It was an incredible year for India’s missile scientists. The year 2012 was in a way a record of sorts, with the Defence scientists successfully demonstrating a wide range of missiles from the new, tactical missile, Shourya to the long range (above 5000 km) Agni-V.

It virtually rained missiles, going by nearly two dozen launches that the developer- Defence Research and Development Organisation, the user — armed forces and component provider — Indian industry, jointly test fired to showcase the strides achieved in securing India’s Defence preparedness.

High point

The high point was the country breaking into the elite group of nations with long-range capability, with the launch of the Agni-V in April. The US, Russia, China, France, the UK and Israel have the knowhow to launch inter-continental ballistic missiles.

That Agni-V can also be launched from a mobile platform. With its ability to reach Beijing and Shanghai, the development was hailed as an answer to the growing clout of China in the region. Experts say that China has a capability to launch missiles of over 10,000 km.

The other big stride was the test firing of the submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) for the first time in July. The SLBM has been developed for the INS Arihant, the country’s nuclear submarine. This again catapults India into the exclusive club of the US, Russia, China, the UK and France with this capability.

In all the DRDO and Strategic Forces Command of the Army tested Agni-I, Agni-III, Agni-IV, Agni-V, Shourya, Prithvi-II, Nag (anti-battle tank), BrahMos (supersonic cruise missile), Dhanush (naval version of Prithvi) and finally Astra (beyond visual range), as its launch sites in Wheeler Island and Chandipur at Sea had a busy year.

Agni, the big success story

Undoubtedly, the workhorse of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (launched in 1983), the Agni (fire) series of ballistic missiles, was the star performer of 2012. The Agni-V was the toast as it proved maturity in technology, industry contribution and in a way was a ‘game changer’.

The Agni missile has tested a variety of indigenous technologies such as rocket motor casings, on board inertial navigation systems with GPS, homing guidance, radio frequency seeks and ring laser gyros along with the light weight and robust composite material, which will stand the country’s long-term programmes in good stead, according to Avinash Chander, Programme Director of Agni and Chief Controller R&D (missiles and strategic systems) of the DRDO.

The development cycle (drawing board to production) of missiles has also been reduced to 5-6 years now from the 10-12 years ago. This substantially cuts down costs and shows the confidence of the Defence scientists and the industry, he said.

The year also saw more tests of Agni-I (around 700 km) by the Army, which has been inducted into the services already. Similarly, a few more tests of Agni-III (Above 2,000 km) and Agni-IV (over 3,000 km) were also undertaken.

In the case of Prithvi (medium range missile), the most successful missile in terms of testing and induction, its advanced, Prithvi-II and naval version-Dhanush were test fired.

“We can now develop a missile of the required range according to the threat perception of the country,” said V.K. Saraswat, Chief of the DRDO and Scientific Adviser to the Raksha Mantri.

Missiles & Industry

The big successes of Defence scientists in a way reflected the growth in confidence levels and robustness of the domestic industry, which is a key supplier of components and systems that make the missile.

The public sector Bharat Dynamics Ltd landed with a huge order of over Rs 5,000 crore to manufacture Akash (surface to land missile) missile in big numbers. The public sector enterprise is scouting to set up new manufacturing units to cope with the huge demand. A lot of private companies are expected to get important roles and business from the missile market.

The BrahMos supersonic missile is a significant example of private-public partnership at a country to country level. Indian and Russian companies and research institutes have demonstrated the utility of collaborative work as the missile got inducted into the Army and getting orders from the Navy, said Sivathanu Pillai, Managing Director of the Indo-Russian company BrahMos Aerospace.

The visit of Russian Premier Vladimir Putin is expected to give a further boost not just to this venture but also other Indo-Russian initiatives in Defence cooperation and nuclear energy.

Ballistic Missile Defence

The country’s ambitions to have its own ballistic missile Defence shield intended to protect its vital assets from the ballistic missiles of hostile neighbours got a shot in the arm with the success of its test on November 23. Since the launch of the project in 2006, this was the eight trial of which seven have been on target.

An interceptor missile homed in and destroyed an incoming, modified Prithvi missile at an altitude of around 15 km. The Chief of the DRDO V.K. Saraswat also declared after the success that a ballistic shied for the National Capital Region would be a reality by end of 2014. It would stop an incoming missile with a range of 2000 km.

The country’s ambitious BMD consists of two tiered shield with a goal of intercepting incoming missiles from 5000 km. It consists of two interceptor missiles, the Prithvi Air Defence for high altitude and the Advanced Air Defence for low altitude.

Somasekhar.m@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 31, 2012)
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