…and then there was fire

What Agni-V’s success means to India.

Yesterday, India conducted a successful test of the much-awaited Agni-V nuclear-capable missile off Wheeler Island, Orissa.  Agni-V incorporates advanced technologies including composite rocket motors and micro-navigation systems, and has a range of over 5,000 km. The test itself is the most significant technological demonstrator of India’s evolving nuclear capability since the Pokhran tests of 1998.

By all standards, yesterday’s test was a long time coming.  Hindered by high-technology denial regimes led primarily by the U.S., India’s strategic missiles program has experienced delays and setbacks over the course of the last 15 years.  However, the absence of criticism from the U.S. on yesterday’s test is a testament to how far the Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship has come since Pokhran.  As Shashank Joshi notes, “[i]f this had happened 15 years ago, it would have been condemned by the U.S.”

However, it is important to exercise caution and not get unduly carried away with yesterday’s successful test.  Unfortunately, India’s mainstream media has displayed misguided, almost vulgar bellicosity in its reporting of the success of Agni-V.  The same mainstream media that claimed that India wasn’t even prepared for war against Pakistan just two weeks ago, was all set to launch a punitive nuclear attack against China yesterday.  Some TV news channels also featured animated videos of Agni-V hitting targets in China!  This shrillness, rhetoric and lack of credible analysis does a tremendous disservice to the profession of journalism and to the people of India.

Yes, Agni-V was an important step, but India has many more significant challenges to overcome in the evolution of its nuclear capability.  The significance of Agni-V ties directly with India’s “No First Use” (NFU) nuclear doctrine, which requires a mature secondary-strike capability for any NFU position to be credible.  Effectively, a secondary-strike capability means having the ability to retaliate in an imposed nuclear war via land (typically, missiles), air (strategic bombers) and sea (submarines) — the so-called “nuclear triad.”

However, two of the three legs of India’s nuclear triad  are only just evolving.  Agni-V’s successful launch notwithstanding, it will take several years before it can be fully inducted into India’s armed forces.  Further, as India’s stature and interests on the global stage grow, there will be a need in the future to adequately consider and account for threats beyond its shores and neighborhood.  This will mean the development of missiles with ranges longer than Agni-V, which will take not only advanced technological expertise to achieve, but also considerable political will.

India’s sea-based deterrent is also lagging.  Since India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant, was revealed about two years ago, its operationalization has been significantly impacted by delays in its sea trials.  It is unlikely therefore, that it can be inducted into the armed forces before 2014.  Moreover, India’s submarine-based ballistic missile program is at a nascent stage.  While the short-range SLBM Sagarika (K-15) has undergone some trials, the longer-range K-4 is still under development and is unlikely to be ready for tests in the next 4-5 years, going by previous record.  This means that India is unlikely to realistically achieve credible sea-based deterrence before 2020.

India’s avowed position of never employing a nuclear weapon first in combat means that it must develop its secondary-strike capability with purpose.  It can ill-afford to go through additional iterations of lethargy and ineffectual decision-making in operationalizing and maturing its nuclear triad.  Naturally, India’s nuclear arsenal must also quantitatively and qualitatively evolve to reflect current and emerging threats.  The value of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems lies in convincing adversaries of their credibility and ability to inflict unacceptable damage in retaliation, should the need arise. The need of the hour therefore is to focus on these aspects rather than engage in injudicious and myopic chest-thumping.

 

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21 Responses to …and then there was fire

  1. Rohan Joshi (@filter_c) April 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    On my blog: “…and then there was fire.” | What Agni-V’s success means to India. http://t.co/IiR1h3U7

  2. yashin (@yashin87) April 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    RT @pragmatic_d: Read. RT @filter_c On my blog: “…and then there was fire.” | What Agni-V’s success means to India. http://t.co/KbNR5CkW

  3. Sachin Kalbag (@SachinKalbag) April 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    In which the astute Rohan Joshi rips apart the India media and brings about a sense of realism in the Agni-V coverage: http://t.co/MalhBUOW

  4. Akshay (@krs_na) April 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    RT @pragmatic_d: Read. RT @filter_c On my blog: “…and then there was fire.” | What Agni-V’s success means to India. http://t.co/BlN29FmF

  5. Srikanth R. (@_R_Srikanth) (@_R_Srikanth) April 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    RT @filter_c On my blog: “…and then there was fire.” | What Agni-V’s success means to India. http://t.co/Qdk6ABAX

  6. ThemidDon (@ThemidDon) (@ThemidDon) April 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    On AGNI-V’s launch, & on INDIAN Media’s Myopic Vision of Muscle Flexing with CHINA ;-D Muhahahaaa!!!-D http://t.co/845KB46m by ~@filter_c

  7. South Asian Idea (@southasianidea1) April 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    RT @pragmatic_d: Read. RT @filter_c On my blog: “…and then there was fire.” | What Agni-V’s success means to India. http://t.co/KbNR5CkW

  8. Vikram Sood (@Vikram_Sood) April 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    In which @filter_c gives a reality check about Agni V and the road ahead. Do read http://t.co/RvWiKXJk

  9. “India’s mainstream media has displayed misguided, almost vulgar bellicosity in its reporting of the success of Agni-V” http://t.co/hgwIw4BL

  10. “Some TV news channels also featured animated videos of Agni-V hitting targets in China!” http://t.co/hgwIw4BL

  11. @rajeshtahil April 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    “@shashj: “Some TV news channels also featured animated videos of Agni-V hitting targets in China!” http://t.co/Yar8nzJB” india #ftw! (FFS)

  12. @Gaoxing April 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    http://t.co/llPLnNFy

  13. @Gaoxing April 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    RT @Vikram_Sood: In which @filter_c gives a reality check about Agni V and the road ahead. Do read http://t.co/RvWiKXJk

  14. Srikanth R. (@_R_Srikanth) (@_R_Srikanth) April 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    +1 MT @sachinkalbag In which the astute Rohan Joshi rips apart India media & brings about a sense of realism: http://t.co/U8ok2q2Y

  15. Rohan Joshi (@filter_c) April 20, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    Blogpost replug | “…and then there was fire: What Agni-V’s success means to India.” http://t.co/IiR1h3U7

  16. Kanchan Gupta (@KanchanGupta) April 20, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    RT @filter_c: Blogpost replug | “…and then there was fire: What Agni-V’s success means to India.” http://t.co/IiR1h3U7

  17. Ayaz (@ayazalam) April 20, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    RT “@filter_c: Blogpost replug | “..and then there was fire: What Agni-V’s success means to India.” http://t.co/kSHUSO3G” #AgniV

  18. @_A_Shashank April 20, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    RT @filter_c: Blogpost replug | “…and then there was fire: What Agni-V’s success means to India.” http://t.co/IiR1h3U7

  19. Rory Medcalf (@Rory_Medcalf) April 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    RT @Vikram_Sood: In which @filter_c gives a reality check about Agni V and the road ahead. Do read http://t.co/RvWiKXJk

  20. BankerBoy (@fotespeaks) April 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    RT @Vikram_Sood: In which @filter_c gives a reality check about Agni V and the road ahead. Do read http://t.co/RvWiKXJk

  21. Pooja Naik (@thepinkshot) April 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    What Agni-V’s success means to India. http://t.co/9s0g9mrc #GoodRead

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