“Today at 15:45 hours, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran range. These test conducted today, there is a fission device, a low yield device, and a thermonuclear device”, these were the words of former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee when India successfully carried out the Pokhran nuclear tests – a series of five explosions under ‘Operation Shakti’ at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range in Rajasthan on 11th May 1998.
Following the successful conduct of nuclear tests, spearheaded by the former President and aerospace engineer Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, India became the sixth country in the world to join the elite group of ‘nuclear club’.
To commemorate the achievements of the Indian scientists, engineers and innovators involved in the significant milestone, today the entire nation is observing ‘National Technology Day’ to honour the architects of such technological innovations.
Operation Shakti: The epitome of technological innovation
Under Operation Shakti, a series of five nuclear tests were carried out by the Indian Army along with the scientists of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER) and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).
Coming to the technological aspect, the nuclear tests were conducted in Pokhran but the plutonium used in it was brought from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai. About 10 days before the tests, the Indian Air Force (IAF) swung into action with its AN-32 aircraft that took off from Mumbai’s Santacruz airport with the six wooden crates. Inside the crates, there was a metal shield and inside it, were explosive plutonium shells.
These shells were manufactured by the scientific community of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai and each sphere weighed around 5kgs to 10kgs. IAF’s AN-32 reached Jodhpur, Rajasthan within 2 hours and from there, those crats were taken to the Pokhran at night. As soon as the plutonium shells reached, the scientists began assembling them with triggers and explosive detonators.
On May 11 1998, all the nuclear tests were tested at 3:45 pm. After that, the test data was analysed by a group of scientists who confirmed the tests’ success.
“Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have affectively and effectively coordinated and integrated their respective technological strength in the national mission to confer the country with the capability to vacant the nuclear threat,” said the then President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam at a press conference after the nuclear tests.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared May 11 as the National Technology day and said,” This is the most historical day in the history of modern India, as history was made and India proved its technological prowess under the leadership of President Dr Kalam.”
The first flight of Hansa-1 and DRDO’s Trishul missile
Besides honouring India’s scientific and technological prowess, May 11 also marks a significant achievement for several other innovations. These include India’s first-ever indigenous aircraft, Hansa-1’s maiden test flight, in which the light two-seater aircraft flew over Bengaluru in Karnataka for the first time. The aircraft was designed by National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) for pilot training, surveillance, and reconnaissance purposes.
Country defence research arm, DRDO also tested a short-range missile with a quick reaction time – surface-to-air – Trishul missile. Which later got inducted into the Indian Army and Air Force as part of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme.