A device called the seeker helps the missile detect “insignificant” targets through heat or radiation. The seeker had functioned successfully during the earlier tests of BrahMos. Flummoxed experts could not explain the failure, until they discovered that “US satellites (on which the missile depended totally) blinked during the test window, thereby denying the missile the crucial inputs needed for its guidance,” as one report put it.
What mystery? India was testing its missile, and the US used that as an opportunity to test, or perhaps to demonstrate, its space-based dominance.
Mystery of an Indian Missile Test Flop
by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
The Indian Army’s BrahMos missiles on display during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, India. (Photo: Gurinder Osan / AP)
On January 20, 2009, a cruise missile test, which India’s security establishment had billed as crucial, failed. It did so in a curious manner, though the cause of the failure is yet to be officially announced.
The questions raised by the failure may appear to be only technical at first glance. They, however, can serve to highlight a military trade war between far-off powers fueling a missile race in South Asia.
The $2.7 million BrahMos missile had been tested several times before, but the last month’s exercise was supposed to be a considerable leap forward. It tested a nuclear-capable version of the missile performing an advanced mission – hitting a predetermined, hidden target. The flight was a success, but the missile missed the target.
The missile, with a range of 290 kilometers, was to hit “an insignificant target” hidden among “obstructions” in the Pokharan test range (the arid desert site in the poverty-stricken State of Rajasthan, where the nuclear-weapon tests of May 1998 were conducted). The missile, a product of Russian-Indian collaboration, failed the test because of not any flaw in the trajectory but an inexplicable non-functioning of US satellites.
Interestingly, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) first declared the test a success. The claim was hastily withdrawn when Gen. Deepak Kapoor, chief of army staff of the Indian Army, insisted on visiting the target site in person. His finding was that the missile had overshot the target by a kilometer, and the failure was formally announced.
General Kapoor went on to let the media know that the army might call off the BrahMos deal. The proposal for purchase of 240 of the missiles for two regiments of the army, he indicated, was to be shelved until the missile’s capability was proven.
The BrahMos has been developed as a joint venture between the DRDO of India and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia under BrahMos Aerospace. The missile is named after two major rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia. Tests have continued for over four years now, but the missile has never won unreserved acceptance despite being peddled as an important component of an ambitious missile program.
The surface-hugging, supersonic cruise missile can, unlike a ballistic missile, evade radar detection and avoids the dangers of soaring into space and reentering the atmosphere. Though it can hit land-based targets, it is designed primarily as an anti-ship missile. Flying at a speed of Mach 2.8 (roughly that many times t
A device called the seeker helps the missile detect “insignificant” targets through heat or radiation. The seeker had functioned successfully during the earlier tests of BrahMos. Flummoxed experts could not explain the failure, until they discovered that “US satellites (on which the missile depended totally) blinked during the test window, thereby denying the missile the crucial inputs needed for its guidance,” as one report put it. With the space guides strangely allowing themselves a shut-eye, the global positioning system (GPS) of the eight-meter, 3,000-kilogram missile could not steer it to the target.
An inquiry was immediately ordered into why satellites went on an instant strike. The probe report was to be submitted to Defense Minister A. K. Antony on Wednesday, February 4, but it has not been made public so far. The test, the country was told, would be repeated on February 20, but no official confidence has been expressed about its outcome.
Conspiracy theories may be unwarranted but, in such matters, corporate warfare can hardly be ruled out.
Russia has been a major seller of military equipment to India, inheriting the role from the Soviet Union. In recent years, however, its reliability as a supplier has been questioned, especially in sections of media that staunchly support a “strategic partnership” with the US. The BrahMos deal has come in for particularly bitter criticism.
Cruise missiles, on the other hand, are supposed to have become more popular with the militarists of India after their wide use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US forces, recall these backers of George Bush’s “war on terror,” fired nearly 1,000 such missiles when they first entered Iraq for its lethal “liberation.”
The missile offers to India from the US military-industrial complex in the recent period have been many, and they have been received well in the corporate-controlled media and military-linked think-tanks.
In April 2007, India was offered one of the most advanced, shipboard US missile defense systems, capable of tracking and neutralizing up to 100 attacking missiles. At that time, the sales pitch was that the Aegis system could be integrated with the BrahMos as well as other Indian missiles. The lobbying firm was unofficially identified as Lockheed Martin.
In September 2008, India was offered a $170 million deal for two dozen Harpoon air-to-ground, anti-ship missiles. The next month brought the proposal for a bigger deal – for an unspecified number of “smart missiles” or sensor fused weapons (SFWs) for $375 million. The missile was sought to be marketed as one “designed to accurately detect and defeat a wide range of moving and stationary land and maritime target threats with minimal collateral damage” – a claim that victims and witnesses of the war on Iraq may not vouch for. The Texton Systems Corporation of Massachusetts was mentioned as the main contractor.
All this talk of profitable corporate contributions to the “strategic partnership” could not but have caused concern in India’s neighborhood, and Pakistan did not take long to respond in kind. On January 8, 2009, the Pakistan Navy announced its purchase of 120 C-602 long-range. anti-ship cruise missiles (with active seekers) from China to counter the threat from India. The missile race in South Asia can be expected to heat up further in the foreseeable future.
A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of “Flashpoint” (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.