Friday, September 18, 2009

R&AW's technical wing, the ARC, also tagged the h-bomb as a failure

The government is choosing to ignore evidence that India’s 1998 hydrogen bomb test was a failure. Not only has it disregarded the report of the Defence Research and Development Organisation team led by scientist K. Santhanam, that carried out the tests, but it has paid little heed to the detailed information provided by a super-secret facility of the Aviation Research Centre, the technical wing of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing.
On Tuesday, the Atomic Energy Commission upheld the figure of 45 kilo tonne yield for the hydrogen bomb test of May 11. But the Karnal seismic array maintained by the ARC had come up with a figure of just 20-25 kilo tonne yield, which was in consonance with the figures that the DRDO instruments had recorded.
The facility at Karnal, in Harayana, which was specifically set up in the wake of the first Chinese nuclear test in October 1964, in association with the United States National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have ultra-sophisticated instrumentation obtained from the US. “These are more sophisticated than anything that the Department of Atomic Energy has,” said a source. They are designed to track underground nuclear weapon tests and have their instruments in a deep vertical shaft dug deep into the ground, in contrast to the system mounted on the surface at the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) facility in Gauribidanur in Karnataka.
The R&AW collated all its findings and after analyzing them, sent them to on to the government, presumably the Prime Minister’s Office. These findings, which were in agreement with those of the instruments set up by the DRDO on the test site, created consternation within the government.
There were several meetings held to reconcile the reports it had received from the DRDO, the Department of Atomic Energy and the ARC and finally, the then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra convened a meeting of the DAE, DRDO representatives along with the three armed forces chiefs sometime in October 1998. Since the two scientific organisations stuck to their positions, Mishra took a “voice vote” which decided that the DRDO was wrong and the DAE was right. An official familiar with the meeting noted that the ARC representative was not invited for the meeting.
“The decision to declare the hydrogen bomb a success was more of a political fatwa than a considered scientific-technical determination,” says Santhanam.
The NDA government’s response was an outcome of two interconnected factors. First, the admission of failure would have been politically damaging. Second, the tests had enraged the United States and New Delhi was simply not willing to prolong the process and it quickly declared a unilateral moratorium on further testing.

A view of the crater formed by the May 11 fission bomb test which yielded 25 kilotonnes. Note the distinct crater approximately 35m diameter

The picture of the shaft where the thermonuclear bomb was tested. This was supposed to be twice as powerful as the fission bomb, yet the shaft is intact
Another view of the thermonuclear test shaft area which shows no virtually no crater

Santhanam has since spelt out the reasons why he made his claim that the test was a fizzle. He has pointed out that the key instrumentation—those for measuring acceleration and the ground movement-- were all put in place by the DRDO. “They were in the shaft and radiating outward from the location of the device to the bunkers where the recording instruments were some 2-3 kms away,” he said. He said these had been calibrated “several hundred times” and had little room for malfunction. The readings of the instruments are then factored into mathematical equations that provide estimates of the yield. He has also pointed to the fact that the shaft with the hydrogen bomb device had remained intact, in contrast to the fission bomb one which produced a crater some 35m wide.
While the DAE has claimed that the DRDO’s seismic systems had malfunctioned, they have not yet responded to the fact that there was another, more sophisticated test, called the CORRTEX test. The Corrtex estimates the size of the explosion by measuring the time it takes to crush a cable inserted into the test shaft. In the case of the Pokhran tests, the Terminal Ballistics Laboratory, Chandigarh had a more sophisticated and sensitive system using a fibre-optic cable which gave an estimate of the yield in terms of the time the shock wave takes for the light to be extinguished in the cable.
The ARC is now part of the National Technical Research Office (NTRO) and the scientist who carried out the analysis is still in service with the outfit. And another source has pointed out, that the same facility had given a yield for the 1974 test as being below the than the one claimed.
The history of American technical involvement in monitoring Chinese weapons of mass destruction (WMD) activity is well-known because of the infamous Nanda Devi episode where a nuclear-powered communications intelligence device was emplaced high up on the mountain in the Uttarakhand Himalaya and later it vanished provoking fears of nuclear contamination of the rivers of the Ganga system.
The ARC, whose first head was the legendary Ram Nath Kao, was set up with US technical assistance and was involved in gathering intelligence on China from Tibet. Its task was mainly electronic and photo-intelligence collection from a string of bases in Charbatia, Orissa, Dum Dama, Assam, Sarsawa, U.P. and the Palam airport, Delhi. The monitoring of the Chinese WMD activity was also seen as part of India’s defence effort, though the output was shared with the US, though for how long, is not clear.

A slightly different version was published as the lead story in Mail Today September 18, 2009


maverick said...

Dear Manoj,

As I said to you before - no one can make claims about the absolute *accuracy* of any of the measurements used (Corrtex, Seismic, optical cable crushing, accelerometers, radiochemistry etc...).

The reason for this is that there is no way to guarentee the role of local geological variation to the measuring instruments.

Measurements like Corrtex can offer low error bars on a single measurement. However the measurement is destructive, i.e. it kills the sensor, and if you take another sensor device and measure another explosion with it again, the answers vary. This can be obtained from public sources on such methods.

Regarding the ARC facility at Karnal - unless I badly miss my guess - the use of the equipment there is covered by certain sharing agreements. I see that the Karnal array has reported a lower value of the 1974 test as well, I wonder if they are using the NTS value of the site constant for estimation of the yeild. I also wonder if the American largesse on the equipment front came with a binding contract to use US calibrations only?

The Karnal data set is not public knowledge - unless this is the data that Wallace et al. referred to in their publications. It is difficult to imagine why the Karnal center set up in 1964 will have better instruments than the ones developed in BARC for use in 1998.

IIRC, body wave magnitude estimation at GBA is carried out according to internationally standardized procedures and this whole comment about "placed in a deep well" as opposed to "surface" measurements is baffling. Placing things in a deep well is usually necessary if you want to minimise electronic noise. It sometimes becomes necessary to do this when your experiments are in a crowded area where there is a lot of interference from stray sources. I can't understand why putting something in a well makes a measurment more *accurate* - *precise* perhaps... and even that I am not sure off because there are ways of getting rid of noise.

It may be worthwhile to publish the data obtained from Karnal for Chinese explosions in the 80s. Perhaps we can see how these compare with estimates of the local site constant from Chinese sources. Now that the cover of the Karnal array has been blown, I can't see why this can't be done.

Another point which I notice is that all of this measurment technology - corrtex, the karnal array etc... are all linked to US sources.

If - as some of the most radical interpreters of Sri. Santhanam's statements allege - the highest officers in the land can be compromised by foreign agencies - then I ask you -- can it be guarenteed that these instruments and techniques imported from the US are free from similar interference?

I am sorry Manoj, I simply do not see a scientific criticism of the yeild in anywhere.

All I see is an attempt to smear the scientists in the country and damage India's confidence in its own abilities in the nuclear field.

manoj joshi said...

I refuse to impute motives. I have been in a profession and in a country where "agent" is a tag that has been all too freely used. I will say that two agencies of the government reported something which was at variance with a third. This requires scientific-technical validation and this should be done.My personal view is it doesn't matter if we don't have a TN weapon. A fission bomb is good enough if your doctrine and force posture is adjusted for it. I will post an article I have written today on the subject in a day or two.

manoj joshi said...

Re equipment at Karnal, one can only go by sources who are familiar with it and GBA. But it is a fact that the facility there is dedicated for detecting underground tests by PRC

maverick said...

Dear Manoj,

I am not imputing motive either simply because I have no idea what they are.

I am merely calling it as I see it.

Unintentionally or otherwise, this is begining to look like nothing more than smear campaign against the scientists.

If this keeps up it will be impossible to assign credibility to anything even the fission device yeilds because ultimately they are all the utterances of some scientist or the other.

It is very difficult to interpret the comments about the radiochem analysis from the 1974 test in the Hindu oped as being anything other than an attack on the credibility of Indian scientists.

I am willing to give the authors the benifit of the doubt but this smacks of that "vazha vazha kozha kozha" style that others have referred to openly now.

With regards the Karnal seismic array - if the existance of the array is now public knowledge and China is no longer conducting tests - publishing the data that they have obtained from PRC tests is the only way to get it peer reviewed by the seismology community.

Until that is done - it is very difficult to say anything about Karnal.

If what Sri. Santhanam and Sri. Parthasarthy are saying is an institutional viewpoint then R&AW should have no problems establishing the credibility of Karnal.

It is totally bizarre that this was not already done in the last decade if this was such a pressing national security concern.