Technological and Strategic Implications of MTCR for India

Brig Arun Sahgal, PhD

India on Monday qualified to become member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), when the deadline for objection to Indian application expired without any member raising objections, in what is being termed as “silent procedure”. Under the silent procedure lack of objection automatically qualifies an applicant to be a member. India has been in pursuit to join major non-proliferation regimes for two reasons, legitimize its position as a responsible stake holder outside the NPT and more importantly get access to cutting edge technologies to enhance its strategic programmes.

MTCR is one of the four non-proliferation regimes, enacted by group of nations controlling sensitive technologies as part of global non-proliferation effort. The other three are: the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group and the Nuclear Supplier Group. The Wassenaar Arrangement deals with export control of conventional arms and related dual use technologies. Australia Group focuses on controls on technologies related to chemical and biological weapons. Lastly and most importantly the Nuclear Supplier Group a grouping of 41 countries that seeks to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials including fuels.
What is MTCR?

MTCR is essentially an export control regime comprising 34 nations with four permanent adherents; Israel, Moldavia, Slovakia and Macedonia, aimed at preventing proliferation of range of equipment pertaining to missile development, production and operations. Prohibited materials are divided into two Categories. Category I systems include missiles, drones and cruise missiles, with payload capacities exceeding 500 Kg and ranges beyond 300 Kms. Category II includes systems not covered in Category I, such as rocket systems (including ballistic missiles systems, space launch vehicles and sounding rockets) and unmanned air vehicles (including cruise missile systems, target drones, and reconnaissance drones etc.). These are subject to same limitations of payload weight and distance as Category I. This category in addition includes a wide range of equipment, material, and technologies, most of which have uses other than for missiles capable of delivering WMD .

India’s relatively smooth entry to a large extent was facilitated by Italy forsaking its veto post resolution of Italian marine controversy and more importantly China which is currently at the forefront of preventing Indian entry into NSG not being a member. Interestingly China although self appointed adherent, applied for MTCR membership in 2004, which was denied owing to its dubious export control records and commitments . China was found to be in violation of MTCR provisions in exporting missile technologies to both Pakistan and North Korea. Both countries missile programs have developed largely on account of Chinese support and munificence. Pakistani cruise and IRBM programs which include ‘Babur’ and Raad’, cruise missiles and Ghauri and Shaeen IRBM’s owe their success largely to design and technologies provided by China.

Implications of MTCR Membership for India

Post 1998 nuclear tests sanctions were slapped on India and critical technologies denied. To illustrate the point three specific cases are discussed.

First is the case of proposed sale of “Arrow II” theatre missile defence interceptor from Israel as part of our attempt to develop indigenous “Ballistic Missile Defence”. The transfer of both the missiles and technology was subject to US approval owing to its contributions in the development of the interceptor technology of the “Arrow II” system. The then US Administration taking its commitment to MTCR guidelines and the possible consequences of such transfers on missile defence cooperation with other states forced Israel to decline the sale even though Israel was willing .

Second is the sale of cryogenic engines and technology from Russia. By late 1980’s US space and strategic community began to conclude that India could be pursuing strategic ICBM program that could pose long term threat to the United States. This programme based on Agni IV/V series or what the American called the “Surya” missiles was thought to be using two stages of PSLV with strapped on third stage derived either from French ‘Victor’ rocket or cryogenic engines from Russia. Russia agreed to supply India both engines and ‘upper stage’ technology (Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV). The US concerned that this will provide India with a powerful ICBM capability with ranges far exceeding 5000 Km with the ability to strike continental US slapped sanctions on both India and Russia in 1990. These were lifted only in 1993 after Russia agreed not to supply cryogenic technology to India and restrict sale to few cryogenic engines . It is another matter that this allowed India to master cryogenic technology on its own and today it is in a position to launch heavy satellites in space that in future could include manned space missions.

Technology Perspective

Before specifying technological gains for India it is important to highlight obligations under the regime. First is the issue concerning export controls? India will have to not only abide by export control norms specified in the regime but more importantly bring changes to its own export control laws to meet MTCR obligations. It could be a double edged issue which on one hand could restrict Indian exports to non MTCR countries on the other it will make technological access easy owing to complimentary obligations and export control commitments.

Once India is admitted into the Group, all such cases of transfers of technology will not face sanctions and technically India will be in a position to import and export missile and drone technologies. This does not however mean blanket availability; countries controlling technologies will make both political and strategic judgments in terms of impact of the technologies and the end user concerns, in the final analysis it will be a dominant political decision facilitated by larger geo strategic calculations.

It is in the above context, mutuality of strategic interests and growing Indo – US defence relations as a major defence partner could assist India in getting cutting edge technologies which would not have been possible earlier. To highlight the issue sight two specific cases.

India has been developing long endurance drones namely “Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE)” and “High Altitude Long Endurance Drones (HALE)” called Rustom I and II with on station endurance capabilities from weeks to a month. India has been facing some critical technological issues in their development. With India now being member of the MTCR group and even more importantly major defence partner it will be possible to get these technologies from the US or to collaborate with other MTCR partners in seeking those technologies.
Next is the cruise missile technology. No doubt India is justifiably proud of its supersonic jointly India – Russian developed “Brahmos” cruise missile, however it’s range had to be perforce curtailed to under 300 Km to meet the norms of the MTCR as India was not a member. Today it is the only operational cruise missile apart from limited import of Klub missiles for the navy which too adhere to MTCR norms. Pakistan on the other hand shorn of any such restrictions developed 400 Km range Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) Babur and 700 Km range Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) Raad with active Chinese support and technology both being non members. Similarly China has developed multiple air, sea and land attack cruise missiles with ranges of over 1500 Km and today form an integral pat of its AA/AD strategy.
In India’s case indigenous development of “Nirbhay” cruise missile of proposed 1000 Km plus range has been delayed owing to several technological limitations. Theoretically it will now be possible to bridge these technological gaps with technology transfers from US and others.

Another issue is the proposed sale of “Brahmos” to Vietnam and other countries. With both India and Russia being member states it will draw little attention. To that extent help in meeting Indian arms export targets an important aspect of the current governments defence policy. No doubt however that such sale will be subject of larger geo strategic calculations in particular regional geo strategic calculations. This is something that India alone will take a call, based on its regional interests. China factor as it is sought to be played in the above specific sale has little relevance as China itself has not hesitated in providing similar and more lethal weapons to Pakistan and other Indian neighbours.

There has also been much hype in the media about the MTCR clearing sale of Predators to India. Two issues are important, one as mentioned above if indigenous drones ‘Rustom’s’ technological problems can be resolved under DTTI or other bilateral initiatives then there maybe requirement at best to buy limited number of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles either of Predator variety or Heron TP from Israel as an interim arrangement. Indian interest should not be so much in a particular system but technology. There is however no doubt that India needs multiple variety and range of drones whose development can best be expedited thru easier technology imports.

Finally it is important to note admission into MTCR is a major development that will give a fillip to India’s indigenous missile and space programs. More importantly it recognizes India being a credible stakeholder. Actual transfer of technologies nevertheless will be subject to number of political and constraints of balance of power equations. To that extent, MTCR only opens doors and needs to be seen as a technology facilitator.

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