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#2512, 8 March 2008
 
Sagarika: A Feather in India's Defense Hat
M Shamsur Rabb Khan
Freelancer
e-mail: samsur.khan@gmail.com
 

On 26 February, India test fired its first undersea ballistic missile, Sagarika, from a pontoon 10km off the coast of Visakhapatnam; it proved that India has acquired the capability to launch missiles from underwater. The Sagarika missile with a range of 700km, will equip the country's indigenous nuclear submarine, which finds India joining the US, Russia, France and China that also possess this capability. Moreover, the successful test firing enhances the country's nuclear deterrence, as sea-launched missiles will form a crucial part of the country's second strike nuclear capability. It can be equipped with nuclear or conventional warheads, and has the latest technologies in aerodynamics, control and guidance and navigation. The Sagarika programme is driven by India's long-term goals to secure a sea-based, second-strike nuclear capability.

According to a missile technologist in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), there was no problem. DRDO missile technologists said the successful launch achieves the country's triad of a minimum, credible nuclear deterrence from sea, land and air. The tactical, submarine-to-surface missile is a light, miniaturized system, which is about 6.5 metres long and weighs seven tonnes. Powered by solid propellants, Sagarika can carry a payload of 500 kgs. It can be launched from different platforms on ground, from underwater and mobile launchers.

Sagarika was developed at the DRDO's missile complex in Hyderabad, comprising the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) and the Research Centre Imarat (RCI). The successful test of the Sagarika missile showcases the progress India has made towards establishing its own submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability. Indian defence scientists and naval personnel have several technological hurdles to overcome before they achieve their dream of perfecting SLBM capability.

India views its nuclear weapons and long-range power projection programs as the key to maintaining strategic stability in the Asia-Pacific region, deterring Pakistan, safeguarding against potential nuclear threats from China, and attaining great-power status. India's missile programs can be roughly divided into five phases. During the first phase (1958-1970), India's missile ambitions were confined to building a first-generation anti-tank missile (ATGM) and developing a three-ton thrust, liquid-fueled rocket engine most likely based on the Soviet SA-2. In Phase II (1971-1979), India's missile program focused on two significant projects: the first, Project Devil, was an attempt to "reverse-engineer" the Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM), while the objective of the second, Project Valiant, was the development of a 1,500km-range ballistic missile. In Phase-III (1980-1994), the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) was launched to develop a family of strategic and tactical guided missiles. Phase-III was the turning point in India's forays into missile building that were transformed from exercises in technology-gathering, reverse-engineering, and design competence into a full-fledged program to build a series of operational missile systems. By 1996-1997, the successful development of the Prithvi-1 (150km-range) provided India with the technical option to deploy a limited nuclear strike capability against Pakistan. Similarly, two successful flight-tests of the 1,400km-range Agni placed India in a position to produce longer-range ballistic missile systems that would provide the country with a nuclear capability against China in future.

The fourth phase of India's strategic missile programme stretches from the mid-1990s until 2000. This phase was characterized by the partial success of the IGMDP, and limited series production of the Prithvi and Agni ballistic missiles. In this phase, DRDO started developing a sea-launched ballistic missile, the Sagarika, which has been successfully test fired and will become operational by 2010.

Ballistic and cruise missiles are the key components of the envisioned nuclear strike force. At present, the Prithvi-1 and Prithvi-2 are the only ballistic missiles in service with the Indian Army and Air Force respectively. In 2004, DRDO conducted an underwater launch of the Dhanush from a specially designed container placed in an artificial body of water.

India's missile program capitalized on the success of the Prithvi and Agni to seek political support for new missile programmes. Offensive weapon systems include the intermediate-range Agni ballistic missile, the BrahMos cruise missile, and the Avatar that would theoretically be capable of launching nuclear strikes from outer space. There is a broad consensus in India on the need to enhance it missile capabilities. A credible nuclear deterrent has to have a missile-based delivery system since warfare in future will be heavily dependent on missiles.

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