An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 29 January 2002

The cat is now out of the bag AGNI-I, an 800 km range missile (DRDO’s crash programme) was successfully test fired on 25 Jan 2002. The missile can carry a one tonne nuclear payload to most targets in Pakistan, without having to be deployed at the borders. The core and triggers can be swiftly assembled by the BARC and DRDO –– within India’s avowed no first use paradigm. Pakistan needs to register this powerful message, though Indian leadership claim the test had nothing to do with the present mobilisation. India’s second-strike ability therefore stands at a new high in its unstated but perceptible cold war against Pakistan.

It is reminiscent of actions taken by USA to tame the erstwhile USSR with aggressive postures and double speak. At that time USA’s economy was doing better than Russia’s but it was the latter’s massive nuclear arsenal that threatened America. In our case India’s economy is in a more robust state than Pakistans, but the latter’s cross border terrorism in Kashmir, mixed with sinister Jehadi fervour, and its unsheathed nuclear first strike with the Ghauri and Shaheen mobile missiles kept on the ready, are what hurts India and its patience is running out. Rhetoric is also high with President Musharraf claiming that Kashmir runs in the blood of every Pakistani and Omar Abdullah responding that Kashmir runs in our marrow . Makes good copy, like when Kruschev claimed USSR could flatten ten US cities in minutes and USA responded that NATO was ready with nuclear weapons prepositioned in West Germany. Those were tense times.

India embarked on the 150 km Prithvi missile development programme in 1983. The rich experience of the Navy in the 1971 war in the maintenance of Styx liquid fuelled missiles was studied by DRDO. ISRO was working with solid fuel at that time which is more reliable and ISRO’s know how came to DRDO through Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who fathered the Prithvi and the AGNI. The Armed Forces supported solid fuel missiles for the future as handling liquid fuel is not conducive in the field but DRDO did not know what to do with the many scientists working at the DRDL liquid fuel laboratory at Hyderabad. Their lobby tilted the decision and the Prihvi short-range liquid missile was progressed for the Indian Army and one missile group has been deployed.

K Santanam a former RAW nuclear specialist who spent decades as Technical Adviser in DRDO has now clarified that the Prithvi was never intended for nuclear warheads under normal circumstances. The IAF realised this and have resisted accepting the longer range 250 km Prihvi offered to it, while the Navy has successfully tried out a launch from an off shore patrol vessel with the help of DRDO and Larsen and Tubro, who over came the stabilsation problems at sea. Much experience has also been gained by DRDO from these trials and the DRDO launch of the Russian NPO Mach cruise missile code named Brahmos on 12 Jul 2001 from Chandipur which event was path breaking.

It can now be surmised that the two Chiefs Gen S Padmanabhan and Admiral Madhvendra Singh possibly under instructions gave two strident Press interviews one after the other and confidently declared that India’s devastating second strike nuclear capability was in place. They must have been aware of the AGNI 1 readiness since the plans were put in motion in October 1999 and had fructified in late 2001. In nuclear warfare, capability must be displayed to dissuade the enemy from launching the first strike and the Government needs to be congratulated.

The AGNI-I has a single solid fuel rocket motor and so is much smaller than the AGNI-II displayed at the Republic Day parade and Bharat Dynamics should be able to turn them out fast at low costs, relieving the IAF of the major second strike responsibility. The Navy too can think of deploying it at sea in due course. The Air Force may have to wait for the Brahmos. All this augurs well for India but the lesson to be borne in mind in this second opinion is that if India is to win its cold war with Pakistan then it must keep Pakistan engaged directly, and not through USA as is the case now. The Government must also articulate what it wants as the final or interim fair settlement in Kashmir and work towards it as swiftly. That is the next challenge.

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