Agni-5: India’s drive for ICBM

Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

INDIA conducted a successful Agni-5 ballistic missile test on December 26, 2016. The successful test of Agni-5 is a great relief for the Indian scientific establishment and leadership, especially after Nirbhay Cruise missile’s test failure. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated: “Successful test firing of Agni V makes every Indian very proud. It will add tremendous strength to our strategic defence.”
Indeed, the successful test of the missile contributes constructively in the Indian armed forces build-up. Nevertheless, it has potential to unleash a destabilizing arms race in the region. The test of intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrates that New Delhi is endeavouring to enhance the range of its military punch. With Agni-5 India can strike almost all of Asia including Pakistan, Central Asia, China and 70 percent of Europe and Eastern Africa. During the recent months, India has conducted both Cruise and Ballistic missiles tests. The failure of Nirbhay Cruise missile test, however, had generated suspicion about the Indian missiles inventory. It alarmed both the Indian scientific bureaucracy and leadership. Conversely, India’s ballistic missile program is on a positive trajectory. The Indian scientists had demonstrated their capability to design, develop and produce Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).
The Indian scientific bureaucracy has been working on the ICBM project since the launch of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) under India’s Defence Research and Development Organization(DRDO) in July 1983. Though during 1980s and 1990s ballistic missile project’s dividends were not promising, particularly Agni series, yet both the Indian government and Indian scientific bureaucracy remained committed with ballistic missiles development. Consequently, in the recent years, they were able to accomplish a few objectives with the foreign indirect assistance. For instance, Indo-Israel defence pact is having positive contribution in the development of Indian’s missile programme.
Since 2012, India has been successfully conducting Agni-5 tests. The Indian DRDO created Agni-5 by adding a third stage to Agni-3, a missile with a range of 3,500 km. Its first test was conducted on April 19, 2012. It was followed by the second test on September 15, 2013, and the third test on January 31, 2015 from the same base. Notably, the Agni-5 is a three-stage, surface-to-surface, nuclear capable solid-propellant driven ballistic missile. It has a range of over 5,000 km and can carry about a 1,000-kg warhead. Its speed is impressive, because within 18 to 20 minutes, it hits the target.
It was reported that the recent tested Agni-5 is the advanced version of the Agni ballistic missile’s series because it is furnished with new technology for navigation and guidance. Moreover, the missile was tested from “a canister, which gives it all-weather and any terrain mobile launch capability.” It was reported that Agni-1 and 2 have a diameter of one meter and the first stage of the Agni-4 has a diameter of 1.2 meters. Whereas, both Agni-3 and Agni-5 have a diameter of 2 meters, making them capable of carrying several warheads known as Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles. Thus, Agni-3 and Agni-5 are very sophisticated nuclear capable delivery vehicles.
Since 1960s, India has been projecting its strategic competition with China. The critical examination of the Indian air, ballistic and cruise missiles inventories, except Agni-5 reveals thatIndian armed forces lack capability to hit the targets inside China. The inventory of Agni-5, however, has made Indian strategic forces capable to target the Chinese’s heartland including Beijing and Shanghai.The Indian scientists claimed that after the fourth test Agni-5 is ready for the deployment and thereby it would be handed over to the Indian strategic forces command. The transfer of Agni-5 to Indian strategic forces provides Indian arm forces capability to target many cities even in Europe and Africa.
To conclude, the test of the ICBM certainly intensifies the security dilemma puzzle in the regional strategic environment. The security dilemma puzzle always upsurges the action-reaction syndrome entailing perilous arms race between/among the strategic peers. The arms race between/among the strategic competitors, especially among the developing states severely obstructs their socio-economic development and destabilize the strategic stability in the region.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
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