India’s missile development
with foreign assistance

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Patron Lt Gen SARDAR FS LODI carries out an extensive analysis of India’s missile program and the support in its development made by foreign powers

India at first concentrated in developing and later manufacturing a Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) named ‘Prithvi’. It has a range of 150 miles and is entirely Pakistan - specific. These missiles are now in production and have been issued to the newly raised 33rd Missile Group of the Indian Army. These were originally located at Secunderabad in South India but later on moved to the Pakistan border in May 1997. This was also reported by U.S. officials in Washington on June 4, 1997. The Prithvis are at present deployed at Gurdaspur. They are also being deployed in Indian - occupied Kashmir at Uri, Gulmarg and at Krishna Ghati near Rajauri. Prithvi silos are under construction at Mahajan in Ganganagar, Barmer, Bikaner, Lathi and Jaisilmer in Rajasthan.

India’s Prithvi SRBM is of Soviet design, being the Indian version of the Russian scud missile used by Iraq during the Gulf War and by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. It is consequently a product of Russian collaboration and assistance. It has a range of 250 km (150 miles). A new Air Force version with a range of 250 miles has been tested.

Latest reports indicate that India is improving and updating her Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) ‘Agni’ which is still under development. It was first successfully test-fired on May 22, 1989, from India’s Missile testing range at Chandipur-on-Sea on the Orissa coast in Eastern India. The two earlier attempts having failed, the third attempt which proved successful was able to launch the missile to a distance of 625 miles. Later on two more tests were carried out. It is designed to carry a one-ton payload 2500 kms (1,500 miles), far enough to hit cities in Southern China. Carrying a half-ton atomic bomb, the ‘Agni’ would be able to fly about 2,200 miles, far enough to hit Beijing, the capital of China.

By test-firing the ‘Agni’ India became the first country to wrongfully divert the plans, knowledge and material obtained from friendly countries for a civilian space research programme towards building and operating a strategic military missile. The missile’s first-stage rocket motor, heat shield and guidance system all came from India’s space research programme which had been generously launched and sustained over the years by foreign help from countries who believed in India’s word and solemn commitments to employ the technology for peaceful research of outer space.

After the ‘Agni’ tests the late Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India at the time had said that Agni (fire) is an R&D (Research and Development) vehicle, not a weapon system. He went on to say Agni is not a nuclear weapons system. What Agni does is to afford us the option of developing the ability to deliver non-nuclear weapons with high precision at long ranges. It is the opinion of defence experts the world over that for a country to invest millions of dollars in developing a medium range surface-to-surface ballistic missile to send conventional high explosives at targets 2500 kms away does not make any military sense. Ballistic missiles of such large dimensions have to be nuclear armed to produce the devastating effect it is designed to. It can only then act as a useful deterrent. In India’s case it will project her power much beyond her frontiers to the Indian Ocean and its littoral states, also to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Whether ‘Agni’ eventually carries nuclear or conventional weapons, though it is evident that it will carry the former, the fact remains that it is a missile developed for military purposes from knowledge and components pledged for civilian research of outer space. The missile ‘Agni’ has also shattered the illusions that sharing advanced technology in the interest of peaceful uses of outer space would benefit humanity. This turned out to be a fallacy. It is now evident that democratic India was prepared to cheat and go back on its solemn assurances given to the Western world when it suited her purpose to do so. She will continue to violate international norms and blackmail and coerce her small neighbours, to be in a position to dominate her region and beyond. It is doubtful if she will succeed, as her friends in the West have started to see India as she actually is - a poor and deceitful nation which is turning into a local bully.

The story of India’s ‘Agni’ missile development shows how difficult it is to separate civilian and military uses of technology and how futile it may be to control the spread of military missile technology. A missile control regime was established by seven Western nations in 1987 which seeks to prevent the spread of missile development, but does not seem to be having much success. As the missile control regime had no provisions for enforcement, so the Indian missile development programme continued apace with considerable foreign help, particularly from the former West Germany after the missile control regime was adopted.

Professor Gary Milhollin writing in ‘The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ in November 1989 said Agni’s’ foreign ancestry dates from the 1960s. In November 1963, the United States began India’s space programme by launching a U.S. sounding rocket from Indian soil (Sounding rockets fly straight up into the atmosphere to conduct scientific experiments. They are too small to launch satellites). The United States was followed by others. Between 1963 and 1975, more than 350 U.S., Soviet and British sounding rockets were launched from India’s Thumba Range, which the United States helped design. Thumba’s first group of Indian engineers had learned rocket launching and range operation in the United States.

Among the first batch of engineers to learn rocket launching and range operation in the United States was ‘Agni’s chief designer, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. In 1963-64, he had spent four months in training in the United States. He visited NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Virginia, where the U.S. ‘Scout’ rocket was conceived, and he also visited the Wallops Island Flight Centre on the Virginia Coast, where the ‘Scout’ was being flown. The ‘Scout’ was a low-cost and reliable satellite launcher that NASA had developed for orbiting small payloads.

Immediately after this, in 1965 the Indian government asked NASA how much it would cost and how long it would take to develop an Indian version of the U.S. ‘Scout’ rocket and whether the United States would help. NASA replied that the ‘Scout’ was available .... for purchase .... in connection with scientific research, but also added that the transfer of this technology .... would be a matter for determination by the Department of State under Munitions Control. NASA however sent to India technical reports on the ‘Scout’ design, which was unclassified. India’s request should have raised some eyebrows and caste some doubts on its innocent and simple procedure as the request had come from Homi Bhabha himself. He was head of the Indian atomic Energy Commission. But no doubts were raised and the request was treated as normal.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had by now acquired all the information he needed. He returned to India and built the SLV-3 (Space Launch Vehicle), India’s first satellite launcher. Its design is virtually identical to the U.S. ‘Scout’ rocket. Both Indian and U.S. rockets are 23 meters long. Use four similar solid-fuel stages and Open-loop guidance and lift a 40-kilogram payload into low earth orbit. The SLV’s 30-foot first stage was later to be used as the first stage of the ‘Agni’ missile.

NASA officials maintained that U.S. aid to India in rocketry was limited to the programme in the 1960s. However in 1988, the United States agreed to supply an advanced ring laser gyroscope to help guide a new Indian fighter plane. But there was nothing to prevent India from using it to guide military missiles—which she is reported to have done. The laser gyroscope is a highly accurate device, essentially solid state, making it easy to adept the demands of missile acceleration.

France also launched sounding rockets from India, and in the late 1960s allowed India to begin building Centaur sounding rockets under license from Sud Aviation. But it seems that France’s main contribution to the development of India’s short and intermediate range missiles has been in the field of liquid propulsion. Under a license from France’s Societe Europeen de Propulsion (SEP), India built its own version of the ‘Viking’, high-thrust liquid rocket motor, which had been used on the European Space Agency’s Ariane satellite launcher. Indian engineer who had helped in developing the ‘Viking’ during the mid ‘70s later began a rocket development programme for India on their return home. It has been named the ‘Vikas’.

The training that the Indians received in liquid propulsion paid off handsomely later on. A year before testing the ‘Agni’, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam of India tested its smaller predecessor, the ‘Prithvi’ (earth) which uses a liquid - propelled motor to carry a one-ton payload to a distance of 150 miles. It resembles the widely used Russian ‘Scud-B’ short range surface-to-surface ballistic missile. Indian sources admit that the ‘Agni’s’ second stage is a shortened version of the ‘Prithvi’.

The assistance provided by the United States and France towards the development of Indian missile technology was however quickly dwarfed by German help in the 1970s and 1980s. Germany gave India help in three indispensable missile technologies. These were in the guidance, rocket testing and the use of composite materials. All these were supposed to be for civilian use of the space research programme of India. But all these were equally useful in the development of military missile and that is exactly where India had intended to use this knowledge. Upper space research was only a ploy used by India to hoodwink the West. The question is, was the West willing to be deceived to befriend India?

The German government’s aerospace agency DLR (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Luftfahrt und Raumfahrt e. V.) began teaching Indians all about rocket guidance in 1976. The first step was to put a German interferometer on an Indian sounding rocket. An interferometer works by using antennas placed in different locations on the rocket to measure the phase of a radio signal received from the ground. The phase difference among the antennas reveals their relative position on the rocket and thus the rocket’s attitude which can be monitored and corrected from the ground. The first launch of an Indian rocket with a German interferometer was in 1978. By 1981 the German project had been expanded to include an on-board DLR microprocessor. In April 1982 India tested its own version of the same interferometer supplied by Germany initially.

The next step was to build a navigation system that did not depend on signals from the ground. It should by itself guide a payload through space by determining its position and speed at any moment. In July 1981 India proposed the autonomous navigation capability to spaceborne sensors thus determining position, velocity, attitude and precision time in a real-time mode. In other words India would supply the rockets and satellites, whereas Germany would provide the brains of the guidance system. The key component of which would be an on-board computer, using a microprocessor based on the German Motorola family M68000, and the required software to run it.

It should be noted that an inertial navigation system that can guide satellites can also guide military warheads. The United States had also used NASA’s experience in guiding the ‘Titan II’ transtage, a ‘bus’ designed, for multiple satellite launchings to develop a ‘bus’ that would accurately deliver small nuclear warheads.

The German-Indian joint plan was eventually carried out. By January 1982, the two countries had agreed on a series of joint project for their programmes. At the same time India announced that it was developing a new navigation system for its own rockets which would replace the ‘open loop’ system used on its first launched SLV-3 with a ‘closed loop’ system for its Advanced Space Launch Vehicle (ASLV) and its Polar Space Launch Vehicle (PSLV). So while the German - Indian plan called APC - Rex (Autonomous Payload Control Rocket Experiment) was developing, India would also be developing an autonomous navigation for its own rockets. The implication is obvious. India developed the ‘Mark-II’ on-board processor which was based on the Motorola M68000 microprocessor with 16-bit word length, same as that used in the German programme. The timing of subsequent events showed continued parallel development. The stealing of technology was obvious.

German assistance apparently continued despite the launching of the ‘Agni’ missile. In May 1989 a DLR official had said that the APC - Rex was to be concluded in 1989. West Germany was one of the seven countries that adopted the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 1987. It was an agreement not to export items useful in making long-range missiles. The agreement also barred the export of technology capable of real-time processing of navigation data, unless specific assurances could be given that the technology would not be used for, or transferred to missile programmes. If, as the evidence suggests, the technology from the German - Indian APC-Rex programme has been used in the development of Indian military rockets and missiles, Germany may have violated the MTCR or India gave a wrong specific assurances. The evidence is strong that India’s ‘Agni’ missile owes its brain to German engineering.

The Indian space programme first mentions the ‘Agni’ in its 1982-83 annual report as a booster rocket for its SLV. Six identical ‘Agni’ boosters were to lift the missile’s first stage. The boosters themselves are adaptations of the first stage of the SLV-3, which is the only large booster motor that India has. It carries nine tons of solid propellant, as does the ‘Agni’s’ first stage. No other Indian booster carries anything close to that amount. India has used the same booster to lift its ASLV. After the ‘Agni’ missile was launched a number of Indian and foreign sources had reported that the ‘Agni’s’ first stage rocket was identical to the SLV-3 first stage. It is therefore evident that the main rocket for India’s military missile programme came from India’s space programme which the Western democracies had so generously helped under the false belief that it was a civilian and peaceful research programme. ‘Agni’s’ main rocket owes much to German help. Wind tunnels are essential to the design of any rocket. In 1974-75, DLR tested a model of the first stage of India’s SLV-3 in its wind tunnel at Cologne-Portz. DLR also helped India to build rocket testing facilities, furnishing a complete design for the facility and training Indian engineers in high-altitude testing. India had said that it wanted to use this technology to test the liquid-fueled upper stage of its PSLV, but it could also be used to test the ‘Agni’s’ liquid-fueled second stage rocket which must have been done before its launch.

In June 1988, two Egyptian military officers were caught trying to smuggle out carbon fibre composites from the United States. Export of the composites was strictly controlled as these strong, lightweight, heat-resistant materials were being used for the nozzles and the nosecones of the United States Mx, Trident and Minuteman nuclear missiles. But the DLR in Germany started giving Indian scientists on-the-job training in composites at Stuttgart and Braunschweing in the mid-1970s. Subjects included glass fibre reinforced composites. The Indians learned composition, manufacturing processes, quality control and error detection.

The essential training provided by Germany helped India to make rocket nozzles and nosecones by themselves. These could be used for either missiles or space launchers. To help the Indians in using the composites, DLR supplied the necessary documents for a precision filament winding machine which India was able to build and commission in 1985-86.

After the ‘Agni’ test, the Prime Minister of India, the late Rajiv Gandhi said that one of the goals was to test atmospheric reentry. Other officers were more specific. They said the goal was to test a domestically developed head shield, the know-how for which had come from Germany.

It should be appreciated that no country including India, has ever spent large amounts on long- range rockets simply to explore space. The satellites launched by the Indian SLV-3 were little more than flight monitors, used to transmit data on rocket performance, which was India’s true interest. To launch real satellites, India could and did hire better facilities provided by other countries. The Soviets launched India’s first two satellites. France’s Ariance rocket and the U.S. space shuttle have launched other Indian satellites.

Neither has any country developed long-range ballistic missiles simply to deliver conventional bombs. The large cost of missile development is only justified when it has the ability to inflict a strategic blow and cause or threaten to cause unacceptable damage to life and property of the opponent.

India’s ‘Agni’ intermediate range ballistic missile, produced with considerable assistance from unsuspecting Western nations, can therefore only be interpreted as a large step forward towards a long-range and effective nuclear strike force in the making. As India makes progress in the guidance system, the range of ‘Agni’ will gradually increase to cover the whole of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, most of Kazakhistan and Iran, the Persian Gulf, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman, portion of Saudi Arabia, most of China and half of Mangolia, touching a bit of Russian territory. In the Far East it will cover the whole of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and a bit of Malaysia and Indonesia. It covers a large portion of the Arabian Sea and extends well into the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal are covered including a portion of the South China Sea. It is a formidable weapon which can only be used for extending India’s power and influence much beyond her frontiers into regions she is planning to coerce and dominate for political and economic reasons.

It is worth remembering that when India exploded an atomic bomb in 1974 and called it a peaceful nuclear explosion, the world was shocked. As India had taken a Canadian reactor and U.S. heavy water which had both been imported under guarantees of peaceful use, but used them openly in defiance of all international norms, to make plutonium for a nuclear test. That blast, that made India a nuclear state (not a threshold one) also destroyed the illusion about a peaceful atom and prompted changes in nuclear export policy by the Western nations.

It is however most surprising that given India’s record of deceit and deception in its international dealings and commitment, she was allowed to take full advantage of civilian imports and technology allowed by the developed Western nations and convert them surreptitiously into a full-fledged nuclear weapons programme.

Having helped India to become a ‘nuclear weapons state’ the question now is whether the Western nations would continue to help India in her ultimate aim of subjugating the whole of South Asia and the region around it and extending her power and influence to the Middle East in the North and the Indian Ocean in the South. If that happens the possibility of nuclear holocaust in South Asia will be difficult to avoid. The right policy would be to rein in India so that she can take her place in the comity of nations on the basis of sovereign equality of nations, particularly in Asia.