In a written response to queries sent by The Indian Express, the DRDO today admitted to the major problems that crippled the Trishul programme: “Consistency of the missile guidance and control system — mainly the technical problems in perfecting the three-beam missile guidance system. Non-availability of critical components, devices and subsystems due to embargoes imposed upon the country and also depletion of experienced specialist manpower during a critical phase of the development has led to delay in the project.”
The “technology demonstrator” designation, officially stated two months ago by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Parliament, is no compliment to the country`s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). For the Trishul, the “TD” suffix principally labels it a technology pool from which other, newer systems may borrow technology. But this speaks little of the Ministry’s own frustration with the Trishul, even if the missile’s imported replacement, the Israeli Barak, is now in the eye of a political storm.
In April this year, with inputs from IAF deputy chief Air Marshal AK Nagalia, the Defence Ministry provided unusually forthright testimony to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence. “The Trishul weapon system which was to replace OSA-AK weapon system has not met with success. These delays have derailed modernisation/replacement programme resulting in critical voids,” it told the Panel for the latter’s 11th report.
In March, DRDO chief M Natarajan, whose area of specialisation is armoured vehicles, told the Defence Ministry that the Trishul was ready for user trials. At any rate, three of the seven Chief Controllers (CCs), Dr Prahlad, Dr A Sivathanu Pillai and Dr VK Saraswat, among the more decorated scientists in the country, have been involved with the Trishul and the IGMDP at large.
When the Navy projected a “very threatening scenario for warships” after Kargil, things came to a head in mid-2002. Faced with mounting pressure from the IAF, headed then by Air chief S Krishnaswamy whose force was facing critical obsolescence in air defence systems, the Trishul was de-linked from user service requirements, and pushed back onto the drawing board under then DRDO chief V K Aatre.
The Navy was less patient — with a capability projection nearing its tenth year with no movement, it had begun to look abroad for stop-gap measures in the 1990s under Admirals V S Shekhawat and Vishnu Bhagwat, finally succeeding in 2000 with the Israeli Barak. The DRDO and even sections of the Navy were not happy, saying the missile was not suitable for Indian warships.
The DRDO, however, said today that “All development work on Trishul has been completed and the project closure is underway.” But even if user trials take place and succeed, it’s still too little, too late for all three armed forces. The Army and IAF have committed to buying Israeli quick-reaction missiles, deals together worth nearly Rs 4,000 crore, and the Navy has set its eyes on the next generation Barak missile for its warships.
The cost of these deals makes a one-time purchase uneconomical. The biggest possible sign of despondence about Trishul however came in January this year. The Hyderabad-based Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL), the very establishment that has brought the Trishul this far, entered into an agreement to develop the Barak-II with Israel, with the understanding that co-development will have technological spin-offs, ironically enough, for the Indian guided missile programme.
Like DRDO, Kalam pitched for Trishul
NEW DELHI: A P J Abdul Kalam, who was then Scientific Advisor to the PM, wrote to Fernandes in June 1999 expressing reservations on the proposed Barak purchase and arguing that the Trishul would be operational soon. Post-Kargil, Barak was dovetailed with Kargil purchases.