India seems to be improving its delivery systems of all ranges through conducting ballistic missile tests. Indeed, it has demonstrated to the rest of the world its consistent improvement in the payload and the range of the ballistic missile. Alongside, the country has conducted its second-most ambitious nuclear missile in the intermediate range called Agni-IV with a range of roughly 4,000 km.
Importantly, it needs to be emphasized that after the test, India announced that Agni IV is ready for induction. And that the third test of Agni V would be done in the later part of the year.
It is noteworthy that both the missiles Agni IV and Agni V would provide the country with credible nuclear deterrence against China as such requirements are essential for India because of its articulation of threat perceptions.
Undoubtedly, Agni IV’s success has boosted the country’s confidence in its defence preparedness especially at a time when China has been prompting and provoking India across the border. The two-stage Agni IV missile will give the country’s armed forces the requisite operational flexibility to tackle a wide range of scenarios and cover all vital areas of strategic interests.
Notably, the 17-tonne Agni-IV incorporates several new technologies in navigation, propulsion, avionics and other areas. The improvements in the guidance and control have been significant contributions in the overall performance of the Agni IV missile.
It has the potential to maneouver, correct and guide itself during in-flight disturbances. The missile also has the capability to hit accurately and precisely because of the improvements made in the ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system (RINS) and supported by very reliable redundant micro-navigation system (MINGS).
The launching of Agni V and its successes has made India proud not only in terms of boosting its existing nuclear deterrent capability vis-à-vis China but also in terms of its advances made in the delivery system technology. It reflects the overall development in payload and range capability and is the longest range Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in the country’s inventories of delivery systems.
Unfortunately, the lack of authentic telemetry data in the public domain about the missile’s technical features and characteristics except the range and payload does not allow anyone to assess the consistency in terms of the range and payload. It requires a technical validation from independent sources to be largely accepted as a major breakthrough in India’s ballistic missile capability.
The reports that the Agni V trajectory during the launch confirmed that it has excellent results of the missile’s maneouverability terminal guidance system which requires elaboration and technical assessments.
The desire to have almost all the categories (short, medium, intermediate and inter-continental range) of ballistic missiles was felt by India because of its threat perception and the changing geo-political and geo-strategic developments in the Southern Asian region.
The country’s nuclear doctrine centres mostly on its minimum credible nuclear deterrent posture and no-first use policy. This means that India will acquire a modest capability which would include both nuclear weapons and delivery systems based on its articulation of threat perceptions.
Besides, the Government has formally stated that it would not be the first one to initiate a nuclear strike in any case of eventuality and has opted for a second strike nuclear capability. It is a well known fact that both land-based and air-based assets are highly vulnerable to a first strike or decapitating strike, where the objective of the adversary would always be to wipe out all the major nuclear installations including command and control centres.
Consequently, under such circumstances, the possession of sea-based assets would only provide with the retaliatory capability. Hence, India’s possession of sea-based assets including submarine launched ballistic missiles and the nuclear powered submarines has always been crucial and significant.
Further, the country’s growing ballistic missile capability can only be seen in the context of current strategic landscape. Unfortunately, India’s immediate neighborhood has never been in cooperation or friendliness mode and is surrounded by hostile adversaries, mainly Pakistan and China.
If one articulates India’s threat perception, it can be said that we have more immediate problems with Pakistan than China in the real sense. However, the country’s continuing problems with Beijing can never be undermined. Hence, in the prevailing situations, there is a distinct possibility that New Delhi would be growing both militarily and in terms of acquiring strategic assets where delivery systems become a crucial and significant component.
The evolution of India’s ballistic missile programme and capability in a large part has been some sort of a response to China’s capabilities. It must be reiterated here that the country’s ballistic missile programme is absolutely de-linked from the civilian space programme.
Remember, we initiated the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) in 1983 with the sole aim of achieving self sufficiency in military missile production and development. The IGMDP comprised five different elements and systems: the Agni series of medium, intermediate and now inter-continental range ballistic missiles (MRBM, IRBM and ICBM), Prithvi series of short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), the Trishul short range surface to air missile (SAM), the Akash medium range surface to air missiles, and the Nag anti-tank guided missile.
It needs to be highlighted that the IGMDP in addition to a number of other defence projects is being managed by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) which functions as the nodal agency for the execution of major development programmes of relevance to the Defence Ministry through integration of research, development, testing and production facilities with the national scientific institutions, public sector companies and other agencies.
The Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) located in the Defence Research Complex at Kanchanbagh and the Research Centre Imarat (RCI) at the same location in Hyderabad has been responsible for the development of our advanced missile technologies. The Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) located also at Hyderabad has been integrating the missile components and assembly.
It needs to be underscored that both Agni-IV and Agni-V have the capability to reach mainland China and now has the capability to target both its political and commercial capital (Beijing and Shanghai).
Pertinently, the assessment of international security environment suggests that India will not agree to forego its strategic options unless the same approach is applied to the existing international security architecture including the United States, Russia, and China.
It is most likely that the country might plan to build indigenously a sizeable number of Agni-IV and Agni-V. The range and payload of both would certainly improve in due course of time.
Undeniably, India’s ballistic missile capability in the current situation has really helped the country’s nuclear deterrent credible and it is anticipated that we would surely take China’s total force structure into account while developing a strategy to enhance its existing capabilities.
All in all, it is most likely that the country would be operationalising both its Agni IV and Agni V capability in due course by conducting few more tests and then deploying it may be by 2016. This would keep improving its capability in all the three stages, which would allow a better maneuverability.
The Agni V has a capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over one tonne and this capability will also be improving during the operationalisation. Clearly, India has now been inducted into the select group of nation states which have the ICBM capability.
By Prof. Arvind Kumar
Department of Geopolitics and International Relations.