Thursday, August 2, 2012

Going ballistic over missiles.

To understand missiles, you just need to study two Indian politicians: Subramanian Swamy and Digvijay Singh. Swamy typifies the guided missile. His target is anyone who rubs him on the wrong side. His warhead, the explosive dossier he keeps on his enemies. His guidance system is a secret army of moles who supply him the inside dope at will. The flight system he uses is pesky litigation. And his engine is his belief that someday he will be the Prime Minister.

Diggy is the other extreme. He is a classic unguided missile hoping to create impact with the incendiary nature of his bizarre barbs that defy all laws of physics.

Now that we’ve got our heads around missiles, let’s launch into the smoky world of missile names where countries use nomenclature to flex their muscles and to perpetuate an illusion of being macho.

Nations with a treasury of mythology have no qualms in calling upon their angels, gods, demigods and revered figures to dignify their destructive war toys. Israel’s Gabriel (guided anti tank), Barak (naval defense), Delilah (cruise missile) and Nimrod (long range point target) are all biblical in origin. In the cold war era, the United States had Nike (anti aircraft), Hercules (short range), Zeus (interception missile), Titan (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile) and Poseidon (submarine-launched). Closer home, India relies on Vedic mythology. Agni (surface-to-air), Prithvi (surface-to-surface), Nag (anti-tank) and Surya (the work-in-progress ICBM) were carefully picked to project an image of being benign protectors.

Over time, Pentagon decided to drop all pretence of goodness and named the missiles after monsters. Gorgon (the snake haired sisters), Gargoyle (the fire breathing creature), Griffin (lion body, eagle head) and Snark (the snake cum shark monster invented by Lewis Carrol) are telling examples.

After exhausting all Birds (sampler: China’s Hong Niao means Red Bird), Animals (sampler: Germany’s Gepard derives its name from the German word for Cheetah), Weapons (sampler: Tomahawk the Indian hatchet) and Invader Names (samplers: Pakistan’s Ghori, Ghazni and Abdali), soon the defense establishment will run out of ideas. That’s the time to perhaps explore names of people with a destructive streak (read: Swamy and Diggy)!