Indian missile engineers are wasting little time celebrating their first successful intermediate-range ballistic missile test. With their confidence boosted, missile program managers have offered to develop an ICBM and announced upcoming missile defense tests.
This push for ballistic missile advances coincides with federal government charges that a U.S. company has been violating U.S. export control laws. Cirrus Electronics stands accused of transferring dual-use technology to Indian government laboratories.
Parthasarathy Sudarshan, founder of Cirrus Electronics, was arrested March 23 together with his sole U.S. employee for supplying Indian weapons laboratories with electronic equipment suited for ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft. The indictment cites an Indian government official in the United States and charges two Cirrus employees abroad.
The defendants are charged with violating several laws that regulate what can be exported from the United States and who may receive sensitive technology. Most military exports require a government license.
The Department of Justice says Cirrus, knowing its Indian clients were unlikely to be approved, circumvented the licensing process by first shipping the items to Singapore. The company also provided forged end-user certificates to its suppliers.
The indictment’s first nine counts allege Cirrus illicitly aided India’s missile program. The U.S. Department of Commerce maintains a list of companies and individuals ineligible to receive military and dual-use technology without a permit.
Two Cirrus customers, Vikram Sarabhai Space Center and Bharat Dynamics Ltd., are on the list because of ballistic missile development work. They are owned and operated by the Indian government. Both received static random access memory chips and other electronic equipment for use in missile guidance and firing systems.
The second series of charges involve combat aircraft technology. Military-use technology exports must be approved by the Department of State. Cirrus did not seek such approval for 500 microprocessors. They were shipped via Singapore to the Aeronautical Development Establishment, a government outfit, for use in the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
Circumstances surrounding this charge are diplomatically awkward. Indian government officials are directly implicated in the trafficking charges, despite past assurances to respect U.S. export law.
An unnamed Indian government official is believed to have accompanied Sudarshan on a visit to the microchips’ producer in February 2004. Seven months after the trip, India’s foreign secretary assured the State Department that facilities affiliated with the Indian government would never “obtain or use U.S.-origin licensable items in contravention of U.S. export control laws and regulations.”
Moreover, Sudarshan and his employees “were in frequent consultation with Indian government representatives and were constantly acting at their direction and behest,” according to the Justice Department. The indictment calls Sudarshan an illegal agent of the Indian government.
Previous circumventions of U.S. export laws have benefited Indian government weapons laboratories. Between February 2003 and April 2006, the Commerce Department investigated more than 60 possible violations involving Indian consignees. This violation appears to be the first facilitated by an Indian official in the United States.
India reportedly relies on gray-market procurement for some of its weapons programs, particularly uranium-enrichment technology. Its position outside of international regimes regulating weapons technology trade, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, restricts its ability to obtain technology and materials from the international market.
The revelations also came at an inopportune moment as the United States and India attempt to move forward with a nuclear cooperation agreement (see page 30 ).
Separately, India successfully tested the nuclear-capable Agni III missile. This marked the first successful test after a failed attempt last year. The intermediate-range ballistic missile flew for about 15 minutes on April 12. The missile’s makers say it has a maximum payload of 1.5 metric tons and can travel more than 3,000 kilometers.
The international response to the test was muted. China, whose main eastern cities would be in range of the missile once it is inducted into the Indian arsenal, did not protest. Chinese officials have downplayed the risk of a missile race with India, possibly because China’s arsenal size and reach far outrivals India’s.
Pakistan, already in India’s nuclear reach, received prior notification as required under bilateral agreements. Its government refrained from comment.
Prior to last year’s test, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace signaled U.S. approval of such tests. Speaking June 5 in India, he said, “India will decide what India wants to do about testing missiles” and described such tests as “not destabilizing.”
The test’s domestic impact was more pronounced. It appears to have invigorated India’s interest in missile and anti-missile technology.
The head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which developed the Agni series, advertised DRDO’s ability to develop an ICBM within two to three years. He added that the decision to do so would be a political one.
The DRDO also announced an upcoming missile defense test this summer. The anticipated interception will occur within the atmosphere, following last November’s successful test at an altitude of 50 kilometers.
Ballistic missiles can be intercepted in different phases of flight. November’s test targeted the latter portion of the mid-course phase, while the planned endoatmospheric interception aims at the terminal phase at 30 kilometers altitude.
The Agni III’s development was not aided by Cirrus’s transfers. Instead, the transfers went to laboratories working on the Prithvi series of ballistic missiles, which have a shorter range.
Three other systems were recently tested, beginning March 30 with a naval version of the Prithvi, the Dhanush. The supersonic cruise missile BrahMos underwent a 14th trial flight April 22 as part of its ongoing induction in the Indian army. Between these two tests, the Indian government conducted one of an unnamed system, possibly the Sagarika cruise missile.In the meantime, Sudarshan is being held by authorities pending a May 1 status hearing. His sole U.S. employee is pleading not guilty and has posted bail. The trial is expected to take place in the summer or fall.