On 19 April 2012, India conducted a successful test-fire of its ICBM Agni V missile. The three-stage rocket was fired at 08:07 hours from complex-4 of the Integrated Test Range in Wheeler Island near Dhamara in Odisha State. Indian official stated that the country had joined a small number of major world powers with such capabilities.
The Agni V missile, with a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles), is capable of delivering a single 1.5 ton warhead deep inside nuclear rival China’s territory. It is 17.5m-tall, solid-fuelled, has three stages and a launch weight of 50 tons. The rocket was developed indigenously and can carry more than one warhead and being able to engage with multiple targets.
The launch is a result of along process in developing an ICBM technology that initially was scheduled for December 2011.
The launch prompt may speculations on its consequences and a possible arms race in East Asia, as well increasing tensions after the recent North Korea failed test.
Development and Characteristics
Agni-V (Sanskrit: अग्नि, fire) is an intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India. It is part of the Agni series of missiles, under the original Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme intended in creating and consolidating Indian capability in counter regional threats. The rocket will greatly expand India’s capability to strike targets at least 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) away. Chinese experts though, felt that the missile actually has the potential to reach targets 8,000 kilometres (5,000 mi) away and that the Indian government had “deliberately downplayed the missile’s capability in order to avoid causing concern to other countries”. The exact range of Agni-V is classified. The Agni-V is expected to be operational by 2014 to 2015 after four to five repeatable tests by the DRDO.
The origin of Agni V project can be traced in 2007 when senior defence scientist M. Natrajan disclosed that DRDO was working on an upgraded version of the Agni III, known as the Agni-V and that it would be ready in 4 years. The missile was to have a range of more than 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi).
The missile was designed to be easy to transport by road through the utilization of a canister-launch missile system which is distinct from those of the earlier Agni missiles. Agni-V would also carry MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) payloads being currently developed. A single MIRV equipped missile can deliver multiple warheads at different targets.
Agni-V will incorporate advanced technologies involving ring laser gyroscope and accelerometer for navigation and guidance. It takes its first stage from Agni-III, with a modified second stage and a miniaturised third stage to ensure it can fly to distances of 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi). The missile will give the armed forces much greater operational flexibility than the earlier-generation of Agni missiles.
In many aspects, the Agni V carries forward the Agni III characteristics. With composites used extensively to reduce weight, and a third stage added on (the Agni III was a two-stage missile), the Agni V can fly significantly well beyond its official range.
Indian authorities believe that the solid-fuelled Agni-V is more than adequate to meet current threat perceptions and security concerns. The missile will bring the whole of Asia, including the northern parts of China, most of Central and Eastern Europe as well other regions under its strike.
Reactions: a threat or technological achievement?
India’s point of view
In India, the success of the launch was received with acclaim and widespread media coverage. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the DRDO by issuing a statement:
“I congratulate all the scientific and technical personnel of the DRDO and other organisations who have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country. Today’s successful Agni-V test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science. The nation stands together in honouring the scientific community who have done the country proud.”
However, Indian military planners remain apprehensive over China’s nuclear-capable DF21 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and its many variants which have ranges of 1,500km-2,250km. These are deployed across Tibet and south-west China and are capable of striking major Indian cities, including Delhi.
India’s arsenal of IRBMs, on the other hand, includes the Agni-I, Agni-II and Agni-III with ranges of between 700-800km, 2,000-2,300 km and over 3,500km respectively.
The missiles are being built at Bharat Dynamics Limited in Hyderabad under the DRDO’s supervision and operated by the Strategic Forces Command. Created in January 2003, the command is responsible for the management and administration of the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile and is part of India’s overarching Nuclear Command Authority.
If the shorter-range Agni-I and II were developed with nuclear rival Pakistan in mind, the Agni III, however, is directed at Chinese military and nuclear assets ranged in Tibet, a region of increasing strategic significance to both Delhi and Beijing.
In reality there are clearly disadvantages comparing the two countries. China is investing a huge amount of its revenues on defence and the recent development of a powerful navy, air force as well missile capabilities still put China on a clear edge in an eventual dispute with India.
India, still suffer from chronic problem as diffuse poverty and a great economic growth but not consolidated enough to guarantee also stability. To this, we must add the recent accusation from top army officials, to the government, for not investing in defence and for an army equipped with obsolete weaponry. The cost of producing Agni V in a quantity considered enough to counter China will not fill the gap between the two countries and China will have always the advantage to block a further strike from India. What can we seen here is the same logic is moving North Korea: build a deterrent by name just to scare the enemy enough to block any possible intrusion.
By developing the Agni V India will secure at least a strike against China and more then one against its arch-enemy Pakistan, ensuring that before any armed confrontation both countries will use the threat of a nuclear strike to induce political and army leaders to think twice before starting a war.
China’s point of view
China is the old enemy of India, with a war fought between the two countries in 1962 and resulted in Chinese victory. The war, that was a result of cold war issues as well internal problem in the communist field, saw clearly the Soviet Union supporting from that moment India whilst China started to support Pakistan. The countries now in a different world stage, still regard each other as enemies, although more related to border issues rather than ideology or cold war alliance.
China was aware of India missile programme and of the latest missile under development for some time and is already a point of focus into Chinese military planning.
The development of this missile does not undermine China’s own deterrent capability, as it retains the ability to survive a first strike by India. In addition there is a clear Chinese supremacy in terms of short and medium range missile, as well army, navy and air force, all equipped a more sophisticated and modern weaponry than India.
In reality, many tend to believe that Beijing in more worried of the US than India, and see the recent change in US policy in the Pacific as the real threat to its stability.
In recent years, China has been deploying more modern solid-fuelled missiles like the two-stage DF-5A with an inter-continental range capable of threatening the United States. It also deploys a number of shorter-range systems like the DF-21 – a potential threat to India. Also, China’s modernisation of its nuclear deterrent includes the development of a small number of submarines capable of carrying ballistic missiles, but it is not yet judged to have an operational submarine-launched capability.
India, in contrast, is believed to have around 100 nuclear warheads, some capable of being dropped from aircraft, with the main bulk of its nuclear strike made upon short-range Prithvi missiles and medium-range variants of the Agni missile. By contrary, the US could pose a real and fatal danger to China and its hegemony in the area.
Pakistani websites and news agencies prominently displayed news of the launch. An article by the Associated Press reported that Pakistani officials showed no concern, with the foreign office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan saying only that India had informed the authorities of the test ahead of time in line with an agreement they have. Of course, behind the official lines, in Islamabad many will be worried and angered at this recent achievement by India’s authorities. Pakistan and India joined the nuclear club, more thank to the support of existing super powers rather than by own achievements: India from Russia technology and Pakistan by US. Since both countries achieved the nuclear status, the skirmishes and possibility of real conflict dropped demonstrating once again that although deplorable the equilibrium of terror is effective. Of course, for Pakistan this test is coming in a moment of real uneasiness for the country, after the US, their historical supporter, is now looking for new partners. The relations between the two countries are strained and signs of recover are not in sight. In addition, what can put Pakistan aside in favor of India could be the fact that US and India are now prioritizing a common enemy, China. This could strengthen Beijing support for Islamabad and eventual progress in Pakistan’s missile program would be achieved due to an increased Chinese.
The United States stated that India has an excellent non-proliferation record and that it had engaged with the international community on such issues.Mark C. Toner, a US State Department spokesman said:
“We urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities. That said, India has a solid nonproliferation record.”
Moreover, responding to comparisons with North Korea’s attempted launch of a long-range rocket that same week, Jay Carney said that: “India’s record stands in stark contrast to that of North Korea, which has been subject to numerous sanctions, as you know, by the United Nations Security Council.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that they did not think India was a missile threat, nor a threat to NATO and its allies, despite India’s advancement in missile technology.
As per Pakistan, behind the lines are different theories and positions. The US, an historical supporter of Pakistan and China against Soviet Union/Russia-India, is now in a position of redefining its strategy and abandon definitely the last cold war remnants. The US are at an all time low relations with Pakistan, and judge China’s military growing capability as the 21st century threat to US stability and hegemony. This perception, already demonstrated by the redeployment of personnel and strategic response in the Pacific, could find ears in New Delhi, leading to a clamorous change in US policy, taking side with an old enemy. Pakistan does not offer to the US great credential for regional stability, as well its clear dependency on China’s military technology. The US are right in judging the latest India achievement to be not a threat for them, Europe or Nato forces, but they cannot deny that this will now trigger a dangerous arms race in the area with the following participants: US, India, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia mainly against China, Pakistan and North Korea, plus some other countries not in US alliance but worried by China fast grow as Vietnam.
After last week North Korea’s failed test, the main line of discussion will now be: what is the difference of this test from India’s one? Why the total different reaction of media? The response could be multiple depending on how we put ourselves: realistic on current affairs or dreamers of a peaceful world.
If you dream of a peaceful world, this is a bad sign; India, as well North Korea, will create instability and a race to weapons of mass destructions, where the judgement is more due to strategic alliances than our real well-being and preserving existence. In case of nuclear war, the prospect of the second strike is enough to show that the large number of nuclear warheads currently held by US, Russia and China above all would destroy the Earth. When condemning North Korea’s test, an honest and objective point of view will consider useless, counterproductive and dangerous India’s test as well. India will better spend money in developing the country, solving poverty issues, and achieving real prosperity that building an arsenal for the so-called “diplomacy of terror”.
The other answer, and honestly the only one unfortunately, is that real-politic and geopolitical strategies are the main reason behind the different approach on the tests. India test pleases the US stance against the growing China threat and find both country against a common enemy. Russia and US are clearly not concerned by India’s capabilities, not because of possible military engagement but because both countries now see Indian military as a valued card to downplay and restrain China. On the other side, China also will see India’s test as a further reason to increase spending in defence. China will continue in modernising its navy and air force, and especially play the aces on the sleeves that terrify the West: North Korea and Iran.
The Indian test could create a shift of alliances and support: whilst still supporting Pakistan against India, China will now found in Iran another card to counter US strategy, and North Korea the scaremongering threat.
Russia, the only country that in all these recent issues appear as a relaxed viewer, in reality is worried more than the others are. Russia, usually a great supporter of India in anti-Chinese perspective during the cold war for ideological differences, now is stuck between US crescent aggressive policy on one side and growing Chinese hegemony in Far East on the other. Russia started already to make clear that the policy of appeasement to the West ended and is dead with Yelsin’s years, and recent issues such as Syria and Iran are the demonstration. In this position, Russia found a valid shoulder in the Chinese, and China is seen as not interfering in Moscow designs and sphere of influences, thus the joint military drills, common voices at the UN Security Council, firm stance on Iran, Syria, and North Korea blocking any resolution.
The result of all the above is once again the double standard of international diplomacy, or to explain to the common people like us, real-politic that still see the world as a great map with sphere of influences and world powers defining limits. The problem is that the old geopolitical system, inherited from the cold war, is now crumbling and a valid real alternative is far from be achieved.
History teaches us that wars more than peaceful treaties have always decided equilibrium between powers, and where decided by treaties they were the result of wars, thus leaving us with the spectrum of a future military confrontation. The sceptics will say that at this age is longer a real possibility, and all the people dreaming of a peaceful planet would like to believe that. Unfortunately, the latest developments show once again that whilst we are leaving in a modern age, taking advantage of new technologies, others still see this modernisation as a tool to seek old fashion power supremacy.