“Don’t fear for facing failure in the first attempt, because even the successful math starts with ‘zero ‘only.”- A.P.J Abdul Kalam-the Missileman of India and the people’s President.
As rightly said by Dr Kalam, The Indian defence programme started with scratch and after passing through many hurdles today stands as one of the most advanced defence systems in the world. This journey of getting this status through repeated achievements is no less than an inspirational story for the future generation of this young nation. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a premier research and development institution was established in 1958 with a motto slogan-“????? ???? ?????????” which means “Strength’s Origin is in Science”. It was proven a major milestone in the development of Indian defence program. With a network of 52 laboratories across India, which are engaged in developing defence technologies with fulfilling vision of making India prosperous by establishing world class science and technology base and provide defence Services, DRDO is undoubtedly the backbone of India’s highly ambitious defence programme. But seven decades ago, the scenario was totally different due to sheer lack of cutting edge technology, R establishment and almost none of the international cooperation in technology transfer for developing indigenous defence system. Since then, India’s defence programme led by DRDO has walked an extra mile to ensure the external security of Indian frontiers and territories.
In the decade of 1970s, India was trying to become a nuclear power and therefore refused to sign discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), because India believed that the treaty permitted countries that had tested nuclear weapons before 1 January 1967 to retain nuclear weapons but forbidden it for the everyone else on the planet earth. A secret operation codenamed “Smiling Buddha” was assigned to conduct the first nuclear test which was successfully conducted at Pokhran (Rajasthan) test range on May 18, 1974. Ministry of External Affairs claimed this test was a “peaceful nuclear explosion.” At the same time, Delhi also focused on developing indigenous missile system. Indian missile program was started in the early 1960s with project ‘Indigo’ which was discontinued without success. In the 1970s, Project Indigo led to Project Devil, along with Project Valiant, to develop short-range SAM and ICBM and later development of the Prithvi missile. The effective program which made India capable in self-defence was Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) in the 1980s. It was a programme conducted during the early 1980s to 2007 for the development of a range of missiles, including the Agni missile, surface-to-surface Prithvi ballistic missile, surface-to-air missiles Akash & Trishul and anti-tank guided Nag Missile.
“Sir, my heart is on missiles, I want to go.”-These words written by kalam on a letter was handed over to noted scientist Satish Dhawan for joining the missile programme, and this is how he left DRDO to join missile development programme at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). This event turned the Indian Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) into a new direction. Under the direction of Dr. A P J Kalam, Indigenously developed missile Trishul’s first flight was tested on September 16, 1985. This particular achievement brought in the required confidence under IGMDP project before the restrictive Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) started in 1987. On the other side, this achievement of Trishul’s success helped India to become self-depended in missile defence program. The concept of Agni project-a game changer in ICBMs-was incorporated from Kalam’s favourite re-entry experiment (REX) project at ISRO. Later, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) project got a new boost when the DRDO developed the longest range missile and nuclear capable Agni-V with an extraordinary range of 5000 km. Along with IGMDP’s major project, development of Brahmos missile is a joint venture of India and its strategic partner Russia for developing ramjet supersonic cruise missile which travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0 and makes it world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. This development of Brahmos is also a watershed moment in India’s defence programme led by DRDO and ISRO along with other instrumental players.
In 1983, IAF realised the need for an Indian combat aircraft for replacing India’s ageing MiG-21 fighters which had been the backbone of the IAF since the 1970s. The value of the aerospace “self-reliance” initiative is not simply the aircraft’s production, but also the building of a local industry capable of creating state-of-the-art products with cutting edge technology for a global market. In 1984, the Indian government established the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to manage the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) programme. As a consequence of the embargo imposed on India after its nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, these sanctions contributed to the prolonged delays suffered by the LCA programme. On 25 April 2007, the first Limited Series Production (LSP-1) Tejas performed its maiden flight, achieving a speed of Mach 1.1. In May 2015, the Mark I aircraft was criticized by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for not meeting IAF requirements on several technical issues. On 12 May 2017, Tejas successfully demonstrated an Air-to-Air Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile firing capability at the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur in Odisha but before its full fledge production and induction for Indian Armed Forces, it will require more testings to meet FOC requirement.
The effect of imposing sanctions several times on India and putting a restriction on technology transfer to India led to the slow development of the advancement of Indian defence program. By the time, change in policies like increasing FDI cap in the defence sector and allowing world’s renowned advanced defence manufacturers establishing in India may lead to self-dependency within the timeline.
The decision to allow 100 per cent FDI in defence sectors gave a major push to defence manufacturing under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. Mahindra Defence signs a statement of intent with Airbus Helicopters to make military helicopters in India. Reliance Defence Ltd and Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd of Israel have decided to set up a joint venture company in India in the highly specialized areas of air-to-air missiles, air defence systems and large aerostats. Tata Advanced Systems Ltd supplied the components of CH-47F Chinook helicopters; it made for aerospace company-Boeing- where it would be configured and delivered to the Indian Air Force- the companies said in a statement. There are several other start ups and joint venture taking place in the new easy-to-do business environment in the defence sector. The collaboration of Indian companies with advanced defence manufacturers and allowing 100 percent FDI in this sector gave a massive boost in manufacturing and defence research sector and thus will have a positive impact on developing indigenous technology in the long term.
The most recent development regarding enhancement of Indian defence capability is that India has joined MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) group as a full member. As a full member, India can buy high-end missile technology from others and can run joint programmes for development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). With this membership, ISRO will now have access to restricted high-end technologies for developing its cryogenic engines in space exploration. India can also use this strategic membership as a weapon against China which is aspiring to get full membership of MTCR since China blocked entry of India in NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group).
I still remember a beautiful quote of our beloved people’s president Dr Kalam, which I witnessed at the director office of ITR Chandipur (DRDO lab), “If you want to to shine like a sun first burn like a sun.” Hence, in sum, the elevated status of India’s defence programme certainly reflects the result of hard work and dedication of our scientist and researchers, and therefore today we have the highest level of technological advancement in our defence system and programme.
(Prashant Sharma is pursuing his Master Degree in Communication System from National Institute of Technology (NIT), Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, India. He has taken a keen interest in the developments of defence sector in India and abroad with a special focus on Indian defence programme. His area of research is largely centered around development in the defence sector. He also has a first-hand experience of working as a Senior Research Fellow at ITR Chandipur lab, DRDO).