Technological And Strategic Implications Of MTCR For India – Analysis


India last 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 applicant to be a member.

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 dealing with export control of conventional arms and dual use technologies. Australia Group focuses on export controls on technologies with regard to chemical and biological weapons. Lastly is the Nuclear Supplier Group a grouping of 41 countries that seeks to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons

The MTCR was essentially created to curb the spread of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons in particular delivery systems with a minimum payload of 500 kg at a range of 300 Km. subsequently with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles including combat aerial vehicles these were also inducted with the ambit of the guidelines. In terms of prohibited materials these are divided into two Categories, which are outlined in the MTCR Equipment, Software, and Technology Annex.

India’s relatively smooth entry to a large extent was facilitated because China which is currently at the forefront of preventing Indian entry into NSG based on NPT criteria and muddying waters further by demanding common standards for all outlier states without and country specific exemptions. It is important to note that Indian acceptance into MTCR recognizes India as a responsible stakeholder in compliance of all provisions of regime guidelines.

China is not a member of the MTCR and it is not from trying. In 1987 it agreed to abide by the original 1987 Guidelines and Annex, but did not do so to the subsequent revisions. In 1991 it verbally pledged that it would adhere to the MTCR and included these assurances in a letter from its Foreign Minister in February 1992. China reiterated these pledges in the October 1994 US-China joint statement1.

In 2004 China applied to join the MTCR, but was denied membership based on its proliferation record and concerns about its export control standards and commitments2. This was primarily as China was found to be in violation of MTCR provisions in exporting missile technologies to both Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, whose missile programmes have been godfathered largely by China. Pakistani cruise missiles and IRBM programmes such as ‘Babur and Raad’, Ghauri and Shaeen missiles owe their success to large scale design and technological inputs from China.

India on the other hand on several occasions was denied critical missile technologies owing to MTCR provisions or sanctions. To illustrate the point discuss three specific cases.

First is the proposed sale of “Arrow II” theatre missile defence interceptor from Israel as part of Indian 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 was of the view that it was committed to apply MTCR guidelines in any re – transfer situation, particularly taking into account impact of any such transfers on missile defence cooperation with other states. Resultantly neither the sale of missile systems nor the technology transfers went through even as Israel was willing3.

Second is the case of denial of cryogenic technology to India from Russia. By late 19080’s US space and strategic community had come to a erroneous conclusion that India was pursuing strategic ICBM programme based on Agni IV/V series or what the American called the “Surya” missiles 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). US concerned that this will provide India with a powerful ICBM capability with ranges far exceeding 5000 Km and the ability to strike continental US slapped sanctions on both India and Russia in 1990. These were lifted in 1993 only after Russia agreed to stop supply of cryogenic technology to India engines and restrict the sale to few engines4. It is another matter that this allowed India to master cryogenic technology internally and today it is in a position to launch heavy satellites in space that in future could include manned space missions.

The idea of highlighting these cases is to underscore the import of this regime and impact it has had on India’s missile and space programmes. 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 based on the norms laid down in the Annex to MTCR.

As an example I would like to highlight two cases. India has been developing long endurance drones namely “Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE)” and “High Altitude Long Endurance Drones (HALE)” with endurance capabilities at station 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 it will be well within its rights to collaborate with other MTCR partners in seeking these technologies. Similarly should India seek to both buy Drones like Predators which are essentially Unarmed Combat Vehicles it can do so. It needs to be underscored that issue here is essentially of technology availability from members of the group perspectives such as sharing of technology, politics and strategic impacts of such sales will nevertheless have to be countered.

Next is the cruise missile technology. No doubt India is justifiably proud of supersonic jointly produced “Brahmos” cruise missile, however it seriously suffers from range restrictions of under 300 Km imposed by MTCR. Resultantly while countries like Pakistan has a 400 Km Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) and 700 Km Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) and China has cruise missiles of over 1500 Km ranges India has no cruise missiles in these ranges. Indigenous development of “Nirbhay” cruise missile of proposed 1000 Km plus range has been constrained by sever technological limitations.

Technically and in terms of compliance to MTCR norms these gaps can now be filled with the abundant caution that these technologies are not available on plate but access is feasible. Similarly our proposed sale of “Brahmos” to Vietnam and other countries will not attract the sanctions that could have been slapped. Seen in the above context it is a major development that will give a fillip to India’s both missile programmes as well as space.

1. Retrieved 09 Jun 2016.
2. Ibid.
3. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Volume Number 9, Issue 1, 2004 accessed at, on 09 June 2016.
4. “US Space Aid to India: On a “Glide Path” to ICBM Trouble?” Arms Control Association, retrieved at, on 9 June 2016.

Brig Arun Sahgal, PhD (Retd)

Brig Arun Sahgal, PhD (Retd) is Executive Director for the Forum for Strategic Initiative, and Joint Director of Net Assessment, Technology, and Simulation at the Institute of National Security Studies in New Delhi and Founding Director of the Indian Net Assessment Directorate, created to assess long-term strategy. Following a distinguished 36-year career in the Indian Army, he served as Head of the Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation, and Deputy Director of Research at the United Service Institution of India. He has also served as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Brigadier Sahgal was a member of the National Task Force on Net Assessment and Simulation, under India’s National Security Council, and continues to support Council through consultancy assignments. He has written extensively on Indian relations with China and Central Asia, and conducted net-assessment studies on Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Asia-Pacific region.

3 thoughts on “Technological And Strategic Implications Of MTCR For India – Analysis

  • June 13, 2016 at 9:17 am

    So now India can block china’s entry into MTCR just like it is blocking India’s entry into NSG. India doesn’t need NSG to get supply of Uranium. It has already signed agreements with 8 countries including Australia for the supply. The other 47 countries (excluding china) would gain from India’s inclusion into NSG as they will be able to legally trade with India and invest in India’s $100 Billion nuclear power market.

  • June 13, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Why the Russians were willing to sell Cryogenic engines while USA was opposed to it? What changed the scenario now? Was not denial of technology induces self reliance? Being the largest importer of arms, I feel denial of technolgy is a boon in the long range
    as one can see in Iran’s development of drones and our own as well as Pakistan’s development of Nukes

  • June 26, 2016 at 8:36 am

    India should now save uranium and burn more coal for its energy needs…after all this is what one NSG member wants in particular !!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *