Indian missile falls short for
China By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI - India's defense capabilities
have acquired some strategic depth with the
country successfully test-firing its first
inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), the
named for the Hindu god Agni, the god of fire and
the acceptor of sacrifices, is referred to by
Indian officials and scientists as the "China
killer", due to its ability to target cities such
as Beijing, Shanghai and reach the northernmost
tips of the country.
Agni-V test launch represents another milestone in
our quest to add to the credibility of our
Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
Agni-V effectively brings the whole of
China within India's range from nearly anywhere in
India and thus forms a critical cog in the
country's efforts to build an effective deterrence
arsenal against its much more powerful neighbor.
India has also joined the super exclusive club of
the United States, Russia, France, the United
Kingdom and China that possess ICBM attack
capabilities. The test-firing comes just days
after North Korea's launch of a rocket thought to
be essential its plans to develop missiles capable
of striking America ended in failure.
mission was successful. The missile hit the target
in the Indian Ocean," chief of India's nodal
Defense Research and Development Organisation
(DRDO), V K Saraswat, said, adding that the
missile would become fully operational by
2014-2015 after "four to five repeatable tests"
and user trials.
India tested the
3,500-kilometer (km) Agni-IV last year. The Agni
series of missiles capable of delivering nuclear
payloads now includes Agni-I (700-km), Agni-II
(2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km).
India's two-decade-old missile program has
mostly been aimed at nullifying the threat from
its immediate and often hostile neighbor,
Pakistan. That has changed over the past few
years. While shorter versions of the Agni missile
series cover Pakistan, Agni III and beyond are
part of India's efforts to guard against China.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of India's
humiliating defeat in a border war with its
Last year in June, the
now-retired air chief marshal PV Naik said India's
rising global stature demands developing the ICBM
and long-range attack capability possessed by
"India should pursue an
ICBM program to acquire ranges of 10,000
kilometers or even more," Naik said. "Breaking out
of the regional context is important as the
country's sphere of influence grows. We have no
territorial designs on any country, but India
needs the capability to match its sphere of
While India's record in
developing indigenous weapons - tanks or fighter
jets - is abysmal, that has not been the case with
its ballistic missile program. Some of this is due
to progress in launching and installing broadcast
and remote sensing satellites in space under the
aegis of the Indian Space Research Organization.
Advances in missile technology have
occurred in tandem with strides in space research
as the motors used in the launch vehicles of
satellites have been incorporated into missiles.
This occurred despite (now removed) US sanctions
imposed on India's dual-use technologies.
The DRDO, which has an otherwise poor
record of weapons development, claims Agni-V is
built almost fully with indigenous technology,
although Indian scientists are known to copy
readily available Russian blueprints.
Events such as the Kargil war of 1999,
during which the country nearly went to war with
Pakistan, and the November 2008 Mumbai terror
attacks orchestrated by the Pakistan-based
Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists have only heightened
India's insecurities and led to efforts to refine
its ability to attack and protect itself, should
the need arise.
Since the Mumbai attacks
in November 2008, India has also accelerated its
ballistic missile defense program with help from
its newly friendly defense partner America, to
protect against a sudden missile attack.
India's interest in ICBMs has deepened
even as America has opened its defense armaments
market, including dual-use technology, for Indian
use, definitely moving away from a
sanctions-ridden policy paradigm that harkened
back to the Cold War-era when India was aligned
with the Soviet Union.
expertise can also be extended to space to protect
India's remote and communication satellites,
especially after China conducted an anti-satellite
test in 2007, in what is seen as a potential "Star
Wars" arms race between the two Asian nations,
with America strategically siding with India.
Reports by the Stockholm International
Peace Research Institute have highlighted that
India has overtaken China to become the biggest
arms importer in the world, though Indian
observers say that a major portion of Beijing's
arms budget continues to be hidden, secret and
unknown to the world.
Indeed, with only a
handful of missiles and believed to possess only
70 nuclear weapons, India has a long way to go
before it could match up to China's arsenal, with
its missiles capable of delivering payloads up to
14,000 kilometers, covering much of the globe.
China is believed to possess over 400 nuclear
Given the closed nature of
China's polity, nobody is quite sure what kind of
investments and developments are happening in
China's defense sphere. Some analysts believe that
China's military capabilities today could be
superior to America's although US defense
expenditure dwarfs that of the rest of the world
An English-language daily based
in Beijing commented after the Agni-V test that
"India should be clear that China's nuclear power
is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable
future, India would stand no chance in an overall
arms race with China."
Pakistan is no
bunny either, with a missile program that is
actively promoted by China, and with the country
having developed its own nuclear capability.
Several of its attack ballistic missiles with the
potential to destroy Indian cities are a copy of
those in possession of China.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New
Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at
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