After successfully testing the Prithvi missile in 1988, and the Agni missile in 1989, India faced the sanctions and restrictions of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). To overcome thIs, the DRDO’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) team brought together several DRDO laboratories and various industrial players to develop, manufacture and improve these sub-systems indigenously.

While India is now looking to sell missiles to the world, just four decades ago the country had been facing sanctions and restrictions from international bodies to develop its own missile program. After independence, India lacked the indigenous capabilities to design or manufacture its own missile systems or weapons and relied on foreign weapon exports. India’s government sought to rectify this with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) being given the responsibility for developing homegrown technology. In a recent podcast with ANI, Dr G Satheesth Reddy, the former DRDO Chief and current scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence, said how India worked on a mission mode to overcome the international restrictions.

Over the next three decades, India made leaps and bounds in technological progress in missile development. After successfully testing the Prithvi missile in 1988, and the Agni missile in 1989, India faced the sanctions and restrictions of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on importing military technologies. MTCR is an informal body of nations that seeks to reduce nuclear and weapon proliferation. The organisation’s members, then Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, sanctioned components and certain materials to stop India’s missile program.

“The various subcomponents or the critical systems which were dependent on foreign nations that had become restricted,” said Dr G Satheesth Reddy, “But, I think that had helped the country and we had to develop ourselves so that was taken as a mission,” Dr Reddy said to Smita Prakash in the ANI Podcast.

The DRDO spearheaded the mission to indigenously develop all the critical subsystems or components that were needed for India’s guided missile program. To overcome the sanctions, the DRDO’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) team, which was led by former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, brought together several DRDO laboratories, various industrial players as well as educational institutions to develop, manufacture and improve these subsystems indigenously, Dr Reddy revealed.

While the sanctions did slow down progress in the short term as teams had to deal with a lack of components when existing stocks ran out, India was able to quickly overcome the hurdle. India’s ease in dealing with the sanctions came from the fact that when India started the IGMDP, the top leadership had also decided to work on subsystems and critical components in parallel. This allowed India to develop the necessary technical and manufacturing know-how for many components, which could later be used to also develop and manufacture the sanctioned components.

As a result, India was able to continue its missile program, developing a large variety of missiles for different tasks (ATGMs, SAMs, ATAs, etc.) for a variety of various range applications. While the sanctions placed on India are no longer there, India joined the MTCR in 2016, the country still remains highly self-sufficient in missile development.

“Today, I can say that the indigenous content in our missiles programs is very, very high. I can definitely say that we are not dependent on any critical subsystems and things like that from anyone. All these things are developed here in the country and the industry is able to produce them,” Dr Reddy said. The sanctions were just one of the key turning points in India’s missile development program. The 1962 Sino-Indian War was the first major turning point as the Indian government now decided that having strategically guided missiles, especially Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), was essential to prevent further Chinese aggression. Though early projects like Project Devil and Project Valiance ended inclusively, they were essential as the second turning point as they allowed India to develop the technical and material know-how for missile research and development.

One of the next and major turning points was the elevation of Dr Kalam as the head of the IGMDP. It was through his leadership that the DRDO was able to convince the government to work on not one but five different missile systems at the same time. These were the short-range Surface to Surface Missile (SSM) ‘Prithvi’, the long-range Surface to Surface Missile (SSM) ‘Agni’, the medium-range Surface to Air Missile (SAM) ‘Akash’, the short-range Surface to Air Missile (SAM) ‘Trishul’, and the Anti-tank Guided Missile (ATGM) ‘Nag’.

At the recently concluded Aero India 2023 exhibition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about his vision of India achieving an ambitious defence export goal of $5 billion within the next two years from the $1.5 billion that it stands at today. One of the most important components to achieve this target is the sale of the Indo-Russian jointly developed supersonic missile, the BrahMos. With interest from several countries in the Middle East as well as Asia, including a $375 million contract to provide four BrahMos batteries to the Philippines, the BrahMos missile is a testament to the success of India’s missile program.