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Abdul Kalam’s Transformative Impact on India’s missile programme

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India

By Srimal Fernando, Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society
 & Prateek Joshi  

On 27th July 2015, India lost one of her priceless assets, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the former president of the Indian republic. His unexpected demise took the nation by surprise and was followed by an ocean of mourners pouring in to catch a last glimpse of him. It is not only him serving as the President of India which brought him immense fame, but his contribution to not only his motherland, but even to the rest of the world. ‘Missileman’, ‘Gandhian Missileman’, ‘People’s president’ and a myriad of other sobriquets earned by him are a manifestation of the popularity he enjoyed. His contributions consist of an unending list of achievements, foremost of them being in satellites and Missile technology.

It was only under Dr Kalam’s auspices that India was able to launch its first satellite. He served as the Project director of the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) Programme of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) through which the nation’s first satellite ‘Rohini’ was put into orbit in 1983. The success was also due to the rich experience Kalam accumulated as part of a team of scientists who developed the first indigenous rocket in the 1960s. The biggest challenge came to him when he was appointed as the chief of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme of the Defence Research and Development Organisation(DRDO), which commenced in 1983. The target of the programme was to develop a series of short, intermediate and long range missiles capable of thwarting any future and distant threats. The missiles developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) were Prithvi (surface to surface), Akash (surface to air), Nag (anti-tank missile), Trishul (surface to air) and Agni (a range of medium range to intercontinental Ballistic Missiles). The important fact to be noted is that the Agni series missiles were tested at a time when the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) restricted India from having access to any technology that would have aided the country’s missile development programme. This came as a blessing in disguise as it is in this period that Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) attained self-sufficiency and independence.

Akash  missile  developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme  (IGMDP)  

From 1992 to 1997, he served as the Scientific advisor to the Defence Minister and also the secretary of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). In the year 1998, came the watershed event which was a result of decades of Kalam’s labour. On 11th May, India successfully tested its nuclear bomb under the codename Operation Shakti (meaning ‘power’ in Hindi). India had indeed entered the club of those handful of nations capable of producing the nuclear bomb. Dr. Kalam was the Chief project coordinator of this programme. It was Kalam, who in this capacity proposed a joint partnership mechanism for development of missile technology which led to a strategic development, the creation of the BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited. A joint venture between India and Russia, the BrahMos cruise missile, is the epitome of technical cooperation between both the nations. Currently it is the world’s fastest cruise missile.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi  paid tribute to late former President  of India Dr Abdul Kalam

In the presence  of  tens of thousands of people , political leaders and dignitaries from around the world, Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007 and one of the most iconic leaders of Asia was laid to rest with full state honours in his hometown Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu on 30 July 2015. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s legacy continues in the form of the wings of fire he has attached to every Indian through his selfless contribution.




February/March 2020








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