An untold story: how India got its missile defence - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 29 January 2008

An untold story: how India got its missile defence

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 29 January 2008

There was scepticism on 27th Nov 06, when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) made a surprise announcement. In a secret test at Wheeler’s Island, off the Orissa coast, a missile launched by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) had hit and destroyed a simulated incoming enemy ballistic missile (usually used to carry nuclear bombs to targets hundreds of kilometres away) while it was 78 kilometres above the Bay of Bengal, still outside the earth’s atmosphere. A year later, on 6th Dec 07, the MoD declared a second test successful, when an incoming ballistic missile was shot down inside the atmosphere, some 15 kilometres above the earth. This was high-technology success; no more than six or seven countries have anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability.

Unlike the shrill promises that accompanied the Trishul and Akash anti-aircraft missiles, the ABM programme was kept secret, even from close watchers of the DRDO. Now, Business Standard has been granted exclusive access to the ABM missile production facilities in Hyderabad, and told the story of how the programme evolved.

It began in 1995, when alarm bells were set off in the MoD, after India first learned that Pakistan had obtained the M-9 and M-11 ballistic missiles from China. India already had its own nuclear deterrent in place; the Prithvi missile was ready, and the Agni was being tested. But Pakistan was considered unpredictable and, in 1996, the MoD asked its Scientific Advisor, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, whether India could quickly develop protection against an incoming Pakistani ballistic missile.

Dr Abdul Kalam was already overseeing the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP); he began feasibility studies on an ABM programme as well. The DRDO’s first challenge was to develop a radar, which could pick up enemy ballistic missiles being launched from up to 300 kilometres away. The longest range Indian radar was the Rajendra, with a range of 60 kilometres, and there simply wasn’t the time to develop a long-range radar from scratch. The only option was foreign collaboration. Dr Abdul Kalam put one of his top scientists, Dr VK Saraswat, in charge.

Dr Saraswat recounts how Russia was first approached, but the conditions in Russia --- with defence R&D at an all time low --- made the DRDO reject that option. It was then that the Israeli ABM programme ---- the Arrow-1, based upon the long-range Green Pine radar --- caught the DRDO’s eye. A delegation was sent to Israel, but it was turned down because the Green Pine radar incorporated US technology. But Israel did agree to collaborate with India in building a Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR), which could form the basis for India’s ABM system.

Dr Saraswat rejects reports that the LRTR in India’s ABM system is actually the Israeli Green Pine radar. He stated, “The LRTR is actually a radar built by (a DRDO laboratory) the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) in Bangalore, in collaboration with Israeli company, ELTA. It is not the Green Pine. The technology of the Green Pine may be built into this, but not even a single module of Green Pine is in (the LRTR). If we had done that, the Americans would have stopped the flow of technology to Israel.”

Also needed for the system was a guidance radar, to track the incoming enemy missile. LRDE, explains Dr Saraswat, has developed that radar in collaboration with French company, Thales.

With the radar problems solved, government sanction was obtained in 1998 to develop an ABM system. But the project remained secret, because an ABM system is controversial; the ability to defend against an enemy nuclear strike is believed to undermine deterrence. Besides that, says Dr Saraswat, India’s nuclear tests that year had tightened international sanctions. “We were having collaboration with these two countries, but the times were not good. We faced severe sanctions in 1998 and, if we talked too much about it, the cooperation could have dried up. That was the main concern.”

But while the radars were a collaborative effort, the interceptor missiles were developed entirely by the DRDO, say the scientists at the assembly line. So were the mission control centre and the launch control centre, which are the nerve centre of the system.

The DRDO says the programme has now reached maturity, and that international sanctions cannot hurt it. There is also a degree of self-confidence in the DRDO, which allows it to acknowledge the role played by other countries. International collaboration is no longer a bad word.


  1. I think you missed mentioning how the PAD is based on Prithvi, which inturn draws upon Project Devil- an attempt to reverse engineer SA-2. The liguid propulsion is direct realted to SA-2 technology, which is obsolete.

    Missile Russian SA-2 based.
    Radar - Israel green pine based.
    Guidence-- French -Thalse.

    What exactly is research and development in DRDO. Can we name this White elephant Defence Procurement and Integration Organisation (DPIO)

  2. To get some perspective

    In the letter (Air HQ/S 96135/12/2/ASR(TY BM-IV), which has been reviewed by Business Standard, Browne complains, “When BEL equipment fails to meet the IAF’s requirements during field evaluation, the company tries to overturn the rejection by sending representations to MoD.”

    The “[B]In all the cases, these representations have been found to be devoid of merit,” [/B]the letter points out.

    In the purchase of a critical electronic intelligence system (called the Ground Based Mobile Elint System), “BEL imported sizable and critical sub-systems from sub-vendors abroad.”
    So the critical subsystem imported and passed as "Indeginous":smokin:

    [B][U][QUOTE]Apparently, BEL was not developing the system, but merely purchasing components, slapping them together, and selling them to IAF. [/QUOTE][/U][/B]

    This became evident when the IAF was evaluating the sub-systems, where air force officers were surprised to find that “most of these sub-systems were demonstrated by OEM representatives and not by BEL.”

    That BEL was merely a front for foreign companies like M/s Elisra, Israel, and M/s Indra, Spain was clear from the fact that, “BEL representatives were mere observers and could not participate in the demonstration in any manner.”

    [B][U]“Despite knowing nothing about the equipment,” complains the IAF deputy chief, “letters are being repeatedly sent by BEL to IAF and MoD extolling BEL’s capability to manufacture and support them.” [/U][/B]

  3. Rahul Datta | New Delhi
    The Daily Pioneer

    The next fiscal was likely to see the Israeli industries signing a deal for more than one billion dollars with India for 50 Green Pine radars to bolster our air defence.

    India acquired three of these highly sophisticated radars for air defence system. With the successful test of and with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully testing its defence shield missiles late last year, the need for more Gareen Pine radars had cropped up.

  4. can ajai please ban these two pakistani idiots, bs terminator and buraidiah- i have run across these two fools on one pakistani forum after another, and frankly, its enough. we come to this blogsite to read ajais work not to read the biased bullnonsense of these two idiots.

  5. any radar engineering professional conversant with the designs, would now that the greenpine is not the lrtr. the greenpine can track targets at a lower range and only upto 3 km/sec since its 36 by 21 feet array is only partially populated with lower power mic tx/rx modules. the LRTR on the other hand is a true MW class radar. i would be very interested in knowing its true range, within a given elevation, i wouldnt be surprised if radars placed well within india could track traffic deep into pakistan as well.

    this BS Terminator guy is indeed full of BS. an IP check should reveal where this angst ridden insecure tomfool is from.
    and calling the Prithvi SA-2 based, well sure- all missiles are based on the bottle rockets of the Ming dynasty then. what of the guidance mechanism and kalman filtered navigation then? the prithvis liquid propulsion draws from the sa-2 system because it is a proven system with a 10 yr life. prudent engineering demands a combination of risk taking and risk aversion.

    one thing I have noticed though- Indias recent successes in missiles have made these Pakistanis deeply insecure. i can only imagine how deeply these guys will attack this site and others once the nag clears trials.

  6. Thanks for the clarifications, Anonymous, about the difference between Green Pine and the PAD LRTR.

    I don't think anyone should be banned from posting. At the end of the day, they would have benefited from the clarification you made.

    I was made privy to a lot of stuff from the people who are involved in developing those systems. For obvious reasons of security and attributability, I cannot post anything much beyond the (somewhat sanitised) account that I have already published in Business Standard.

    So I leave it to you guys to issue the clarifications. I'll definitely chip in where I can.

    The simple point that Dr Saraswat made to me --- and I wrote it in my article --- was that Israel would have paid a heavy price in terms of US sanctions and technology denial if it had transferred the Green Pine to an Indian ABM system.



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