Rediff.com – News-Special Part- IV
The DRDO has succeeded with missiles, but…
In May 1998, the DRDO and its chief Dr A P J Abdul Kalam became symbols of national pride thanks to the nuclear tests. DRDO’s expertise in explosives and related technologies, and in systems engineering and integration was the key to the five devices tested by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Four months after the event, the government entrusted DRDO with a Rs 20 billion ballistic missile defence project. This is perhaps the most ambitious programme that DRDO has embarked upon. It would need to integrate the Russian-made anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile systems, which the army and air force are planning to induct, with an Israeli fire control radar.
The project, along with the Integrated Guided Missile Development programme and the nuclear submarine programme that DRDO has engaged in over the years, is meant to lay India’s foundation of strategic missile programme and security stability.
But given DRDO’s track record in the IGMD and nuclear submarine programme, not many believe the new ballistic project could come out with flying colours, that too in time.
It is not that DRDO’s missile mission has not taken India to the rarefied heights of missile power. “If there is one area in which DRDO has succeeded with a certain degree of success, it is in missiles,” says Prakash Nanda, a security expert in Bangalore who is currently writing a book on the subject.
“Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag. All these missiles have made us proud. But the problem is that though a number of flight tests of these missiles have been successfully carried out, DRDO has been unable to induct some of them into the forces,” he says.
For instance, for the last 16 years, DRDO has been building two types of anti-aircraft missiles — Trishul and Akash. According to the government’s defence plans, these surface-to-air missiles were to have replaced the Russian-supplied OSA-AK and Kvadrat systems by early 1990s. But DRDO has been unable to meet the deadlines.
To be specific, the Trishul project began in 1983. The original deadline was 1992. DRDO has spent more than Rs 2.6 billion on the missile, but it is still undergoing trials. Official sources say the major problem with Trishul is that the missile’s command guidance does not work.
Hence, though the defence ministry has entrusted DRDO with the Rs 20 billion project, it is not confident that the agency will accomplish its task in time.
“The anti-ballistic missile programme will languish like the nuclear submarine project, which DRDO has been working on for years now,” a ministry official comments wryly.
Fifteen years ago, the nuclear submarine programme was billed as India’s key to second strike capability after enunciation of the no-first use policy. But after spending millions of rupees, the naval headquarters is now demanding a technical audit of the Advanced Technology Vehicle project, as it is formally known.
The design and development of the nuclear submarine is a joint project of DRDO, the Department of Atomic Energy and the Indian navy. The DRDO, DAE and navy together have spent a whopping total of Rs 20 billion on the ATV — on its design drawings from Russia, civilian construction work, establishing test beds and testing facilities on the east coast and procurement of related equipment.
DRDO sources say the land-based prototype testing facility of the submarine reactor has been completed successfully and a training facility to familiarise with the nuclear submarine’s power plant has also been set up. The submarine’s power plant would use enriched uranium as reactor fuel.
But years after the ATV project was mooted, the submarine’s keel is yet to be laid because DRDO has been unable to decide on its construction design.