) programme, the indigenous vessel is likely to join the naval service in about five years.

India has been painstakingly gaining experience on nuclear submarines by including them in its annual bilateral naval exercises with naval powers such as US, UK and Russia called the Malabar, Varuna and Indra series respectively.

All these preparations are meant to help India in getting the most crucial element of the nuclear weapon triad -- the sea-launched weapon system on which Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is already working.

India currently possesses capabilities for ground-and air-launched nuclear weapon systems, but lack capability for a sea-launched system, which was to be tried and tested on the Akula-II submarines.

India successfully test fires 'Shaurya' missile

India successfully test fired 'Shaurya', a medium-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile, to be used by its Army. With a 600-km range, the missile is capable of hitting targets deep inside Pakistan and China.

The indigenous missile was launched from an underground facility with an in-built canister at 11.25 am from Complex-3 of the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur, DRDO sources said in Balasore (Orissa).

The sleek missile, with a flight duration of 485 seconds, roared into the sky leaving behind a thick yellow and white smoke on a clear sunny day, they added.

The sophisticated tactical missile is capable of carrying conventional warheads with a payload of about one tonne. "With longer shelf-life, as it is stored in a canister just like the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the Shaurya is easily transportable and user-friendly. This is a technology development project," DRDO sources said in New Delhi.

Though there was speculation that the missile was a land version of the under development K-15 submarine launched ballistic missile, DRDO sources said the surface-to-surface missile had nothing to do with K-15 'Sagarika' project.

"The missile was test fired from a 30-40 feet deep pit with in-built canister specially designed for the purpose. There was no water in the pit," the sources said.

"The test was conducted to check some of the vital parameters of Shaurya missile," the DRDO sources said. The solid propellant, two-staged missile is little over 10 metres in length and about half-a-metre in width, they said.

During the test, the missile took off vertically and its entire trajectory was tracked through an integrated system of sophisticated radars, electro-optical tracking instruments, a chain of telemetry stations positioned in different points and two naval ships placed close to the impact point deep in the Bay of Bengal.

As a precautionary measure, the district administration of Balasore temporarily evacuated 364 families residing within two km radius of the launch site and took them to safety at a nearby shelter before the missile test.

The launch of Shaurya has come nearly nine months after India had successfully tested the 'Sagarika' missile under the K-15 project this February off the coast of Visakhapatnam from a pontoon simulating the conditions of a submarine.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

India to soon get global navigation system for ISRO, AAI

India will soon acquire a comprehensive global navigation satellite system to meet the requirements of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Airports Authority of India (AAI).

"India has tied up recently with US aerospace major Raytheon Company for the final phase of its ambitious Global Positioning Satellite-Aided Geosynchronous Augmented Navigation System (GAGAN)," said Andy Zogg, the company's vice president of Airspace Management and Homeland Security.

GAGAN will provide satellite-based navigation for civil aviation across South and East Asia, which will provide India with "the most accurate, flexible and efficient" air navigation system deployed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

India prepares to launch first unmanned moon mission: Chandrayaan-1

India is to launch its first unmanned mission to the Moon this month as it struggles to catch up with China in a 21st-century Asian version of the space race between the United States and Soviet Union.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced yesterday that it would fire a locally made rocket bearing the lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 from a launchpad in southeastern India on October 22, weather permitting.

The launch could be delayed until October 26 if conditions are not right over the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, 63 miles (125km) from the city of Madras. It was planned originally for April, but was postponed repeatedly because of technical problems with the £47 million project, which involves several foreign countries, including the United States.

The 1.38tonne spacecraft will take approximately eight days to travel about 240,000 miles before reaching its final orbit 60 miles above the surface of the Moon, ISRO officials say.

It will then orbit for almost two years, using high-resolution remote sensing to compile a three-dimensional atlas of the Moon and analyse the composition of its surface, among other things.

It will also send a small impact probe to the surface.

Chandrayaan-1 will carry 11 payloads; five pieces of equipment from ISRO and six from foreign agencies, including Nasa and the European Space Agency. ISRO technicians will track the mission from a deep space network station in the village of Byalalu, about 25 miles from the southern city of Bangalore.

Critics say it is a waste of money for a country where 800 million out of a population of 1.1 billion live on less than $2 a day and where child malnutrition is on a par with that of sub-Saharan Africa. Advocates of India’s space programme, however, argue that ISRO makes money from commercial satellite launches and its scientific benefits have played a key role in the development of the country’s information technology industry.

They say that India is lagging far behind China, which completed its first manned space flight in 2003 and launched a lunar satellite in October last year. Last month a Chinese astronaut completed a 15-minute space walk for the first time.

ISRO, founded in 1969, is now aiming to put the first Indian into space by 2014 and to launch a manned lunar mission by 2020 – four years ahead of China’s target date. The Indian agency’s next step is to launch a second unmanned lunar mission – Chandrayaan-2 – in 2011, comprising an orbiting spacecraft, a lander and a Moon rover.

Gopal Raj, the author of a history of the Indian space programme, said ISRO’s timeframe was unrealistic, but hailed this month’s launch as a breakthrough, nonetheless. “For India, this is an important milestone,” he said. “If you want to do space exploration, the Moon is where you have to start.”

Monday, October 6, 2008

Modified Kaveri engine to propel Indian Navy ships

The Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) which has been indigenously developing Kaveri engine for propelling the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas), has now come up with a modified marine version, as a spin off during research, to develop shaft power for propelling Indian Naval ship.

Using the core of the Kaveri engine, the scientists of GTRE have added low pressure compressor and turbine as a gas generator and designed a free power turbine to generate shaft power for the maritime application.

The Kaveri Marine Gas Turbine (KMGT) as it has been named has been transported to naval dock yard, Vishakapatnam and installed on to the marine gas turbine test bed which is an Indian Navy facility capable of testing the gas turbines up to 25 MW of shaft power through a reduction gearbox and a water brake dynamometer.

The Indian Navy has been involved in the development of the engine and participated and supporting the testing phase.

The engine has been tested to its potential of 12 MW at ISA SL 35 degree C condition which is the requirement of Indian Navy for propelling the SNF (Rajput) class of ships.

This engine has been demonstrated to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and others including the Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister M. Natarajan, Vice Admiral B.S. Randhawa, Dr. D.Banerjee, Chief Controller of DRDO.

With this development, India will become self-reliant in the technology of gas turbines for ship propulsion.

This will put India in the elite club of Marine Gas Turbine designers for example USA, Russia, UK and Ukraine. By Kestur Vasuki

Saturday, September 20, 2008

India to join select nations when it sends mission to moon October 19

New Delhi, Sept 19, 2008: India will join a select group of nations when it sends its first mission to moon on October 19 this year. This will be a big scientific feat for a developing nation like India that has not received much scientific assistance from the west.

ISRO has already made it clear that the Indian lunar mission will not be an exercise in reinventing the wheel. Chandrayaan-1 will strive to unravel the hitherto unknown features of the moon for the first time.

ISRO points out that a lunar mission can provide impetus to science in India, a challenge to technology and possibly a new dimension to international cooperation.

Also on the agenda are the preparation of the three dimensional atlas of the regions on the moon and the chemical mapping of the entire lunar surface.

This is a dream for any nation. And India is going to fulfill its long cherished dream on this coming 19th October. Everyone is unanimous on one thing. If India’s Moon project is successful, it will be something for everyone to cheer loudly about. The Moon is Earth’s single important natural satellite, and as planetary moons go, it is unusually large in size compared to Earth.

For India, which began its space journey in a modest way in 1963 with the launch of a 9-kilo rocket from a research facility at the fishing hamlet of Thumba in Kerala, the Chandrayaan-1 marks a quantum leap. Indeed, India’s unmanned scientific mission to moon, which was approved almost four years ago, has moved further up India’s priority list in the wake of China’s successful manned mission of October 2003.

In the meantime ISRO has announced that Chandrayaan 1 will be on Display for the first time before Media. Chandrayaan Means “Moon Craft”.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Indian scientistn develops new technology to boost missile range by 40%

Indian scientists have developed path-breaking technology that has the potential to increase the range of missiles and satellite launch vehicles by at least 40%, a member of the team which achieved the technological breakthrough said.

India’s longest-range missile, Agni III, is capable of hitting targets 3,500 km away and the new technology could boost its range to 4,900 km. The enhanced range is made possible by adding a special-purpose coating of chromium metal to the blunt nose cone of missiles and launch vehicles, G Jagadeesh, an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) here said.

IISc, which is in celebrating its centenary this year, has applied for an international patent for the technology.

“Objects such as missiles fly at hypersonic velocities which are more than five times the speed of sound and encounter atmospheric drag because of friction. The chromium coating works by adding temporary heat and pushing the stagnating gas away to create an easier path,” Mr Jagadeesh said. Laboratory experiments have shown that atmospheric drag because of the coating fell by 47% and Mr Jagadeesh said a “conservative estimate” was that this would result in range going up at least 40%.

The findings of the team—which also includes Vinayak Kulkarni of IIT-Guwahati and G M Hegde, E Arunan and K P J Reddy of IISc—have been reported in the latest issue of the Physics of Fluids journal published by the American Institute of Physics.

The breakthrough also has potential to help avert problems of the type which led to break up in 2003 of the American space shuttle Columbia when it was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The disaster was caused by damage to the shuttle’s thermal protection system, killing seven crew members, including astronaut of Indian origin Kalpana Chawla.

The special-purpose coating in place of the tiles and panels which now protect orbiters against extreme heat during re-entry into the atmosphere is seen as distinct possibility.

“The coating evaporates once the object has re-entered the atmosphere. This novel method is path-breaking because additional energy is not required to reduce drag; objects which travel into space need to carry a much lower fuel load,” he said.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

NSG waiver will help ISRO: Nair

Calling the NSG waiver a big achievement for the country, ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair on Monday said it will help the Indian space department access latest space technologies from developed nation.

"It is a major achievement for India. We will have a better opportunity to interact with other developed nations on sharing certain space technologies," Nair told reporters on the sidelines of a function at SRM University here.

He said the signing of the 123 Agreement with the US will in a way help the ISRO work closely with the NASA.

On the "Chandrayaan-I" (moon) mission, Nair said all the technical parameters for the launch were progressing well and the launch "is expected by this October end".

He said the country's space department has world-class technologies to provide valuable inputs to tackle natural disasters.

"We have been monitoring the floods in Bihar. The National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad has been receiving updates from a Canadian radar imaging satellite. We are providing satellite images of the inundated areas to the Army for rescue operations," he added.

Earlier, Nair was conferred a honorary Doctorate of Science by the SRM University for his outstanding contribution to the Indian Space Programme.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

N - Powered.............

The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has finally given its nod to the Indo-US nuclear deal in Vienna on Saturday.

Ending three decades of isolation, India has joined the elite nuclear club. The NSG waiver has come through on the third day of the crucial talks in Vienna after push from the highest political level, the opposing countries gave their nod.

Sources say apart from External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement, there is no reference to ban on tests or termination of deal if India tests.

US President George W Bush called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh soon after the waiver came through. Congress president Sonia Gandhi congratulated the PM.

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon has told NDTV that the text permits full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the world.

Atomic Energy's chief negotiator in Vienna Ravi B Grover told NDTV that it's a clean waiver for India at the NSG, changes in the draft made have been mutually agreed upon.

"It's a clean waiver for India. Changes made in the draft is mutually agreed upon. We have no problem with the draft," said Ravi B Grover, Atomic Energy Negotiator.

And the prime minister hailed it as a landmark decision. In a statement after the waiver the PM said:

"This is a forward-looking and momentous decision. It marks the end of India's decades long isolation from the nuclear mainstream and of the technology denial regime. It is a recognition of India's impeccable non-proliferation credentials and its status as a state with advanced nuclear technology."

Welcoming the waiver External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, "We welcome the decision and thank NSG countries and the final outcome fully meets our expectations. NSG waiver a unique development, it is in India's interest."

US Under Secretary, Arms and Control, John Roods has said that it is a historic moment for India and the decision will improve ties between India and the US.

Sources have told NDTV that the new draft, which got the go-ahead by the NSG, has no reference to testing, enrichment ban and preprocessing technology ban.

However, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said, "We have given up our right to test forever."

Criticising the NSG waiver CPI leader D Raja said that India has become a subject of US strategy.

He said, "India has become a subject of US strategy and our opposition to N-deal will continue."

Speaking about the development, Congress leader Digvijay Singh has said that it is a historic day for India and the Prime Minister and team has achieved an impossible task.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement on moratorium is a part of the N-waiver received by India.

As per reports, Pranab's statement on Friday over India's commitment for non-proliferation played a crucial role in changing Austria's mind. Austria said they were among the last to yield.

Meanwhile, China has stressed on balancing energy needs and non-proliferation.

So, what does this mean for India? Essentially, it's a victory for Indian diplomacy and it brings India into international nuclear club.

What it means for India

  • Access to nuclear technology without signing CTBT, NPT
  • India can buy nuclear reactors from US, Russia, France
  • India will get access to nuclear fuel from world market
  • India will have access to civilian space technology

In brief:

  • Could be a major contributor to our energy security
  • Will provide 20,000 mw of electricity by 2020
  • Opens door for nuclear cooperation with other countries
  • India will enter the global mainstream of N-power
  • Provides for full civil nuclear energy cooperation.
  • Provides for development of strategic reserve of nuclear fuel.
  • India doesn't have to sign NPT or CTBT.
  • Does not affect India's right to conduct nuclear tests.
  • Will provide access to high technology denied for 30 years.
  • Will spur high-end manufacturing.

India will get access to nuclear technology without having signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or Non Proliferation Treaty. It opens up nuclear commerce for India and it can buy nuclear reactors from Russia, France and USA.

India will get access to nuclear fuel from the international market and also civilian space technology.

Monday, September 1, 2008

ISRO bags launch orders for Italian, Algerian satellites

Antrix Corp Ltd, the marketing arm of the Indian Space research Organisation (ISRO),  has bagged launch orders from Algeria and Italy for earth observation satellites that will be put into orbit next year by the agency's workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

The contract from the Algerian space agency is for the launch of its 200kg Alsat-2A, remote sensing satellite. For Antrix, this is the first ever contract from an African nation. Algeria retains the option to contract for the launch of a second satellite.

The Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, has contracted for the launch of its IMSAT satellite, which, incidentally will become the second satellite from this European country to be boosted into space by ISRO.  Earlier, in April 2007, ISRO launched the Agile, a 352kg scientific satellite for the same agency.

No financial details have been disclosed for these deals.

Along with the Algerian and Italian payloads, a 100kg satellite from Singapore's  Nanyang Technological University as well as the Cubesat, a three-satellite package from the Netherlands, would also piggyback on heavier Indian satellites, said KR Sridhara Murthi, managing director of Antrix.

Murthi also said his organisation was in talks with South African and Nigerian space agencies for contracting similar missions.  He also mentioned that Antrix was looking at ''bigger opportunities'' such as the launch of remote sensing satellites, with heavier payloads of around 800kg.

Thanks to the advantages that the PSLV offers, ISRO can carry satellites of up to 1,700kg into low-earth orbit at two-thirds the cost charged by firms such as International Launch Services, owned by Space Transport Inc. and two Russian organizations, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and RSC Energia.

Low-earth orbit is the region above earth between 200km and 2,000km, ideal to place earth observation or remote sensing satellites.

ISRO has only recently entered the global satellite manufacturing and launch industry, which is expected to grow to $145 billion (Rs6.3 trillion) over 10 years to 2016, from $116 billion in the 10 years to 2006, according to Paris-based research firm Euroconsult.

India to conduct third interceptor missile trial in November

India is preparing to conduct the third trial of its advanced interceptor missile in November from the Chandipur-on-sea interim test range in coastal Orissa, a top defence official said Friday.“Preparations are on to conduct the interceptor missile test for building an indigenous defence shield in early November. It is aimed at intercepting and destroying ballistic missiles from a long range,” defence scientist V.K. Saraswat told IANS here.

The configuration of the upcoming trial will be different from the previous one, conducted in December 2007, as the attempt this time is to approach higher kill altitude, with accurate interception.

“We have already conducted a test in endo-atmosphere at a distance of 48 km. We are aiming at much higher altitude in exo-atmosphere, which is 50-75 km above the earth,” said Saraswat, chief controller of research & development of the missile programme at the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

The 7.5-metre interceptor missile will be fired within seconds after an incoming missile is launched from the test range. The target missile will be a modified version of the Prithvi ballistic missile.

“The test will reinforce our capability in installing a two-layered ballistic missile defence (BMD) shield to protect vulnerable areas from an incoming enemy missile and strengthen our national security,” Saraswat said on the sidelines of a conference on ‘Networking and Network-centric Operations’, organised by the Computer Society of India.

The interceptor will be equipped with inertial navigation system and electro-mechanical actuators to enable it to perform critical manoeuvres required to engage the incoming missile during the latter’s terminal phase.

The first interception test of a missile was conducted successfully at an altitude of 50 km in exo-atmosphere in November 2006.

“With the third test, we will have the entire BMD capability to detect, intercept and destroy intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic missiles in the 5,000 km (3,000 mile) coming from any country,” Saraswat added.

India had already demonstrated that it was capable of intercepting short-range targets in up to 2,000-2,500 km range.

The BMD gives India membership of the select club of Israel, Russia and the US in developing and possessing such technology once the system is rolled out.

The defence system’s tracking and fire control radars have been developed by DRDO in collaboration with Israel and France.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Submarine-launched version of BrahMos missile to be tested in India at year-end

The Indo-Russian BrahMos multi-role supersonic cruise missile is in full production with deliveries being made to Indian Navy and Army. A complete battery of land-based missiles is also in service with the Army, BrahMos Aerospace chief executive, Dr Sivathanu Pillai said here.

Speaking at the MSVS-2008 show in Moscow, he said that the Indo-Russian joint venture is looking at producing 40-50 missiles annually in order to meet Indian requirements. This will be increased to handle export orders.

The Mach 2.8 supersonic, ramjet-powered BrahMos may be exported in 2009. "2009 should be the year" for announcing export orders, Dr Pillai said.
He also said that a major production contract had just been signed.

Dr Pillai also said that warplane designer and manufacturer Sukhoi's workload on other projects, such as the Su-35 and PAK-FA fifth generation fighter has delayed work on creating a platform for the air launched version of the BrahMos. The "critical path" for tests of the air launched version of the BrahMos, is the modification of a Su-30MKI fighter as a test platform.

Sukhoi and the Indian Air Force have decided on a single-missile configuration for the Su-30MKI, rather than a two-or three-missile version. For this, the aircraft needs a new pylon as well as structural strengthening and a modified fire-control system to handle the new missile.

Also under consideration is an air launched version for the Indian Navy's Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft, which may be modified to carry 6-8 missiles. The dilemma is whether the impending retirement of these aircraft from active service makes their modification worth the effort. 

As for a submarine-launched version, the missile has already been launched from a static, underwater test stand in Russia and underwater tests in India will be carried out at the end of the year. The BrahMos's Russian precursor, the 3M55/P-800 Oniks, was designed for submarine launch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

India, Nasa tie up for Chandrayaan

Preparing to its first unmanned mission to moon, Chandrayaan-1, between October and December, India joined seven other nations to team up with Nasa for the future exploration of earth's only satellite.

Confirming this, Isro spokesperson S Satish told TOI that a key pact was signed at a conference of International Lunar Users' Group at Nasa's Ames Research Centre last month. India was represented by Devi Prasad Karnik, space counsellor attached to the Indian embassy in Washington. The other seven countries are Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, France and Britain. Japan has already launched an unmanned mission to the moon. Germany, Italy and Britain had announced at International Astronautical Congress in 2007 that they planned their own lunar missions which would be independent of the European Space Agency.

The international lunar agreement, which Nasa says a "landmark" one, will allow India and the seven countries to join hands with Nasa for developing new technologies and send robotic exploratory missions for a manned return mission to the moon.

For Nasa, the lunar agreement is important as the eight countries, including India, are keen to send astronauts to the moon. Experts say the increased interest in the lunar science and the emergence of India, Japan and China as important space-faring nations will also help Nasa.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Comparing the Indian and Chinese navies

After 10 years of steady effort, both India and China have made significant qualitative changes in their navies. In terms of submarine capabilities – the construction of SSNs and SSBNs – China is now far ahead of India, however.

China has built two 094 SSBNs and two 093 SSNs, along with JL2 and JL1M submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that are ready to go into service in the PLA Navy, if they have not already done so.

In contrast, India is only preparing to receive one Russian-made Akura SSN for testing purposes by the end of 2008. In February 2008, the Indian Navy also launched from under water a 700-kilometer-range K-15 ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Nonetheless, India’s pace in the construction of large-tonnage surface battleships and an aircraft carrier is faster than China’s. Thanks to the 290-kilometer-range BrahMos supersonic multirole missile jointly developed by India and Russia, the overall technological standard of the Indian Navy’s ship-to-ship missile is superior to that of China’s PLA Navy. India’s surface battleships currently being built will all be fitted with BrahMos SSMs, according to the plan of the Indian Navy.

Ships added to the PLA Navy over the past 10 years include two 051C DDGs, two 052B DDGs, two 052C DDGs, four 956E/EM DDGs and one 051B DDG, all of which have a full-load displacement of over 6,000 tons. Six additional ships, 054 and 054A FFGs, have also been built. These surface battleships are the flagships of the modern Chinese navy.

In the Indian Navy over the past 10 years three Delhi Class DDGs and three 4,000-ton class Type 1135.6 FFGs have been commissioned, with the latter armed with 300-kilomter-range Club-N surface-to-surface missiles. The Indian Navy has also received three Type 16A FFGs with full-load displacement of 4,500 tons and armed with 16 units of H-35 surface-to-surface missiles.

As a result, in terms of the construction of surface battleships above 6,000 tons, China is temporarily ahead of India, while in the building of 4,000-ton class missile frigates, India and China are about equal, with India slightly ahead in technology.

The Indian Navy is also armed with one Hermes aircraft carrier with a full-load displacement of 28,000 tons as well as 12 Sea Harrier FRS Mk 51 fighters. Obviously, the Indian Navy’s experience in the use of an aircraft carrier is surely superior to that of the PLA Navy.

Regarding the surface battleships under construction right now, India seems to be much more ambitious than China. Since 2007, the only large surface battleship China has been building is the 054A FFG. In contrast, the Indian Navy has started to build three P-15A DDGs at its Mazagon Shipyard. This is an upgraded variant of the Delhi Class DDG, with drastic changes. So far one P-15A has already been launched.

A source from the Mazagon Shipyard told the author in New Delhi that the P-15A construction program is now giving way to the Shivalik, or P-17 FFG. The first P-17 will be delivered to the Indian Navy within this year, and the second and third will be delivered in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The two types of surface battleships mentioned above will all be fitted with a vertical-launched version of the BrahMos SSM. The P-15A will be armed with 16 such missiles. The P15A DDG has a full-load displacement of 7,000 tons, and still uses the Shtil-1 ship-to-air missile. The P-17 is India’s indigenous stealthy FFG and has a full-load displacement of 5,300 tons. It is also armed with Shtil-1 ship-to-air missiles.

Russia’s Yantar Shipyard currently is also building a second batch of three Type 1135.6 FFGs for the Indian Navy. The first three vessels of this model were built at the Baltic Sea Shipyard, but the contract for the latest three vessels has been awarded to the Yantar Shipyard, which has no experience building this type of missile frigate.

Apparently Russia intends to bail out the Yantar Shipyard, which has not received such an order in recent years through Russia’s system of allocating contracts. For this reason, it is worth watching the progress of this construction project to see if the shipyard can deliver a quality product. India is also concerned whether the overall price of building these vessels will rise as a result of this.

India has also begun building its own indigenous aircraft carrier, which is obviously proceeding faster than China’s program. India is building its aircraft carrier at Cochin Shipyard and is expected to complete it in 2013. However, past experience has shown that the Indian Navy’s vessel construction projects are usually delayed by two to three years.

With the Italian Fincantieri Company providing design assistance, this indigenous Indian aircraft carrier has a full-load displacement of 37,000 tons and will be powered by four LM-2500 heavy-duty gas turbines, with a maximum speed of 28 knots. China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier will also very likely be powered by heavy gas turbines.

The design blueprint of the Indian aircraft carrier has already been published, with a deck length of 830 feet and a runway of 600 feet. The aircraft use ski-jump takeoff and landing. The steel plate used to build the aircraft was imported from Russia and the cutting process was completed in 2007.

As for the Gorshkov aircraft carrier that India purchased from Russia, it should have been delivered to the Indian Navy within this year accordance to the original agreement. The retrofitted Gorshkov’s full-load displacement has been increased to 45,400 tons and it will be equipped with 12 MiG-29K fighters. India and Russia held the latest round of meetings concerning this aircraft carrier in February in Moscow, and the two sides reached a final consensus on the increased price of retrofitting the carrier. The new delivery time is now set at 2011.

It is not presently known what production plans the Chinese navy has in terms of the construction of large-tonnage surface battleships before 2010. Yet judging from the current status of shipbuilding within the PLA Navy, and with two aircraft carriers entering service in the Indian Navy before 2012, India will resume its absolute technological and tonnage lead in the construction of surface battleships above 6,000 tons. Of course, with China initiating its aircraft carrier construction soon, such a trend may later be reversed.

As far as the construction of conventional submarines is concerned, China still holds an obvious lead. The PLA Navy is already armed with two Yuan Class submarines, about ten Song Class submarines, four Kilo 877 and eight Kilo 636M submarines.

The Indian Navy has a fleet of more than ten Kilo 636 and four Type 209 1500 submarines. India’s most ambitious submarine construction plan is to build Scorpene Class submarines at its Mazagong Shipyard under license, code-named P-75.

The first batch of P-75s involves importing and assembling six submarines, and India plans to assemble the first P-75 independently in 2012. After that, production of the P-75 will proceed at the pace of one submarine each year. Based on this calculation, the whole project will not be completed until the end of 2017.

India’s latest plan shows that the Indian Navy may very likely expand the Scorpene fleet to 12. In terms of shipbuilding technology and production craftwork, however, especially in such production processes as cutting, welding and spray-painting, the military vessels produced by China -- particularly those vessels built at the two shipyards in Shanghai -- are far superior to the Indian navy ships.

Nag anti-tank missile back in reckoning

Eighteen years after it was first tested, the meandering saga of the indigenous Nag anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) is finally entering the climax phase after an expenditure of over Rs 300 crore.

Or so it seems, with Defence Research and Development Organisation planning the "final developmental flight trials" of Nag at Pokhran on July 27-28, which will be followed by the "user-trials" in mid-September, say sources.

Having placed an order for 443 Nag missiles and 13 Namicas (Nag missile tracked carriers) for induction over three years, the Army is keeping its fingers firmly crossed.

The urgent need for ATGMs can be gauged from the fact that after ordering 4,000 Konkurs-M missiles, the Army is now looking for 4,100 "advanced" ATGMs with tandem warheads for "better kill probability" of enemy tanks.

The Army, in fact, has agreed to reframe its GSQRs (general staff qualitative requirements) for the 4,100 new missiles - by reducing its "essential" strike range from 2,000 metres to 1,850 metres - to enable defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to participate in the programme.

BDL, incidentally, manufactures variants of the second-generation 2-km-range "Milan" and 4-km-range "Konkurs" ATGMs, under licence from French and Russian companies, at around Rs 4.50 lakh per unit.

The third-generation Nag missile, with a four-km strike range, will also be manufactured by BDL. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Over 60 developmental trials of Nag have been conducted over the years but recurring problems in the guidance systems, especially in the "imaging infra-red (IIR) sensor-based seeker", has meant the missile is still to become fully operational. DRDO, however, is quite confident now, holding that Nag will be among the world's most advanced ATGMs, better than other contemporary missiles like Israeli 2.5-km Gill and four-km Spike missiles.

"The Army has already accepted the Nag, which has fire-and-forget, day-and-night and top-attack (the missile pops up and hits the tank's vulnerable upper portion like the gun-turret) capabilities," said a DRDO official. "There have been delays due to import embargoes, problems in development of the IIR seeker, change in NAMICA configurations and the like. But Nag, which also has high immunity to counter-measures, is fully-ready now," he added.

Apart from the NAMICA platform, that can carry 12 missiles, Nag will also have an airborne version named "Helina" to be fitted on the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, which will be configured to carry eight missiles in two launchers.

Incidentally, Nag was one of the "core missile systems" of the country's original Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), launched as far back as in 1983. Announcing the IGMDP's "virtual closure" earlier this year, DRDO declared that development work on all other missiles - Agni, Prithvi, Akash and Trishul - had been completed.

Though work on "strategic" long-range nuclear-capable missiles like Agni-III (3,500-km range) and Agni-V (over 5,000-km) will still be "undertaken in-house", India will also look at foreign collaboration in other armament projects to cut down on delays.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

DRDO to undertake first full test flight of ASTRA - air to air beyond visual range missile

In a major technology leap, Indian defence scientists are ready to go ahead with the first full test flight of its indigenously developed air to air beyond visual range missile, ASTRA.

The test flight from an IAF Sukhoi fighter aircraft could be undertaken "anytime in the next 45 days", top DRDO officials said.

A successful test flight of ASTRA will plunge India into a select group of nations to have such a technology. Only US, France, Russia and China have so far produced such advance missiles, which enables fighter pilots to lock-on and shoot down enemy aircraft almost 90-120 km away.

Describing ASTRA as a futuristic missile, DRDO scientists said the weapon will intercept the target at mach 1.2 to 1.4 speed. The missile has already been tested on ground to prove its avionics, guidance and other sub-systems including propulsion.

Any success with air to air ASTRA missile will come as another milestone in defence research and cap recent strings of success the DRDO scientists have had in building at producing for the country -- short to medium range -- surface to surface missile system capable of delivering nuclear war heads at long

Friday, May 23, 2008

India challenging China

"After decades of considering Pakistan their principal enemy, Indian defence officials are beginning to see China as a more serious long-term threat, and they don’t want to be caught unprepared again. Washington is embracing India as a rising power that can be a valuable ally to stand with this country, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia in defence of democracy in South and East Asia,” according to a report published here.

James T. Hackett writes in the Washington Times on Thursday that Indian defence analysts are concerned about the huge nuclear submarine base being built by China on Hainan Island in the South China Sea and Beijing’s plan to build up to five ballistic missile-firing submarines. Consequently, India is building its own ballistic missile-firing submarine and in February carried out a successful test launch of a K-15 missile from an underwater platform. The plan reportedly is to develop a version of the Agni family of solid-fuel missiles to be carried on Indian submarines.

New Delhi also is working on ballistic missile defences. In 2006, an Indian interceptor destroyed a target missile outside the atmosphere and last December a shorter-range interceptor stopped a missile inside the atmosphere. This two-stage missile defence is undergoing further testing, but components could be ready for deployment as soon as 2010. On a trip to New Delhi in February, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the United States and India are studying the possibility of a joint missile defence system.

The combining of US and Indian nuclear deterrents, together with missile defences in Alaska, California, India, Japan and on ships in the Pacific, will greatly diminish the ability of China or any other country to use nuclear missiles to pose a threat, according to Hackett.

India's missile power lifts off

The spread of long-range ballistic missiles took a step forward on May 7 with India's successful flight test of its Agni-III missile that can carry a nuclear warhead as far as Beijing.

But the difference between this and other missile developments is that India's missiles — like those of the United States, Britain, France and Israel — are not used to threaten others and instead help deter potential aggressors.

With nuclear missile-armed neighbors like China, Russia and Pakistan, India needs an effective deterrent. But for years New Delhi concentrated on developing tactical missiles to deter Pakistan, which India fought three times since independence in 1947. India's nuclear-capable short- and medium-range missiles, in addition to its supersonic cruise missiles, are an existing deterrent to Pakistan.

Now India emphasizes development of strategic weapons, clearly worried about China's rapid military buildup. In 1962, India fought a war with China over their disputed frontier. When Chinese forces put down the 1959 uprising in Tibet and the Dalai Lama fled to India, New Delhi began military patrols along its northern border. Conflict with Chinese troops occurred, and in 1962 war broke out.

In three months of fighting China won every battle, showed the Indian army to be badly unprepared and redrew the border. Now, 46 years later there is unrest again in Tibet as China rapidly modernizes its military. With an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reach India, including some reportedly based in Tibet, and a growing navy that could challenge for control of the Indian Ocean, China has become a threat to the Subcontinent.

The May 7 flight test was the third for Agni-III. The first test in 2006 failed, but the second in April last year was successful. This year's test was to validate last year's success and check out a new ring laser gyro-based navigation system. The Indian Defense Ministry said everything worked in textbook fashion in terms of range and accuracy. The missile traveled 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) and splashed down on target. Its full range is said to be 3,500 kilometers, which enables it to reach Shanghai and Beijing.

The government said Agni-III is now being turned over to the army, which has a missile regiment ready to receive it. The army will conduct the next flight test by the middle of next year, after which Agni-III is expected to become operational.

India's defense research organization now turns to complete the development of Agni-IV, a 3-stage solid fuel missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) or more, which would enable it to cover all of China from launch sites deep inside India. The Initial flight of Agni-IV is expected in 2010.

India test-fires Prithvi missile

India Friday successfully test-fired its 150-250 km range surface-to-surface Prithvi missile from the integrated test range at Chandipur, the NDTV reported

    The Prithvi missile, which is 8.56-meter-long and one-meter-thick, can carry a payload of 1,000 kg explosives. It was test-fired as part of a user's trial by the Indian Army.

    The missile, developed by the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), has already been inducted in the Indian Army.

    Mounted on a mobile tatra transporter-erector launcher, the sophisticated missile took off vertically and plunged into the pre-designated splash-down point in the Bay of Bengal, the TV quoted Indian defense sources as saying.

    Powered by liquid propellant, Prithvi can operate with both liquid and solid fuel. It has a launch weight of 4.6 tons, which included payload of one ton. This variant of the missile could take just 300 seconds to reach the target located at a distance of 150 kilometers.

    The main use of this variant of Prithvi would be in destroying troop concentration, crippling air bases and striking at large static installations and headquarters when required.

    The first test of the missile was conducted on February 22, 1988 at Sriharikota in Andhra of the country while the last was conducted from Chandipur on May 9 last year.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Remembering Pokharan-II: India's N-dream

On May 11, 10 years ago, India declared itself as a nuclear nation state. Five nuclear explosions were carried out on May 11 and 13 in 1998 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of Pokhran II but it will be a quiet affair, as no official celebrations have been planned to commemorate the event.

The tests at Pokhran stunned the world but gave India's nuclear scientists the data they needed to validate the designs of India's nuclear weapons and warheads, which would be mated to missiles like the Agni and the Prithvi or bombs which could be carried on fighter jets such as the Mirage 2000.

There were five nuclear devices that were tested deep inside the sands of Pokharan - a hydrogen bomb, an advanced atom bomb and three small tactical nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who ordered the tests within days of his government coming to power, did not hesitate to declare India as a 'nuclear weapons state'.

The international reaction was swift. America slapped sanctions on India but in the long run, they would have only a minor impact on the economy.

Over the years, the reality of India having reached a new nuclear threshold was a fact America chose to embrace. And a country, which was seen by some as an adversary in the past ultimately, became a close strategic ally - an ally close enough to consider sharing the state of the art in civilian nuclear technology.

From Pokhran to the possibility of the Indo-US nuclear deal, India has clearly made the leap from being a fledgling nuclear power to a mature nuclear state looking to balance its strategic needs with the enormous energy requirements of a billion people.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Games bomb makers played to keep the tests a top secret

Ten years ago, India’s bomb makers played a little game of deception in the scorching deserts of Pokhran in Rajasthan. “Colonel Prithviraj,” called K. Santhanam, the chief pointsman for the weaponization programme for India’s second nuclear test. His voice quivered in the desert air.

He was addressing A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. But all he could get from the missile man, who was later to become the president of India, was a blank stare.

Similarly, R. Chidambaram, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, looked the other way when Santhanam addressed him as “Col. Natraj”. Santhanam was known in the desert as “Col. Srinivisan”.

Dressed in battle fatigues, these were no battle-hardened soldiers, but the prized quartet of India’s top scientists - Chidambaram, Kalam, Santhanam and Anil Kakodkar, then head of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. They had been entrusted by prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with the top secret job of detonating a bomb and making India a nuclear power.

“It was difficult in the beginning to recognise our code names which we had given to ourselves in the course of Operation Shakti (codename for the nuclear test),” recalls Santhanam, then chief adviser (technology) to the government of India.

“Anil Kakodkar was called Mamaji. We adopted these code names so that we didn’t arouse suspicion of local people and of countries who may be spying on us,” Santhanam, who thought of this brilliant subterfuge, told IANS.

“Naturally, there was a lot of confusion initially. If Kalam were to call me ‘Col. Srinivisan’, I would not know he was addressing me. Or when I will call him ‘Col. Privthiraj’, he would look blank, wondering who I was calling.

“But soon we got used to it,” the 70-year-old Santhanam recalled with relish.

The deception and camouflage was not confined to just adopting code names for the one-month secret mission that culminated in the dramatic emergence of India as a nuclear weapon state after three blasts May 11 and two more blasts May 13.

The moment Vajpayee gave the green signal around April 10, the quartet, along with 100-120 scientists and nearly 1,000 sappers of the Corps of Engineers, headed to the Pokhran range to engineer the blasts that were to shock the world.

They were all dressed in olive green fatigues.

Pokhran was where India carried out its first nuclear tests in 1974. In 1995, an Indian attempt to test a nuclear device had to be scrapped after American satellites got the whiff of it.

No one was taking any chance this time.

“The logic was simple: as the Pokhran range was swarming with army personnel, we decided to dress in battle fatigues so as not to raise unnecessary eyebrows,” said Santhanam.

“Since it was a border area, there was a high likelihood of informers in the place. Scientists in trousers would have attracted unwanted attention. Some scientists were also potbellied. The locals would not have thought them to be soldiers, who are a fit and sprightly lot.”

All this was done to avoid the stealthy gaze of spy satellites, particularly the American ones. “Compared to the 1974 tests, we were more knowledgeable about surveillance systems,” he explained.

“That’s why we avoided any movement during the satellite hours. We normally worked at night and carried on till the small hours without any sleep. Chances of detection in the night are zero and the quality of satellite images is very bad.”

One month of tiring, sleepless nights paid off in the late afternoon of May 11.

“The earth trembled a little. As the blasts were in a shaft deep down, we couldn’t feel much. I called it a bum tickle.”

The bum tickle was followed by a spontaneous eruption of joy among scientists after the tests were confirmed.

“We hugged each other. The team as a whole had a feeling of self-fulfilment, a feeling of having contributed to national security,” said Santhanam. “There was a sense of collective jubilation rather than individual triumphalism.

“When we called Vajpayee (in Delhi), he was absolutely delighted. He was happy and complimented the team.”

Kalam took off his Gorkha cap and his silvery mane fluttered in the desert air.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Manned space mission possible in 7 years

In about seven years from now, India will be able to send two of its astronauts into space aboard its Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), said K. Radhakrishnan, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, on Monday.

The Centre’s go-ahead to the manned mission project is awaited. The manned mission will be preceded by three unmanned ones to the moon. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s first unmanned mission to the moon — sending Chandrayaan-1 into lunar orbit — will take place in the third quarter of 2008.

Dr. Radhakrishnan, who answered questions from reporters after the successful PSLV-C9 flight from Sriharikota, said ISRO had been conducting studies for the past four years on putting an Indian into orbit. The GSLV would be able to take a crew of two astronauts into low-earth orbit.

In a manned mission, important factors such as reliability, the safety of the crew and their module, the reliability of their ejection systems in case of any problem came into play. When the crew went round the earth in their module, they should be visible to the ground all the time.

ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair said the organisation might get the full approval for the manned mission in six months. The Government of India had sanctioned Rs. 95 crore to ISRO for doing initial studies on the project.

“PSLV has got a good brand value”

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) earned $0.6 million when its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C9) put in orbit on Monday eight nano satellites from abroad, according to K.R. Sridhara Murthy, managing director, Antrix Corporation.

The launch was executed under a commercial contract among the University of Toronto, Canada; Cosmos International, Germany; and Antrix Corporation, ISRO’s marketing agency.

Antrix Corporation charged about $12,000 for a kg for these nano satellites because they were built by the universities. Otherwise, the international rates charged for putting satellites in orbit were between $20,000 and $30,000 a kg, Mr. Sridhara Murthy said. The eight nano satellites together weighed 50 kg.

The PSLV-C9 also put in orbit Cartosat-2A and the Indian Mini Satellite (IMS-1), which were built by the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore.

Six of the eight nano satellites are clustered under the name NLS-4. The University of Toronto developed the NLS-4. It consists of Cute 1.7 and Seeds, both built in Japan. The remaining four, CAN-X2, AAUSAT-II, COMPASS-1 and Delfi-C3, were fabricated by Canada, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The other two nano satellites, NLS-5 and Rubin-8, were built by the University of Toronto and Cosmos International. Different universities built them to learn how to miniaturise satellite technologies.

This is the fifth time that ISRO launched satellites from abroad for a fee and the PSLV put them in orbit on all occasions.

Mr. Sridhara Murthy said: “The PSLV has got a good brand value. It has flexibility. It can launch nano, mini and big satellites. It is versatile. It can launch satellites into any type of orbit that the customers want. Besides, we launch on time. All these attract customers.”

While George Koshy was the Mission Director of PSLV-C9, C. Venugopal was the Vehicle Director. M. Krishnaswamy was the Project Director of Cartosat-2A and D.V.A. Raghavamurthy was the Project Director of IMS-1. Mr. Krishnaswamy said the solar panels of both Cartosat-2A and IMS-1 had deployed. The satellites were in good health.

Moon mission in 3rd quarter of '08: ISRO

Indian space scientists are aiming to launch their ambitious Moon-mission Chandrayaan-I in the third quarter of this year. It will launch a 500 kg satellite that will orbit Earth's only natural satellite for two years for terrain mapping and lunar surface mapping.

"It is too early to attempt a human-landing mission on Moon. We will be sending a 500 kg satellite for terrain mapping and lunar surface mapping. The satellite will survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography," ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair told a press conference at Sriharikota on Monday after India successfully placed a record 10 satellites into 'precise' orbit.

"All the instruments for Chandrayaan-I are ready. A few tests have to be conducted, following which we will be ready for the launch in the third quarter of this year. A special vehicle of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) called the PSLV-XL is being prepared for it. The weight of the strap-on thrust will increase from nine to 12 tonnes. All the six motors are ready," he said.

Nair also said India's first manned space flight can be expected in seven years, after three unmanned flights with the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk-III configuration.

"We will be able to put two persons on a lower earth orbit," he said. "We have submitted our project proposal to the government and the Centre has already released Rs 95 crore for the project. We are awaiting the approval for the project in another six months."

India to test Agni III+ ballistic missile in 2009

India will test indigenously built Agni III+ ballistic missile with a strike range of more than 5000 km in 2009.

The long-range missile is currently in the design stage, VK Saraswat, Chief Controller (R&D) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said in Visakhapatnam on Monday.

"We are looking for trial in early 2009," he told reporters on the sidelines of the 95th Indian Science Congress in Visakhapatnam.

After the induction of the surface-to-air missile Akash by the Air Force, the Army is starting user trials for the sophisticated anti-tank Nag missiles this summer.

"User trials for Nag will be held in May-June in the Rajasthan desert," Saraswat said.

Nag is an all weather anti-tank guided missile. Design work on the missile started in 1988 and the first tests were carried out in November 1990.

India's growing strides in space : BBC Report

Rocket carrying 10 satellites is launched from Sriharikota

Monday's launch was carried live on state television

India is well known today for its software and information technology industry.

Less well known is that in a nation where more than 300 million people live on less than $1 a day, it is also a real force to reckon with when it comes to top class rocket and satellite technology.

On Monday the Indian space agency created a world record by successfully launching 10 satellites in one go.

That shattered the previous record of a Russian rocket that successfully launched eight satellites last year.

Launching 10 satellites requires immense precision. When the tricky operation starts the rocket is already travelling at 7.5 kilometres per second.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, CEO of Arianspace, Paris, says "simultaneously launching 10 satellites is a great achievement".

The Indian space agency, set up 35 years ago, is still really a baby among the world's space-faring nations. This was its 26th launch of a rocket from India's only space centre, Sriharikota, situated on the Bay of Bengal coast in southern India.

Compare this to the hundreds of launches that have been undertaken by Nasa and their Russian and European counterparts.

Impressive

The 16,000-employee Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has mastered these demanding space technologies with little outside help because of Delhi's decision to go ahead with nuclear testing way back in 1974.

So its achievements are all the more impressive.

India has a whopping 11 national communications satellites in orbit at present. That is the largest constellation for any country in the Asia-Pacific region.

India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which carried the satellites

India's space programme is more than 45 years old

Today the country undoubtedly has one of the largest national networks of operational satellites anywhere in the world.

Isro argues that it's a profitable business - for every $1 spent on the space programme the return has been $2.

Its budget is less than $1bn a year, compared with more than $17bn that Nasa spends.

India's remote sensing capabilities are almost legendary.

Today there are seven Indian-made and operated remote sensing satellites in orbit, the largest number of any country in the civilian domain.

They can map at a resolution of less than a metre, which means you can literally count the number of soldiers marching in a formation, anywhere on Earth.

Almost a third of the global market for remote sensing images at a resolution of 5-6 metres has already been captured by India.

The new mapping satellite of the Cartosat series put into orbit on Monday will provide even higher resolution images to the global community as it joins its Indian twin that has already been functioning since early last year.

Knocking on the door

But to capture a significant part of the $140bn satellite launch market may take a long time as India's larger rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is still in its adolescence.

Isro has a long wait before joining the big boys club of the USA, Russia, France, Japan and China, but India is knocking at the door.

The Indian rocket used on Monday was the smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

It weighed a whopping 230 tons - as much as 50 elephants - and stands as high as a 12-storey building.

The launch earned India more than $500,000.

PSLV taking off

'Simultaneously launching 10 satellites is a great achievement'

Almost 15 minutes into the flight the 690kg Indian mapping satellite called Cartosat 2-A was put into orbit.

It was the most important passenger on board and is really a high resolution mapping satellite, which can, from its perch of more than 600km distinguish objects as small as a car.

Almost a minute later an experimental remote sensing satellite called the Indian Mini Satellite-1 was put into orbit.

Now with the two big daddies out of the way, the trickiest part was dropping off all the "babies" on board.

They are really nano-satellites, each weighing 3-16kg. These were dropped of one by one, with gaps of 20 seconds. It was all over in less than 20 minutes after lift-off.

These experimental nano-satellites have been made by university students from Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Denmark and Germany.

The eight nano-satellites are really test beds meant for pushing the frontiers of satellite technology towards making affordable satellites.

They use basic off-the-shelf electronics and have short mission lives of a year or two at most.

The total weight of these nano-satellites on this record-breaking Indian mission was about 50kg.

Big challenge

India's next big challenge is the launch of Chandrayaan-1 (Moon Craft), the country's maiden shot at the Moon to be launched later this year using the PSLV.

A $100m mission, it is meant to map the Moon surface in detail like never before and will undertake the most intense search for water on our nearest neighbour.

Cartosat 2A satellite during prelaunch tests

A mapping satellite was also put into orbit

This is first multi-continent mission in several decades, and the tables have been turned.

Countries like the US, UK and Sweden are being given literally a free ride to the Moon as India is charging them nothing for taking their instruments there.

A recent Japanese and Chinese mission carried only instruments from their own countries.

India's mark on space-faring is now indelible, with a mission for robotic landing on the Moon already scheduled for 2012 and space crafts to Mars, an asteroid and the Sun already being planned.

The Indian space agency is already looking at sending an Indian up on an Indian rocket from Indian soil within the next few years.

As Dr G Madhavan Nair, chairman of Isro put it to me: "Twenty years from now, when space travel is likely to become mundane like airline travel today, we don't want to be buying travel tickets on other people's space vehicles."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bigger rockets to help ISRO tap $3 bn global launch biz

The perfect launch of 10 satellites, two Indian and eight foreign, simultaneously by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C-9 has catapulted the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) into a new orbit. The world record mission not only demonstrates capability to launch small satellites but also puts ISRO’s commercial arm, Rs 660-crore Antrix Corporation, in a competitive position to capture a portion of the over $3-billion global satellite launch business. But if ISRO seeks to tap this market aggressively, it will have to shift focus to launch bigger rockets and heavier satellites.

Satellite launch for applications spanning direct-to-home (DTH) services, global positioning systems (GPS), education, telecom, weather monitoring and others is increasing worldwide. But the launch costs are prohibitively-high. Here, ISRO’s satellite launch services at about 60-70% cheaper costs could provide a boost to India’s space programme. “Today, PSLV is one of the proven vehicles to carry satellites. We will offer more launch products in the global market,” Antrix Corp ED KR Sridhara Murthi told ET over phone from the Sriharikota rocket launch site.

However, the challenge will be to demonstrate capability to launch heavy satellites, weighing over four tonnes. Indian rocket scientists say that such capability will be available by 2009 when ISRO readies its heavier rocket GSLV Mark-III. “PSLV is good for small satellites. The GSLV rocket is capable of carrying 2 to 2.2-tonne satellite. The Mark III GSLV vehicle and future launch vehicles will help us capture 10-15% of the market,” adds Mr Murthi.

The cluster of satellites lifted by PSLV C-9 in its 13th mission included two Indian satellites, Cartosat-2A weighing 690 kg and a 83 kg mini satellite and eight nano satellites weighing 16 kg to 27 kg from Canada, Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. At present India has the capability of carrying small satellites of less than 100 kg to nearly 2.25 tonnes capacity, an area dominated by Russia, China, Ukraine and the European Space Agency.

Globally, the 720-tonne Ariane 5 rocket built by Arianespace of France can effectively put a five-tonne satellite into orbit. But the one way fare is a whopping $120 million. ``Rockets that can carry a very heavy payload will be in demand to put the next generation of super-sized satellites into space,’’ says an expert.

Other rockets capable of putting heavy satellites into space like Atlas V of America’s United Launch Alliance (ULA) can take up to eight tonnes into orbit, but are rarely available for non-US missions. Likewise, the Delta IV rocket built by the ULA is primarily for US military use. Most commercial satellites weigh between three tonnes and five tonnes and Ariane 5 can carry two into space at once.

Where India could score is the low cost of putting satellites into designated orbits. ``Launch market is a risky business requiring big investments. Countries around the world are looking for low launch cost options and this is where we could play,’’ says Mr Murthi. In the $250 billion global space market, launch vehicles account for two-thirds of the total cost. The remaining goes into building satellites and ground support for monitoring and maintaining them.

ISRO and Antrix Corp could potentially target all areas. Making rockets to lift heavier satellites successfully could provide the boost to go for a bigger share of this pie.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ISRO to launch 10 satellites in one go

For the first time in ISRO's four-decade history, it will launch an Indian mini-satellite — IMS-1 — on April 28.

The highly-proven polar satellite launch vehicle will also carry a 690-kg Cartosat-2a remote sensing satellite and eight nano satellites—-a first for simultaneous launch of 10 satellites.

"ISRO has developed and designed the 83-kg mini satellite. The launch is to try new technologies and also miniaturisation," an ISRO official told TOI from Bangalore. "It will have a two-year life span and will operate at an altitude of 635 km. The data will be available to developing countries."

The eight nano satellites are built by universities and research institutions in Canada and Germany. The satellites weigh 3 kg to 16 kg, the total weight being about 50 kg.

The much-awaited lift-off is scheduled for 9.20 am on April 28 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. It will be the 13th flight of the PSLV.

The mini satellite carries two optical payloads consisting of what is known as a multispectral camera and a hyperspectral camera.

The resolution of the multispectral camera is 37 metres and that of the hyperspectral camera is 506 metres. The data from the mini satellite can be picked up by developing nations using "very little equipment", said the ISRO official.

The mini satellite will serve initially as a platform for experimenting new remote sensing technologies. The launch of a mini satellite is significant as miniaturisation is expected to play an important role in future space missions.

The Cartosat-2a, which will be used for mapping, will be placed in orbit first, followed a few seconds later by the mini satellite. Then, the foreign nano satellites will go into orbit one after the other at an interval of a few seconds.

"This exercise will be tricky because the satellites have to be placed in orbit at the right time and at the right angle," said the official.

India to blast satellite into space

An Indian rocket will next week launch an advanced remote-sensing satellite that will help plan and implement urban and rural development projects, the space agency said Thursday.

Cartosat-2A, an all-weather, reconnaissance satellite, will be lifted into space on Monday morning from the Sriharikota space centre in southern India, the Indian Space Research Organisation said.

"The launch campaign is progressing satisfactorily," the Bangalore-based agency said in a statement. "The satellite has already been integrated with the launch vehicle."

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, the workhorse of the Indian space programme, will carry the 690-kilogramme (1,518-pound) payload equipped with a high-resolution camera and advanced scientific instruments.

The PSLV's 13th flight will also carry an Indian mini-satellite weighing 83 kilogrammes and eight so-called nanosatellites developed by German and Canadian research institutions that weigh between three and 16 kilograms, the space agency said.

Identical to the mapping satellite Cartosat-2, which was launched in January 2007, Cartosat-2A will be placed in a polar orbit at an altitude of 630 kilometres (391 miles).

The satellite will be a boost to India's efforts to reinforce its urban and rural infrastructure to keep pace with an economy that has grown at an average annual pace of nearly nine percent in the past four years.

The satellite can also be used for intelligence gathering, officials have said previously.

India started its space programme in 1963, and has since developed and put several of its own satellites into space. It has also designed and built launch rockets to reduce dependence on overseas space agencies.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

HAL, IAI developing unmanned helicopter

India and Israel have begun joint development of an unmanned helicopter capable of operating in severe weather conditions, according to reports in the Israeli media. The unmanned rotary wing aircraft will have automated takeoff and landing systems for use on unprepared fields on land and from ships at sea.

Being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) unmanned air vehicle division, Malat, the helicopter will also have a dual automated sophisticated operating systems for enhanced safety, said a report in Israeli business daily, Globes.

The unmanned helicopter meant primarily for use by the navy will carry payloads such as day-and-night-imaging systems and various radar systems.

Its main advantage over unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) is its ability to takeoff from and land anywhere, including from ships, the report added. 

The prototype being developed is based on the HAL-built Chetak airframe, a derivative of the French Alouette, and some reports suggest that test flights are already scheduled for the coming months.

According to these reports, the flight control system to be used in the unmanned helicopter was previously developed by IAI using a Bell 206 airfarme. Through this programme IAI developed a kit that it says will allow for a "plug and fly" conversion of any helicopter for unmanned operations.

An earlier IAI effort to develop a hovering UAV in the late 1980s was unsuccessful and led to the company terminating development activities.

However, work on vertical take-off and landing UAVs was revived following interest from potential users including the Indian and Israeli navies. While the Israeli Navy would seek to equip its fleet of missile boats, in the case of the Indian Navy options are much wider, ranging from missile boats to frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

According to Israeli media, IAI CEO Itzhak Nissan is presently in India to finalize a number of agreements with Tata. IAI signed an agreement with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to jointly develop and manufacture defence products.

IAI is also collaborating with a number of Indian aerospace companies, including the Indian Space Research Organisation which recently launched its TecSAR satellite on its launch vehicle.

3,500km range Agni-III to be testfired this month

NEW DELHI: India plans to test-fire its most ambitious strategic missile Agni-III, which can hit high-value targets deep inside China with a strike range of 3,500-km, towards April-end.

Sources said the test-firing is likely to take place in the "window" between April 20 to 30, but the exact launch date will depend on technical, environmental and other parameters. This will be the third test of the rail-mobile Agni-III — which can carry a 1.5 tonne nuclear payload — from the integrated test range on Wheeler Island off the coast of Orissa.

While the first test of the two-stage, solid-fuelled Agni-III in July 2006 had flopped, with scientists losing control of the missile over the Bay of Bengal barely 65 seconds into its flight, the second test in April 2007 had proved successful during its entire flight path of 15 minutes.

"If the third test is successful, then the ballistic missile will require just one or two more tests before it can go for limited series production and training trials by the armed forces. Its operational deployment should be possible by 2010-2011," said a source.

Till now, the armed forces have inducted the 700-km Agni-I and 2,000-km-plus Agni-II missiles, which are primarily meant for Pakistan, apart from different versions of the short-range Prithvi missile.

The government, however, is yet to give defence scientists the green signal for an advanced version of Agni-III, with a miniaturised third-stage to increase the strike distance to around 5,000-km.

"If the political directive comes, we can test this Agni-III-plus missile in a year or so," the source said.

A missile is termed an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) if it can travel distances beyond 5,500-km. ICBMs have largely remained the preserve of the five UNSC permanent members, with US and Russia leading the pack since the 1960s. China, too, has made huge strides by developing new-generation solid-fuelled road-mobile ICBMs like DF-31 (7,250-km-plus) and DF-31A (11,270-km).

With China even having SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) like JL-1 and the under-development JL-2 (8,000-km range), every major city in India is within the strike envelope of Chinese missiles.

But despite the stark asymmetry with China in terms of its huge missile and nuclear arsenal, Agni-III makes it possible to bring even Beijing and Shanghai within India's strike range. The 16.7-metre high Agni-III is a totally new system, with a massive lift-off weight of 48 tonnes, unlike the much lighter Agni-I (12 tonnes) and Agni-II (17 tonnes) missiles.

Scientists say Agni-III has many "firsts" to its credit like the "flex nozzle controls of rocket motor during the powered phase" and the "specially designed composite propellant with high specific impulse for the rocket".

The mobile land-based Agni missiles constitute a crucial part of India's nuclear deterrent posture. Though India has a declared "no-first use" policy, the nuclear doctrine holds that nuclear retaliation to a first strike by an adversary "will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage".

Thursday, March 27, 2008

India: Missile defense dreams

India reveals plans for an ambitious anti-missile defense shield, sparking concerns of an arms race and speculation as to the country's true capabilities.

India's recently unveiled designs to develop an integrated anti-missile shield has sparked concerns as to the potential impact on the regional strategic balance.

With development underway, reports that the US is willing to assist India in building an anti-missile defense capacity are a cause for concern in both China and Pakistan. Russia, which has been one of India's key defense partners, will also be watching developments with growing unease.

Nonetheless, considerable doubts remain as to the potential effectiveness of Indian anti-missile systems currently under development.

Development

Following successful interceptor missile tests in 2006 and 2007, India claims to have developed an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capacity, with operational deployment scheduled by 2011.

The chief controller of India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), VK Saraswat, was quoted by the local media as saying that his organization was "developing a robust anti-missile defense system that will have high-speed interceptions for engaging ballistic missiles in the 5,000 km class and above."

During the November 2006 Prithvi Air Defense Exercise (PADE), a high altitude test was conducted involving the successful interception of a Prithvi ballistic missile by a second modified Prithvi interceptor missile, dubbed the AXO (Atmospheric Intercept System). The agency has also successfully tested the Advanced Air Defense (AAD) missile, intended for lower altitude interceptions.

According to sources, a further test is scheduled for this April when two interceptors will target a single incoming missile. Development is also reportedly underway on the high-speed AD-1 and AD-2 ABM systems.

Ajey V Lele of New Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses is optimistic concerning the potential of India's anti-missile program, despite speculation that it may trigger a regional arms race.

Lele told ISN Security Watch, "With nuclear powers in the neighborhood, India needs to shift focus from conventional defensive capabilities towards a solid missile defense as part of a national deterrence policy."

An "operational missile defense system would certainly greatly ease New Delhi's security concerns, especially [regarding] external aggression, be it a hostile state or non-state actors," he said, adding, "Both Pakistan and China have nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting many Indian cities within a very short flight time."

India started work secretly on anti-missile defense long before its 1998 nuclear tests; work prompted by a growing emphasis in China and Pakistan on missile development.

Following the AAD test in December, senior Indian defense officials made it clear that they believed the new system was capable of intercepting the M-9 and M-11 class of missiles stockpiled in neighboring countries.

With an eye on Indian ABM development, Pakistan continues to fine-tune its nuclear-capable missile arsenal through ongoing work on the Ghauri, Ghaznavi and Babur series of ballistic and cruise missiles. Whether Pakistan will follow with its own anti-missile system remains unclear.

India's true capabilities

Observers believe that by transforming its existing missile capabilities into a viable intercept system, India may push into the elite club of nations with operational anti-missile systems.

India has shown interest in the past in Israel's Arrow system. Sales of the related Yellow Citron control and Green Pine radar were blocked by the US, Israel's partner in the Arrow project. Israel later supplied a couple of Green Pine Radars to bolster India's dual-function Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR), which can be utilized in both "target acquisition" and "fire control" for exo-atmospheric anti-missile systems.

However, many question India's ability to put in place a robust missile defense system on its own. These reservations are partly based on the DRDO's previous record, which is marred by technical shortcomings such as those exposed during the Trishul and Akash anti-aircraft missile projects.

While Israel and France have provided India with technical support, some experts remain skeptical. Stratfor analyst Nathan Hughes told ISN Security Watch that ballistic missile defense was not something that the agency could just pick up.

"[I] haven't seen evidence suggesting that the DRDO is either capable of that level of technological sophistication or has pursued a representative test and evaluation program anywhere close to sufficient to field a meaningful BMD [ballistic missile defense] capability."

"Even the US has yet to succeed in having a fool-proof shield in place when it has been working concertedly on this for the last three decades with over US$100 billion invested in a wide range of technologies," Hughes argued.

Deba R Mohanty of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation holds a similar but slightly more optimistic view as to the DRDO's ability to develop viable anti-missile interceptors.

"It is difficult to develop and deploy a robust multi-layered anti-missile system in a very short time," he told ISN Security Watch.

However, relating to recent developments in India's defense sector, Mohanty said. "One should not always go by the previous record, especially when there is a shift taking place in the DRDO's thinking and functioning."

"Perhaps [India] could achieve success in the field of anti-missile system development with an open door to private and foreign players to assist in its effort with their proven technology," he said.

Regional concerns

Defense analysts fear a credible Indian anti-missile capability could promote instability in the South Asia region, triggering responsive arms-procurements and weapons systems development. Moreover, there are fears that US involvement might complicate India's relations with China, Russia and Pakistan.

"India having a credible BMD shield will certainly make Pakistan squirm, no matter how effective the system truly is," Hughes said.

However, Hughes downplayed Chinese concerns with regard to Indo-US ABM cooperation. He believes that China must decide how to contend with a Japanese BMD capability, rather than India's, as enhanced Japanese capabilities would directly impede the credibility of Beijing's deterrent vis-à-vis Washington.

"While China would watch India's growing missile defense capability very carefully, as the technology gap might further narrow between the two, it would be interesting to watch how the Pakistanis would develop their counter-capabilities," Mohanty said.

"There is hardly any doubt that both China and Pakistan would most likely try to strengthen their missile strike capabilities to maintain the strategic deterrence," she concluded.

Potential partners

"We're just beginning to talk about what India's needs would be in the realm of missile defense and where cooperation might help advance that," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during his recent visit to India. He stressed that any resultant joint development effort would not be directed at any specific country.

India's indigenous defense programs do not have a good track record, with many ambitious projects either stalled or delayed. Saraswat, the father of India's interceptor missile program, while expressing confidence in recent development work, has indicated that US support is needed.

Lockheed Martin, which pioneered the Patriot and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile system, is considering collaboration with the DRDO on BMD development. In early February, Lockheed's Richard Kirkland hinted that "exploratory discussions" had taken place with Indian government and industry representatives on future ABM collaboration.

The other potential ABM development partner is Israel. There have been a series of joint Indo-Israeli defense R&D projects in recent years including cooperation on advanced radars and anti-missile defense systems.

Any potential deal with the US or Israel invites vehement political opposition in India, especially from leftist parties, and it remains to be seen whether a robust anti-missile shield can be achieved in coming years given the associated technological and collaborative challenges.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

DRDO sets its sights on launch of Agni-III ballistic missile in April

After the successful firing of Agni-1 missile on Sunday, the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile on March 5 and the K-15 (Sagarika) missile from a submerged pontoon on February 26, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has set its sights on launching the Agni-III ballistic missile in April 2008.

Agni-III is the most powerful, surface-to-surface missile built by India, which can carry nuclear warheads. It has a range of more than 3,500 km. It has been described as not just “a missile, but a system for the future with which various configurations can be developed.”

It will be the third launch of Agni-III, which will take place from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) on the Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast.

Agni, Agni-II, Agni-I and Agni-III form the group of India’s surface-to-surface, ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Agni-III is a two-stage, long-range missile that weighs 48.3 tonnes and is 16.7 metres long. It can carry warheads weighing 1.5 tonnes over a distance of more than 3,500 km.

Celebrations broke out at the Launch Control Centre on Sunday on the Wheeler Island after the successful launch of Agni-1 missile that reached a distance of more than 700 km. A release from the DRDO from New Delhi said the missile had a textbook performance in terms of range, accuracy and lethality.

Agni-I missile was developed by the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), the premier missile development centre of the DRDO, in collaboration with its neighbours, that is, the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), the Research Centre, Imarat, all of which form the missile complex at Hyderabad.

It was integrated by the Bharat Dynamics Limited, also located in Hyderabad. The ASL is headed by Avinash Chander, who was the Mission Director for the launch. The Vehicle Research and Development Establishment at Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, the ITR and public and private sector industries contributed to the launch.

V.K. Saraswat, Chief Controller, R&D (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, said the success of Agni-1 gave a tremendous boost to India’s strategic defence. The terminal event of the flight was recorded by a downrange ship and the results validated the entire technology of the strategic defence, he added.

Dr. V.G. Sekaran, Project Director, ASL, was present during the launch.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju congratulated the scientists and the operational team of the Strategic Force Command.