Friday, June 01, 2007

Why did the ATV take so long?

Again on the disreputable forum, the very same person has this to say,

On the ATV issue, funnily a lot of what Shiv Aroor says is actually true. It is a fact that AEC initially said that they could make a reactor in a juffy!

No they did not say that.

They said that if sufficient enriched uranium was available, it is possible to design a reactor that met almost any requirements. Enriched Uranium reactors tend to have the most amount of power to weight. Making enriched Uranium reliably and in sufficient quantities, in a technology denial regime is a completely different prospect.

The DAE's comments were made when the NPT's sanctions had not come into place.

Once the sanctions hit, the DAE's time was completely consumed by the effort required to keep the commercial reactor program going. The natural uranium fueled CANDUs became the focus of all the activities and the Uranium enrichment was deprioritised. Though some strides were made in Uranium enrichment, by and large the DAE made it very clear to anyone who was willing to listen that Uranium enrichment was not a level where it could be free from pressures on the import of technology.

One does not know whether the DAE considered alternative schemes for high power to weight reactors, for example the liquid metal high temperature reactors which were successfully used in many russian submarines. However it must be pointed out that such reactors were far beyond India's capability to build at the time. They were far ahead of their time in Russia itself!

The Navy did not know what it wanted in terms of a power plant. They were keen to copy existing designs and there were several unrelated delays on their side as well. I stress this is not unusual, India's submarine arm is one of the newest armed services and there was a lot that we in India simply did not know about submarine operations.

A submarine launched missile platform that could carry an actual nuclear warhead... well that was another story as well. That was another extremely hard project, purely on a technological basis. Yes we could done some clowning around and strapped a pop out skid to launch a missile from, the Americans and the Russians did that for the first generation boats, but that would have been more than simply useless, it would have been downright dangerous. If we had lost a sub to that kind of antic, the public criticism over the loss of life would have been staggering.

In short when the Navy came up with desire for nuclear sub, it lacked the understanding of what it took to actually operate one, many Navy people did not (and still do not) grasp that the operational part of a nuclear deterrent cannot be built from imported platforms and systems and no one in the country knew how to make a submarine or make a missile that could be fired from a submarine. The Navy can be credited for making a very far sighted decision and coming up with a path breaking course for India's technology sector, but the rest of India... for them this was just a bridge too far.

Fortunately for India, the Navy leadership responded very positively to the feedback from the rest of national security community and modified their aims. The Navy did not get bogged down in the ATV project but went ahead to work with national institutions to build a number of other platforms that enhanced its actual technological capabilities in apparently small but extremely meaningful ways. The great "blue water" expansion of the Indian Navy took place in this period and today the Submarine arm is simply stunning.

The ATV project is underway, it will be ready when it will be ready. There is loads else to do right now. This was the attitude taken by the Indian Navy and that is in my opinion the best thing anyone in their position could have done. The DAE and DRDO for its part focussed on subsystem development and let the Navy work out what it wanted out of the design of the submarine. As the Navy's requirements evolved the DAE and DRDO adjusted their efforts to meet the requirements.

I would love to pretend that this was some greatly planned exercise, orchestrated by some sort of master puppeteer in the SA to RM's office or the PSA to the PM's office, or even a High Power Committee but it wasn't. This was rather boringly a case of Indians talking to other Indians and understanding each other and then then doing what needed to be done. Sorry not very exciting stuff, very dull as a matter of fact, the whole matter was probably sorted out over numerous cups of tea and marie biscuits in some junior officers house.

So why is there so much bad press about the ATV.

Well... for starters, it is a great horror story, and several self appointed experts have made a career out of such epic. The story is an easy sell because most Indians are prone to self deprecation, it is a fashion of sorts and this makes it easy for people to believe such stories.
Long before the conspiracy theory attained popularity in the West, its counterpart the ballad of incurable government incompetence, had many takers in India.

The reason this story got out to people beyond India is because it became part of an international spy drama. The US hired an Indian Navy officer tasked with ATV development to spy for it. The Indian government managed to convinced the Russian Navy to give it access to one of their nuclear submarines, and this Indian officer gained access to Russian secrets and leaked them to the Americans. This did not directly impinge India's interests, but it soured India's relationship with Russia and for that sin - the officer had to be publicly mistreated. The Americans allege that the Indians planted the spy on them, though I really doubt that. The officer ofcourse was in a bad way, he was being severely punished to restore confidence in Russia's relationship with India, and so he quite naturally turned against the government and chose to vent his anger on the DAE with whon he had number of disagreements. This was a largely harmless exercise as his comments were of no real consequence once he was no longer in the Navy's payroll. The DAE had no power to do whatever was done to him, that was a show organised at someone elses' behest. This officer first sang the ballad of incompetence and that was picked up US psy ops groups and their friends in the Indian media to malign the Government of India. At the time a group of businessmen in the US were keen to see Indian market open up to them in a particular way, and they weren't very worried about how they achieved those aims. This unfortunate officer's son was recently in the news, apparently he threatened to kill the American President and was arrested by the FBI.

The ballad of incompetence died away in the late 90s only to emerge again after the Indian nuclear tests of 1998. The Non Prol. Ayatollahs (NPA) appropriated the officer and his ballad to tarnish DAE's reputation. This was part of a calculated move on their part, they wanted to down play the development of an Fusion Boosted Fission device by the DAE as they feared this would increase Pakistan's desire for a thermonuclear bomb. The NPAs convinced themselves that they could dissuade the Pakistanis if they pretended that the DAE were a bunch of idiots and incompetents whose nuclear device was a failure. I don't know whether they succeeded or not, but they certainly tried very hard.

Now the ATV ballad is re-emerging as the NPA are attempting to create a psychological atmosphere that builds distrust of the DAE. This is essential to kill the prospects of the India-US nuclear deal which the NPA don't like very much.

I hope I have addressed all the issues about the ATV here, feel free to reproduce this post elsewhere.


At 7:17 PM, Blogger s c r a p s s t u f f s said...

Yes, I agree completely. The ATV will come when it comes. A lot of people buy into GoI, DAE and DRDO incompetence and this might well be true in some cases but judging by media reports it is true in all cases which I simply don't buy.

As far as Subbarao is concerned I'm of the opinion that he's a disgruntled fellow and his claims that he came up with a better naval reactor design three times whereas the entire DAE couldn't even do so once is simply laughable.

I take it that you are still posting on the "disreputable forum" in another avatar, even if you aren't, you still are following it pretty closely.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Scrapstuffs,

This ATV thing keeps popping up from time to time thanks to the NPA psyops people.

No I am not posting anywhere else in any other avatars. I occasionally visit other places, including the unmentionable forum and the disreputable forum but that is all, I don't post there because the youthful atmosphere is too charged and there is too much distraction. Also I had a public disgreement with the forum moderation team and the internal discipline of the disreputable forum requires that I stop posting after such an event. My excesses were tolerated but ultimately I knew my time there was up and I left.

When I used to post on the disreputable forum in my own name and I had acquired a reputation. For the record I spoke only for myself but there were others... they were the real sentinels who did speak for those who cannot be seen to speak openly.

Given my talent for shooting my mouth off, I usually led the charge and the real sentinels hid in my wake, but now that I am gone, there is no one to kick the door down, and so it may be that the others is coming out of the woodwork to do the dirty work I used to do.

If the sentinels have come out into the open, that means someone fears that something foul is about and dangers are closer to the citadel than we may think.

Way back when I had first interacted with people from India on this Indo-US nuclear deal, I had felt that betrayal was a strong possibility in this deal. I felt there was a distrubing similarity to the Ramayan which I could not shake from my mind.

In the Ramayan, Ravanan was a great intellectual who had laboured hard to learn the secrets of the universe. So pleased was Saraswati herself with his exertion that she bestowed the greatest of knowledge upon him. However Ravanan fell prey to his internal degradation and instead of using his knowledge for the betterment of mankind, he turned it into weapons of war and used his military science to enslave the nations of the world. After he enslaved the nations, he denigrated the sanctity of social contracts. Even when Sri Ramachandra sent Lord Hanuman to Lanka with a peace proposal, rather than discuss things in a civilised fashion with him, the power-mad Ravanan insulted him and attempted to injure him by lighting his tail on fire.

At the time embarassed by the strangeness of this, I kept my views to myself and discussed them with no one but today, I see that the analogy actually fits the situation exceedingly well.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger zeus said...

Now, everyone who visits this blog on a regular basis knows about the disreputable forum. Any hints about the address of the un-mentionable forum please?

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pakdef is the unmentionable forum

At 7:49 PM, Blogger s c r a p s s t u f f s said...

pakdef indeed :-D

BTW, though I don't agree with your views sometimes, the unmentionable forum does need all kinds of perspectives so that it doesn't get too one-sided in its views.

At 5:21 AM, Blogger maverick said...


It is very difficult to have a debate either at the unmentionable forum or at the disreputable forum so I lurk there.

The unmentionable forum is a site dominated by the militaristic young expats. It is in some way a reflection of Pakistan itself, heavy on military hype... largely empty when it comes to actual knowledge. No problem can't be solved on the unmentionable forum without flinging a few insults and a large enough jpeg. Any discussion resolved through angry sounding rhetoric and rants. Just like Pakistan itself! Have a problem .. no problem I will shoot you .. bang bang see no more problem.. the Nazriya Pakistan in its full glory.

It used to be that the disreputable forum was a different place than it is now. However things are changing...and ever so slowly the truly disreputable folk are leaving the place.

When all the disreputables have left, the only thing that will remain will be the militarists and then it won't be the disreputable forum... it will be quite simply yet another unmentionable forum.

At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen the bio of the US ambassador to India in the 80s, John Gunther Dean ? It more or less clearly states that Subbarao was working for the US !

This was also posted on the disreputable forum. Btw, if one may ask, under what name did you post there ?


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