Though India, perhaps is the first country in the world where missiles were used in war (by Tipu Sultan against the British), India woke up to its potential much later. China, in order to ascertain its No. 1 position in Asia, created a strategic black hole for India—Pakistan. It utilized the pathological Pak-hatred against India to its full advantage. China helped Pakistan in its missile and nuclear programs. Pakistan bartered its nuclear know-how for North Korea’s long range Nodong missile technology. Pakistan began to develop sophisticated missiles. India, on the other hand, was reeling under heavy sanctions. Besides the traditional friend Soviet Union was interested in selling weapons, not technologies. But to meet the immediate threat perceptions and defend its territory, India had to build missiles. Two decades ago, the then defense minister, R Venkataraman sanctioned 388 crores for India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) under which five missiles-Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Nag and Akash were to be developed. The program was designed keeping in mind the Pakistan factor. The project was launched by Dr.V.S.Arunachalam, scientific advisor to the defense minister on July 27, 1983.
As India detonated its nuclear devices in May, 1998 and declared itself a nuclear-weapons country, the domino effects in the fields of diplomacy and technology began to take place.
A new polarization was going to take shape. The contemporary BJP-led NDA govt. surprised the world by supporting the controversial US National Missile Defense initiative. Post 9/11, though the USA counted upon Pakistan as a frontline ally in its war against terror, the USA was suspicious about Pakistan’s double dealing. Later, the NDA govt. signed Nest Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with America which became the first stepping stone of a robust Indo-US relationship. The American govt. hinted at de-hyphenation of the India-Pakistan theme and showed a policy shift in favor of India by permitting Israel to sell the most powerful AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control system) in the world- the Phalcon. The US offered PAC 3 (Patriot Advanced Capability 3) anti-ballistic missile system to India. It also offered the F16, F18 and above all the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. It also engaged with India in extensive military exercises. Thereafter, the UPA govt.came to power and signed a ten-year defense agreement with the USA. Later the Nuclear Deal signed between the USA and India promised to end India’s nuclear isolation. The USA promised to help India become “a major global power” Thus the USA stopped objecting to India’s military ambitions and even allowed the Indo-Israel defense relationship to flourish. Israel became the second largest arms supplier to India, the first being Russia. India gained immensely from Israeli expertise in electronic warfare systems like radars, sensors, night-vision equipments, etc. In the field of missiles and UAVs the two countries began to collaborate extensively. India imported from Israel Green Pine early warning and fire control radar systems. They could track any hostile missile within a range of 500Km.
But several factors contributed to the Indo-Us bonhomie. First, India became one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The Goldman Sachs report predicted a rosy future for India secondly China’s spectacular rise became a great concern for the USA. China’s rapid military modernization coupled with its space aspirations and spectacular economic growth, forced the USA in the balance of power game. India with its vast military, huge manpower and economic prowess could become the counter weight to China. Furthermore, the western press began to hail India as a science supper power. The country in the field of software made huge strides. India succeeded in making its own supercomputer. The indigenous cryogenic engine was only a matter of time. In the field of space, India was striding ahead. In the field of defense, India’s success in Nishant UAV, pilotless target aircraft Lakshya and Akash anti-missile system caught the US attention.
India’s self-confidence level was high. The NDA govt. turned the Indo-Russian relationship from a buyer-seller to a join development and production partnership. The Brahmos supersonic cruise missile agreement was the result of India’s self-confidence. The joint development and production of the 7000Km Sukhoi 30MKI aircraft was also undertaken.
India’s Pak-fixation was replaced by its determination to challenge China .China’s listening post in the Burmese Coco islands, its engagement in building the Pakistani Gwadar port, its meddling in Nepal and Sri Lanka, its strategic alliance with Bangladesh, its intense military engagement with Pakistan, its rapid military modernization, its repeated incursion into Arunachal, its claim over Arunachal, etc forced the Indian policy makers in search of an strategic antidote. Besides, the Indian Ocean being a theater of power struggle for several powers and a possible transit of several terrorist organizations, the policy makers were worried.
The strategists conceived of Agni 2, 3 and 4 to deter China from any misadventure. Again China’s A-Sat (Anti-Satellite) test January last year pushed the strategists even further in search of a dedicated aerospace command. They envisaged the necessity of a space- based anti-missile system.
India’s missile development was certainly the result of the untiring efforts of the DRDO. But the aforesaid factors also contributed to the present state of affairs of the missile technology. The Indian missiles and the command and control systems are certainly the byproduct of myriad factors shaping the Indian defense history.