The Missile Gap and the Indian Myth of “Indigenous” Technology


Daily.Pk

A Times of India report last year claimed that ” Pakistan has surged well ahead of India in the missile arena”. It also lamented that “the only nuclear-capable ballistic missile in India’s arsenal which can be said to be 100% operational as of now is the short-range Prithvi missile”.

Along with raising the alarm, the Indian report offered the usual excuse for the alleged missile gap by boasting that “unlike Pakistan, our program is indigenous”.

Let’s explore the reality of the “indigenous” claim repeated ad infintum by Indian government and New Delhi’s defense establishment.

US-European Origins of Indian Missile Program

APJ Abul Kalam is credited with designing India’s first satellite launcher SLV3. Its design is virtually identical to the American Scout rocket used in the 1960s. According to the details published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Abul Kalam spent four months in training in the United States in 1963-1964. He visited NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where the US Scout rocket was conceived, and the Wallops Island Flight Center on the Virginia coast, where the Scout was being flown. Soon after Abul Kalam’s visit, India requested and received detailed technical reports on the Scout’s design, which was unclassified.

US Scout and India’s SLV3 are both 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 later became the first stage of the Agni.

The United States was followed by others. Between 1963 and 1975, more than 350 US, French, 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.

India’s other missile, the “Prithvi” (earth), which uses a liquid-propelled motor to carry a one-ton payload 150 miles, resembles the widely sold Soviet Scud-B. Indian sources say that the Agni’s second stage is a shortened version of the Prithvi, according to Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project.

France also launched sounding rockets from India, and in the late 1960s allowed India to begin building “Centaure” sounding rockets under license from Sud Aviation.

The aid of the United States and France, however, was quickly surpassed by substantial West German help in the 1970s and 1980s. Germany assisted India in three key missile technologies: guidance, rocket testing, and the use of composite materials. All were supposed to be for the space program, but all were also used for military missiles.

The cryogenic stage used in a recent failed satellite launch by India was a copy of the Russian cryogenic rocket engine and the cryogenic technology transferred to India in the 1990s. According to Non-proliferation review of 1997, it has emerged that Russia continued transferring rocket engine technology to India in 1993 after its agreements with the United States to stop such transfer under MTCR. This reportedly resulted in the completion of 60 to 80 percent of the transfers to India.

North American Origins of India’s Nuclear Bomb

India’s nuclear program would not have advanced without a lot of help from the Canadians that resulted in Indian copies of Canadian reactors to produce plutonium for its nuclear bombs.

India conducted its first atomic bomb test in 1974. The Indians used the 40 MW Canadian Cirus reactor and US heavy water both imported under guarantees of peaceful use and used them openly to make plutonium for its 1974 nuclear blast.

In 1972, the Canadian-built 100 MWe Rajasthan-1 nuclear power reactor became operational, serving as a model for the later unsafeguarded reactors. Another Rajasthan unit started operating in 1980 and two units in 2000. In 1983, India’s 170 MW Madras-1, a copy of Canadian Rajhastan-1 reactor, became operational. A second Madras unit followed in 1985.

According to the Risk Report Volume 11 Number 6 (November-December 2005), the heavy water and other advanced materials and equipment for these plants were smuggled into India from a number of countries, including the USSR, China and Norway. Some of the firms, such as the West German firm Degussa, were caught and fined by the United States for re-exporting to India 95 kg of US-origin beryllium, usable as a neutron reflector in fission bombs.

In May 1998, India conducted two rounds of nuclear weapon tests. Last year, the media reports indicated that Kasturiranga Santhanam, the coordinator of India’s 1998 nuclear tests, went public with allegations that India’s Pokhran II test of a thermonuclear bomb in 1998 was actually a fizzle. The device, designed to generate 45 kilotons, yielded an explosion equivalent to only 15 to 20 kilotons of TNT.

Summary

There is plenty of evidence and documentation from sources such as the Wisconsin Project to show that the Indian missiles and bombs are no more indigenous than Pakistan’s. The fact is that neither India nor Pakistan was first to split the atom, or to develop modern rocket science. The Industrial Revolution didn’t exactly start in India or Pakistan or even in Asia; it began in Europe and the rest of the world learned from it, even copied it.

The differences between India and Pakistan in terms of the technology know-how and the knowledge base are often highly exaggerated to portray India as a “technology power house” and Pakistan as a backwater. Some of these analyses by Indian Brahman pundits and commentators have racial and religious overtones implying that somehow Brahmin or Hindu minds are superior to those of the people of other religions or castes in South Asia.

What is often ignored by such Indian analysts is the fact that neither of the two Indian pioneers, nuclear scientist Homi Bahbha and rocket scientist Abul Kalam, belong to the Hindu faith or the Brahmin caste. The false sense of Indian superiority is pushed by self-serving Indian and some Western analysts to justify their own biased conclusions.

These analysts have fed what George Perkovich described in his book “India’s Nuclear Bomb” on page 410 as “general Indian contempt for Pakistan’s technical capabilities” and may cause serious miscalculations by the Indian security establishment about Pakistan’s defense capabilities. Indian chauvinistic analyses have been put in perspective by another piece in Newsday (Friday, May 15, 1998; Page A5: “India Errs Nuclear Power Isn’t Real Power”), in which George Perkovich talked about the rise in India of a radicalized, ultra-nationalistic BJP for the “glory of the Hindu race and rashtra (nation)”. Perkovich added that “the Bharatiya Janata Party, has long felt that nuclear weapons offer a quicker ride to the top. Like atavistic nationalists elsewhere, they believe that pure explosive power will somehow earn respect and build pride.”

The extreme right-wing influence on South Asian analysts has the potential for serious miscalculations by either India or Pakistan in the nuclear and the missile arena, and it does not augur well for the future of the Indo-Pak region and the world at large.

R Haq

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