Representational Image         

Tinsukia, a sleepy hamlet in the north-eastern state of Assam, India, kept myriads of international satellites busy in the month of December 2019. Ostensibly, it was a particular forested area in Tinsukia which piqued the curiosity of the metallic flying objects in the space and their operators in different continents across the globe. But was India really hiding a missile launch facility in the forests of Tinsukia?

US’s Landsat-8 and other such satellites have been involved in many assignments across the globe. Apparently, in the first week of December, while mapping the forest cover in the Asia-Africa region, one of the American satellites sent a picture of a section of forest near the Tinsukia Railway station, which was interpreted as a concealed mobile ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) rake. The area being close to Indian border and not heavily populated, further reinforced the belief that what was visible in the satellite image was just the “tip of the iceberg”. Without delay, Russia and China too had their ante-up. This puzzled the Indian authorities and space agencies about the excessive activity of foreign satellites over Tinsukia.

Strategic Forces Command test firing a canister version of the AGNI-V ICBM

The other nimble footed agencies of India– NIA (National Investigation Agency),the MoD (Ministry of Defence), DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency) got involved to solve the mystery. The higher echelons were soon abuzz with the news and kept everyone on their toes for the entire month of December. Finally, a reconnoitre mission revealed a hidden rake in the forested area.

Apparent Chinese silo to hide DF-41

Railway inquiries revealed that the story of this rake goes back to 1976, when it was brought to Tinsukia Railway station, and placed a little away from the station, as it was to small to accommodate anything more than a tiny platform and a few passengers. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement during the summer monsoon. Call it fate, but on the day the rake was brought to Tinsukia, the same day heavy rainfall caused flooding in the area and the Railway station was submerged in water. For next few days, authorities were busy managing the railway traffic, repairing and maintaining the existing lines as the floods had caused a lot of damage. Soon the area where the rakes were placed was covered in vegetation, and the people who were aware of the rake’s existence were posted out of the town. Over the years, the rakes were never discussed again, till one of the American satellites picked it up and red-flagged it in 2019.

It is not uncommon for countries to have secret launch facilities for their ICBMs. A typical launch facility has a missile stored some feet below the ground and it is protected by a blast door at the top. In June 2019, American satellites had picked up activity of about 18 road-mobile launchers of the long-awaited DF-41 ICBM, which were training in the Jilantai salt lake in China. For next few months, Pentagon was busy discussing how the new silo resembled a Russian silo, and how the Chinese had come up with a more efficient design for safe loading of its missile. Once upon a time, America too had rail based ICBMs, a program called mobile Minuteman.

The satellite images of Tinsukia, gave the sleepy hamlet a month of fame among the security agencies across the world. This incident is a testimony as to how far the security agencies (irrespective of the country they belong to) go to ensure safety of their nation. The eyes in the sky do not take holidays, and nor do the “missileers” who sit in their not so comfortable offices, 60-80 feet under the ground level, in the launch facilities of the missiles.

The above story is yet to be verified by the officials.