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The Rediff Special/Josy Joseph in New Delhi
India's nuclear infrastructure nearly ready
October 10, 2003
India is in the process of raising dedicated nuclear missile groups and constructing underground nuclear shelters, senior officers in military and civilian agencies involved in creating India's nuclear infrastructure told rediff.com
However, they admit to several gaps in the set-up.
The major leap in India's nuclear capability has been the recent decision to operationalise Agni-I and Agni-II missiles, dedicated fully to a nuclear role. The 700-km range Agni-I will be used in case the retaliation is aimed against Pakistan, while Agni-II will cover most Chinese targets.
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Agni-I was developed in the wake of the country's experiences in the Kargil conflict of 1999 when the government realised the need for a missile with a range to cover major strategic installations in Pakistan.
While the Prithvi missile was found insufficient to cover the whole of Pakistan, the 2,000-km range Agni-II overshot the requirement.
Agni-I and Agni-II missiles are being inducted as different missile groups in the army. The handing over of the missiles to the army has left the Indian Air Force unhappy, but sources insist that the launch of the missiles will be through the Strategic Forces Command.
Other than the missiles, India will depend on its fighter planes for nuclear delivery if it comes to that. The Mirage 2000s based in Gwalior and other fighters such as Jaguars and SU-30 are all capable of carrying nuclear weapons. "Aircraft are integral part of the nuclear arsenal. But in all probability missiles would be preferred," an officer said.
India's dream of developing a nuclear submarine, considered the safest platform for a second strike, still remains a distant one. This October-November are crucial days for the ATV (Advanced Technology Vessel) project as its team assembles in Chennai to carry out land tests of a scaled down reactor for the submarine.
India's desire to lease a nuclear submarine from Russia is also stuck because of the lack of progress in the negotiations over the acquisition of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier. Russia has said it is ready to discuss leasing of the nuclear submarine and Tu-22 long-range nuclear capable aircraft if India concludes the Gorshkov deal.
Reacting to Defence Minister George Fernandes' claims this week that India has 'established more than one (nuclear
control) nerve centres,' the officers said foolproof nuclear shelters are yet to be operationalised. "What he was talking about was only ad hoc systems in place," a senior officer said.
"Creating permanent facilities that can stand NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) attacks would take time, patience and a lot of technological incorporation," a senior officer told rediff.com
One such facility for emergency evacuation of the prime minister and his Cabinet is being created in New Delhi just behind South Block near the prime minister's office.
Similar facilities are also being created at the prime minister's Race Course Road home and "elsewhere in the country," an officer said.
The nerve centres for retaliation and protection of the chain of command would be scattered across the north and south of the country. "We are taking into consideration all eventualities," an NBC expert said.
Some facilities would be nuclear command shelters and other VVIP shelters. But how elaborate the structures would be, the number of these shelters etc "would be revised as we go along," he added.
An area of major concern is the hiccups in acquiring state-of-the-art executive jets for the prime minister and other VVIPs.
The government had proposed to acquire three executive jets from Boeing and negotiations were at an advanced stage when problems arose.
The deal for three Boeing 737-700s, with protection suit against missile attacks and encrypted communication systems, is stuck because the company refused to transfer the technologies for these systems.
A senior IAF officer said they do not want any embarrassment of the sort that the Chinese faced. A similar VVIP plane supplied to the Chinese was bugged and its detection led to a diplomatic row between China and the US.
Some officials say several decisions have been delayed due to bureaucratic sluggishness. They point out it took the government almost a year to allot finances to the newly created Strategic Forces Command.
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