Monday, April 30, 2012

Wings of fire

Our apologies for lifting the blog title from Abdul Kalam's autobiography, but the title couldn't be more appropriate. With the successful launch of Agni 5, India has joined the elite group of nations with intermediate range missile capability, admittedly far behind the remaining five, viz. the U.S., Russia, France, U.K.  and China.

Is this an achievement to be proud of? Technologically, surely. This is not the kind of technology that is handed over from one nation to another, unless the two nations do it in a clandestine fashion, with the donor nation extracting its pound of flesh in return. No such trades have ever been associated with the Indian missile programme, and India can justifiably be proud of the technological and managerial skills of its defence scientists. Moreover, Agni 5 is dead on schedule, since it was announced in 2007, with an expected launch date in 2011 or 2012. If only India's civilian scientific programmes like the Indus synchrotron, the Indian Neutrino project, the Hanle telescope could match up to the enviable record of the Agni series!

Is this an achievement to be proud of from other points of view? Are we not adding to the proliferation of missiles? Well, given that this was a missile test, it seems to have raised hardly any hackles. There were a few cracks about how Agni's range had been carefully kept below 5000 kms precisely to avoid raising hackles, and also some apprehensions that the real range of the missile is about 8000 kms, which brings it to the level of an intercontinental ballistic missile, but they seem to be unfounded. Is it ethical on the part  of India to make missiles, on this scale? Our record on nonproliferation has been exemplary, and has been recognised as being so, as is indicated by the remarkable absence of international opproborium on this missile test.On the other hand, independence and sovereignity are hard to sustain without military might to back them up, said George Orwell, in one of his essays. This is especially true given our experience with hostile neighbours and their allies. So perhaps this missile test was necessary, despite these other reservations.

Finally, the mission chief of Agni 5 was a woman,  Dr. Tessy Thomas. Congratulations, Dr. Thomas, on scaling a very macho male bastion, a missile mission. We are very proud of you!

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

1 comment:

AmOK said...

Interesting write up and notes on the mission.