When the ruler of Mysore was killed in the battle of Turukhanahally in 1799, the British seized more than 700 rockets and subsystems of 900 rockets. Tipu’s army had 27 brigades, called Kushoons, and each brigade had a company of rocket men, called Jourks. These rockets were taken to England by one William Congreve.
History has turned full circle two centuries later in the land of Tipu as it has been the privilege of the Indian visitor to the Wallops Flight Facility in the early 60s to earn later the illustrious name of the Missile Man of India.
The eighteenth century dream of Tipu saw its fruition on April 11, 1999 when Indian under the guidance of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, test-fired the Agni 11 Intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range of 2,200 km from the Inner Wheel Island, 16 km. from Balasore in Orissa.
A span of 200 years and what a change that has come over the sub-continent. The British left India bag and baggage, but they left an India struggling to stand on its own.
When India chose to trust her neighbours, near and far, with a simplicity born out of the Buddha and Gandhi legacy, we were betrayed by our own neighbour, China, that virtually occupied large chunks of Indian territory overnight.
In 1962 we learnt a lesson of life. Only the strong admire the strong, and we should know how to safeguard our home, our culture, social life and economic wealth.
Thus, began the search for means to defend ourselves in consonance with what Lord Krishna taught Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra and with what Gandhiji taught us of the right to self defence in the case of attack.
And we learnt more that self-reliance was preferable to banging on the doors of aliens for help for our survival.
India launched on the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) in the early 80s-on 27th July, 1983, to be exact, and the programme has been totally Indian and indigenous-built on the wisdom and research of our scientists, engineers and brains from our research and scientific centres, universities and IITs.
The West, more particularly, USA, abhorred the idea of any developing country, more particularly India, becoming self-reliant in any field, let alone defence. But India, with its inalienable right to defend itself or prevent wars forced on her, persisted in her efforts to evolve a sound defence system.
And here was Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, with his long stint of devoted work in rocketry, satellite launch vehicles with such veterans as the late Vikram Sarabhai, drafted by the Government to build a missile system for the country-
with such familiar names as Prithvi, Trishul Akash, Nag, Agni-l and now, Agni-ll. Missile technology is considered the domain of a select few who grudge the rise to stardom of any newcomer.
But a big country like India could hardly take things for granted, especially in matters of security. And team work under far-sighted leadership produced excellent results. The programme had partners in design, development and production from 12 academic institutions and 30 laboratories from DRDO, CSIR, ISRO and industry.
In fact, more than 50 professors and 100 research scholars slogged on the missile development programme in their respective spheres of work.
The first launch of the missile programme was conducted on September 16th, 1985, when Trishul took off from the test range at Sriharikota (SHAR). Our Agni-l was test-fired thrice in May 1989, test-fired again in May 1992 and February 1994.
And it was left to the redoubtable Atal Behari Vajpayee to break the 5-Year restraint put on by the West and launch Agni-ll, the extended range version, on April 11, 1999.
The significance of Agani-11 test lies in its connection with Pokhran-II. While Pokhran -II gave India the capability to design all kinds of atomic weapons and warheads, it did not address the question of delivering them.
India lacked a missile- the preferred means of nuclear delivery-that could take warheads to a range beyond 2,000 km. Agni-II has filled in the gap.
Angi-II, unlike its predecessor, which had both liquid and solid fuel, is propelled by solid fuel in two stages. This is bound to boost our defence system’s mobility and response time. In nuclear diplomacy, it does put India in a much stronger position.
There are reports India is developing a long-range version of the IRBM Agni-l 11 with 3,500 km range, capable of reaching targets deep inside China. The reports say together with Agni- II, Agni-I; Prithvi, Akash and Trishul and the proposed Agni- III, India will be able to develop and minimum nuclear deterrent (MND).
It is said that along with land missiles, India is also on the threshold of deploying submarine launched ballistic, missile Dhanush, which would be later deployed on surface ships.
What is the characteristic feature that has made India’s missile programme unique ? On top of all, it has shown that India can compete with the rest of the world in any field and come on the top Adversity has only helped India tap its hidden talent : This had been amply proved in both India’s missile technology and space research.
We can also be proud of our scientists and research students of different institutes and institutions who have proved to the hilt that India can, if only they get the guidance and inspiration from the select few fired with lofty ideals.