On January 27, a balmy Sunday, when all of India was soaking in the last of an extended weekend, somewhere in the Bay of Bengal, some 200 scientists, working in small teams on a flotilla of ships, coordinated their expertise to launch a missile in complete secrecy. After they reported an elated success at 1:40 pm, India announced for the first time the possession of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). This completes the acquisition of the nuclear triad: the ability to launch nuclear missiles from land, air and sea. Plus, India robustly reinforces its credible nuclear deterrence and joins the US, Russia, France and China in having the capacity to launch a missile from under the sea. The SLBM, codenamed B-05, was fired from an underwater platform, a submerged pontoon of sorts, simulating a launch from a submarine.
I was witness to overjoyed scientists dancing like frenzied teenagers on the ship deck. I and cameraman Alphonse Raj were the only media team allowed to witness the historic launch. There had always been speculation that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been testing such missiles for some time now, but questions on the topic were always met with suitable denials. Possibly for subterfuge, the project was variously known at various times as Sagarika, K-15 and Dhanush. DRDO revealed that Sunday’s launch was the 14th consecutively successful test of this missile system and that its scientists have been at work on this for more than a decade. “Launching a missile from below the sea has its own complications,” says V.K. Saraswat, missile scientist and scientific advisor to the defence minister. “The rocket has to be propelled through salt water, then through air and then, after going up into space, it has to strike a faraway target on the earth’s surface.” None of the technologies required for this is available off the shelf; painstaking research & development was the only solution. No wonder the scientists were exploding with joy.