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.