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Ashutosh Sheshabalaya On Indian Issues
High Tech Surprises From India
by Ashutosh Sheshabalaya

Published in June 1998 issue of ID-Side, Brussels
As its recent nuclear tests reveal, India has the capacity to spring high-tech surprises to an unprepared world. In one sweep, the tests established India’s capacity to make a full range of nuclear weapons - from battlefield weapons through tactical devices all the way to a hydrogen or thermonuclear bomb.

Indian computer scientists played no small role behind two of the most crucial elements in this exercise. The two sub-kiloton nuclear explosions on May 13 derive direct meaning from India’s success in the recent launch of Param 10000, a 100 gigaflops supercomputer which is reportedly ahead of both Russia and Europe. The Param (for which a teraflops version is now being developed) will allow India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty while retaining a meaningful nuclear capability through computer simulation. In early April 1998, US news agency Newsbytes said that Russia's Institute for Computer Aided Design (ICAD) was considering purchase of the Param.

Indian computer scientists have also played a crucial role in the design and modelling of India’s five missile systems, its LCA Light Combat Aircraft, the ALH helicopter, the Delhi-class destroyer, INSAT and IRS satellites and its forthcoming Ariane-class GSLV launcher (the predecessor PSLV launcher is this autumn due to launch the Tubsat German satellite as well as a satellite from Korea). Another noteworthy achievement in this sphere is the new Indian Arjun main battle tank, whose innovative software-driven fire control system enables it to acquire targets while on the move.

Interestingly, the main motive behind the development of Param was the US refusal to supply Cray supercomputers to India’s space program, because of fears that it would be used for military purposes.

Software skills were also evident in the hydrogen bomb, especially in terms of a process innovation which allowed India to produce tritium. In January 1998, the respected British defence magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review had already hinted at India’s H-Bomb capability, writing in detail about an Indian breakthrough in tritium technology, "the first of its kind anywhere in the world", which "may have tipped the strategic scale (against China and Pakistan) in New Delhi’s favour."

The link between India’s nuclear achievements and its software skills was underscored by a US official to Robert Windren, investigative producer for the US NBC television network, "Remember, this is the same country that produced the scientists who designed the Pentium chips. They can do it on their own."

While the Indian nuclear exercise startled the world, the tests were only a reflection of a long-established consensus in India - that its tumultous politics should never interfere with its high-technology efforts. These signs were there for all to see, although the media has seldom given it due attention.

Indeed, it is amusing to see the lack of serious research by newspapers on this subject.

In April, a full page Le Soir article on the Spot remote sensing satellite referred to Japanese and Russian efforts in the field, but failed to mention India once. In fact, both the French and the Americans acknowledge that India has advanced more in this field; at 5.8 metres resolution versus 10 metres for the Spot, the Indian IRS 1-C has the "highest resolution mapping capability commercially available", according to Aviation Week and Space Technology of the US. IRS is also hardly new to Europe; Germany’s Neustrelitz ground station has for several years obtained data from the Indian satellite.

More recently, an IPS piece published in both De Financieel-Economische Tijd and De Standaard claimed that the Indian air force operated 5,000 warplanes, which is five times more than it actually does. The correct figure could have been obtained from any defence almanac (Jane’s, SIPRI, IISS) or even the Internet. The article, moreover, focused on Mirage-2000s, Mig-29s and Su-30s but overlooked one of India’s main nuclear-capable aircraft, the Anglo-French Jaguar, of which India operates as many as France or Britain. Most crucially, the article did not consider India’s own LCA, a prototype of which was unveiled last year. The next surprise-in-waiting will be the maiden flight of this F-16-plus-class warplane in 1999 or 2000.

The LCA is especially interesting because its fly-by-wire controls and aerodynamically unstable flight design require heavy use of software skills. The effort is managed by software engineers paid Indian government salaries of about BEF 20,000 a month. This is one of the key reasons why US military contractors like Honeywell led the way in setting up huge Indian software operations. Out of its SEI Level 4 operation at Bangalore, Honeywell’s recent product launches include the cockpit display system for the Boeing 737. Last year, Asia Times noted that some of the credit to Bangalore’s success as a software centre must be given to India’s military and aerospace program, which provided "rich pickings" to US companies.

Currently, US military contractors like Honeywell, GE, Allied Signal and Hughes employ an estimated 15,000 Indian software engineers. Apart from the US having achieved a visibly converse goal in its bid to prevent Indian efforts in supercomputers, hawks in India look at facts like this to shrug away any threat from sanctions to the country’s software industry. Indeed, barely ten days after the first Indian nuclear tests, Motorola announced it would set up a very large scale integration (VLSI) design center in Gurgaon, near Delhi, for an investment of $50 million. Motorola already has an SEI Level 5 operation in India and employs about 1,200.
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