On April 19, after Agni-V hit its designated target far out in the Indian Ocean, the photograph of V K Saraswat being hoisted up by a fellow scientist, just as Saraswat had done to A P J Abdul Kalam on the successful launch of the Prithvi missile, flooded papers in India. "It was a fitting tribute to a go-getter and a leader who always shuns limelight, never wanting to steal the thunder from junior scientists,” said a scientist speaking of Vijay Kumar Saraswat, director general of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Secretary of Defence Research and development and the chief scientific advisor to the Minister of Defence.
“India is a missile power now," a jubilant Saraswat had said after the launch of Agni-V. The missile’s range is just 500-km short of being termed an Inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), which has a 5,500-km radius.
Saraswat, a PhD in combustion engineering, started his career in DRDO in 1972 at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad, and was responsible for the development of the country’s first liquid propulsion engine. As the project director of ‘Prithvi’, he steered the design, development, production and induction of the first indigenous surface-to-surface missile system into the armed forces.
The successful testing of ‘Dhanush’ missile aboard a moving ship with high terminal accuracy brought a new dimension to the national defence capability. As program director of Air Defence, Saraswat pioneered the concept of theatre defence system and integration of national air defence elements. He was director, Research Centre Imarat (RCI), before taking over as CCR&D (MSS) in November, 2005.
Under the leadership of Saraswat, India has embarked on a futuristic Air Defence Programme encompassing development of complex anti-ballistic missile systems, radars, C41 systems and integration of battle-management resources into a national authority.
However, Saraswat and DRDO are not without their critics. They argue that Saraswat’s comments about “high hit to kill ratios” because of the ability to ‘now pack four missiles onto one’ suggest an abandoning of the pursuit of credible minimum deterrent. The comments instead suggest a striving for nuclear first-strike capability and therefore nuclear superiority—things that are more than likely to spur a nuclear arms race in the region, they say.