Business Standard, Hyderabad, 23rd January 2008
If India has a Missile Central, this is it. Nestling in the foliage at Kanchanbagh, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, are an array of laboratories with innocuous names like Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), and Research Centre, Imarat (RCI). It is these institutions that came together under Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to begin the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) in 1983.
Now, amidst reports that the IGMDP had closed down, Business Standard was granted full access to the laboratories and scientists of the IGMDP. Dr VK Saraswat, the DRDO’s Chief Controller for Missiles and Strategic Systems (CC-MSS), India’s top missile scientist, revealed for the first time that the IGMDP was likely to close down on 31st December 2008. And the reason for its closure is success, not failure.
Just one missile test must be successfully completed before closure. This summer, the army will evaluate whether the anti-tank Nag missile is fit for acceptance into service. Army sources are optimistic; they say the Nag is close to completion.
Dr Saraswat told Business Standard, “The IGMDP continues, because it has government approval to continue work up to 31st December 2008. Subject to the likely success of the Nag trials, that will be the last date for completing the stated objectives of the IGMDP.”
If the Nag trials are successful, the IGMDP will have successfully developed four out of the five missiles it set out to make, 25 years ago. Those were:
• The Agni Technology Demonstrator (Agni-TD), which was to have a range of 800 km. The army has already accepted the Agni into service, including the Agni-2, with a range of 2500 km.
• The shorter-range 250-kilometer Prithvi missile has been successfully developed, and is also in service with the army. A naval variant, called the Dhanush, has also been produced.
• The 25-kilometer range, anti-aircraft Akash missile has successfully completed Indian Air Force (IAF) testing in December 2007. The IAF confirms that two squadrons of the Akash missile will enter service shortly. The army, though, has refused to accept the Akash.
• The 11-kilometer range, quick-reaction anti-aircraft Trishul missile programme has been closed. This is the only IGMDP missile that will not enter service.
• The anti-tank, fire-and-forget Nag missile, which can strike a tank 4 km away, has already undergone trials in April 2007. Another round of trials will take place in the desert this summer.
While the IGMDP may close down, India’s missile programme has steadily expanded outside the purview of IGMDP. The Agni programme surges ahead, now under the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL). The India-Russia joint venture, Brahmos, produces the most advanced cruise missiles in the world. The Astra air-to-air missile is being developed separately. An anti-ballistic missile (ABM) interceptor programme, that crown jewel of missiles, has already conducted two successful tests.
Despite the closure of the “integrated” missile programme, close integration continues in developing the technologies for this new generation of “non-IGMDP” missiles. Besides know-how inherited from the IGMDP, each laboratory focuses on particular technologies. ASL develops solid propulsion systems and the composite materials that rocket components are made from. The RCI contributes key technologies like inertial navigation systems and the sensors and seekers that go into missiles. The DRDL works in the high-tech fields of liquid propulsion, ramjet systems and aerodynamics.
Driving this quest for indigenous technology development is the experience of international sanctions that stemmed from the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Denied even commercially available dual-use components, DRDO scientists continually reinvent the wheel.
The ASL Director, Avinash Chander, illustrates the broad consensus when he says, “Sanctions on the missile programme are very much alive under the MTCR and other repressive regimes. Most of our labs are on the banned lists. But we have taken this as a challenge… an opportunity to indigenise. And that is why today Agni, with the support of the Indian industry, is truly an Indian missile.”