Tuesday, March 07, 2006

PSLV as a First Strike weapon.

Normally I do not waste time reading nonsense, but ever so often the sheer amount of blithering nonsense gets to me and I have to actually read it.

I came across this extremely stupid piece by Richard Speier.

Here Speier argues that the PSLV, can be converted into an ICBM called "Surya", something that the author acknowledges exists currently only in the realm of editorial opinion by non-specialists - i.e. people who have no clue.

Range estimates of the Surya vary by a factor of three and the central suggestion seems in the entire piece seems to be that the Surya is a variant of the PSLV or the GSLV.

Incidently the estimated cost of one PSLV is in the range of 20 Million USD and the accuracy of a ballistic missile based on the PSLV would be very small.

The author grudgingly acknowledges that a platform of such size has no survivability and that India seems to have no current plans for a dispersal and storage of ICBMs but then quickly moves on to suggest that the PSLV could be used as a "First Strike" weapon.

What exactly does that mean? well.. in plain english it means that the US should treat every PSLV launch as a threat because - it might contain a nuclear warhead aimed at the US.

To an idiot this would all seem very plausible but what does it all look like if you are not a complete idiot?

If you are not a complete idiot you might well be inclined to think that - a PSLV carrying a nuclear bomb could only be manufactured at the rate of about one missile every year. It takes that much time for the Indians to make one of these.

Someone who is not an idiot would notice that it would take over 96 hours to actually get a PSLV ready for launch. This would give US satellites atleast 12 chances to overfly the launch site.

Every PSLV launch is accompanied by a flurry of publicity because thousands of employees at ISRO know that one is imminent and the ISRO website usually publicly announces a launch atleast a month ahead of time.

A person with one functioning brain cell would note that the flight time for a B2 Spirit stealth bomber from Diego Garcia to any point India is less than 12 hours.

All taken together a person who is not a complete idiot would see that the PSLV nuclear launch vehicle would have an abysmally low probability of actually getting a nuke to its target. In the 1950s the PSLV would have been a holy terror but in the year 2006 it simply has too many competitors.

Now if you are reasonably intelligent you might even be inclined to compare the likely success rate of a 1950s style nuclear delivery vehicle with its modern day competitor... the cargo container.

Costing just a few thousand dollars, this magnificient piece of technology would have a 94% survival probability (given that only 6% of them are actually checked by the security forces) and would be able to deliver a warhead weighing upto 20 tons to any point on the face of this earth.

Who in their right mind would want to waste millions of dollars building a stupid missile?

Would even the Pakistanis - those masters of strategic miscalculations bother with building a missile of higher range?


At 6:27 AM, Blogger cynical nerd said...

Good fisking Indian Maverick. We had linked that article as part of our post.


At 2:38 PM, Blogger Grim Ghost said...

Your counter-argument is pretty stupid. The article never says that the PSLV could be used directly for the Surya, so all your blithering about how long it takes to make a PSLV or to prepare a PSLV for launch and how it would not be effective in that role is dumb.

What the article does say is that the Surya could use PSLV launch technology (much as Agni used the technology from previous SLVs) to build an ICBM. It took a long time to build the previous SLVs as well, but that did not stop India from accumulating Agni missiles.

Finally, the comment about how the cargo container might be a better weapon -- one wonders why the Soviet Union or the US ever bothered with ICBMs in the Cold War ? Why couldn't they just use the CCBM (Cargo Container Ballistic Missile) ?

Now where the original article deserves to be pointed up for idiocy is in the suggestion that India would collaborate with Iran on missile technology, which is stupid, since no country gives away its crown jewels to an unstable theocracy.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger maverick said...

grim ghost,

Missile development in the US and USSR was pursued in the 50s when international trade esp. of the cargo container variety was very underdeveloped. In the age before the container became popular, everything had to be loaded on and off a ship by hand - a painstaking process that also served as a great way of keeping tabs on what was going on there. In most western countries, the local dockworkers were in the pocket of mafiosos that were pals of the CIA. There was very little direct trade between the US and the USSR and there was a highly effective surveillance regime in place.

The container cargo trade today is extremely large and effective surveillance on these channels is very difficult.

Although container cargo trade developed quite a bit in 60s and 70s, by that time missiles had becomes the preferred way of articulating national hostility between the US and USSR.

The reasons why missiles became preferred are listed below:

1) The early successes of ballistic missiles tests and their ability to penetrate air defence barriers had enabled missiles to replace airplanes as the preferred nuclear delivery option.

2) By the mid 60s command and control infrastructure of the US and the USSR was hardened to survive enemy air strikes. At that point a "Container Cargo Nuclear Delivery System" could not be used with great effectiveness to prevail in a nuclear conflict which would be fought with missiles or airplanes.

3) The best case of success for this kind of "sudden first strike" tactic was believed to rest with deep-penetration agents and special ops teams that would physically transport nuclear weapons into the enemy's command and control centers and detonate them there by hand.

In today's world - we are no longer looking at a question of "prevailing" in the event of a nuclear shooting war. That kind of logic no longer drives the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Most states seeking nuclear weapons are simply looking to deter would-be aggressors. To this end merely holding out the possibility of a successful (and deniable) strike against a major population center is sufficient.

For example this is precisely what the Pakistanis have implemented in the post 9-11 world. Today Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons could leak or could have already leaked into the hands of Al Qaida which would be more than happy to conduct a nuclear strike on US soil. So in effect - anyone that does not support Pakistan, (risks bringing down the Pakistani government which could) result in a nuclear strike on a US city. The part in the parenthesis is Pakistan's plausible deniability factor.

The only major thing that is currently on the cards is a tie up between ISRO and the US Aerospace industry. This tie could result in ISRO gaining ground on the commercial satellite launch market displacing a host of Chinese and other commerical players. All this talk of PSLV tech. being used to make an ICBM only serves to suggest that any tech transfer to ISRO could impair US interests.

The only intent in the NP community is to block this imminent deal - so I state without reservation that all talk of ICBMs and PSLVs having anything whatsoever to do with each other is complete bullshit.

India does not need to make the PSLV into a weapon. It does not need to convert PSLV tech. into an ICBM.

The prospect of Indo-Iranian cooperation on technology development is a canard. I have deliberately ignored it.

At 11:14 PM, Blogger mukunda said...

interesting blogs. need to go in detail

At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Stuff going into ports is checked beforehand using sensors, in Europe and elsewhere in the west. Also, they factor in all that and train (scenarios, civil services response etc). All that is more dangerous for India, with its famously slipshod security.

At 3:16 AM, Blogger John Benny said...

With this blog you really took our attention to the points that we never thought about and I would like to know more about such topics, thanks a lot for sharing this blog.
container shipping in Los Angeles

At 2:59 AM, Blogger emily mainzer said...

Well i found this blog interesting, i am indeed a fan of these big containers and when i look the big cargo ships which carries them.


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