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Tag Archives | Agni-V

Don’t fear the MIRVs!

India’s induction of MIRVs can enhance nuclear stability in Asia.

Yesterday’s Times of India carries excerpts from the Federation of American Scientists’ report entitled “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2013.” It’s co-author, Hans Kristensen, spoke to the Times of India on reports that future enhancements to India’s strategic missiles would carry multiple independent targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs):

Kristensen told TOI that MIRVs are not in keeping with New Delhi’s policy of minimum deterrence and that Indian officials needed to explain why they want to develop the technology because it could lead to a buildup with China. “MIRV is developed for a particular strategic objective, normally to quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on missiles or to be able to hit a lot of targets in a single attack. Both of those objectives are incompatible with India’s policy of minimum deterrence because they would significantly increase the size of the arsenal and signal a shift to a nuclear counterforce war-fighting doctrine,” Kristensen told TOI.

The report says that such moves by India and China could set off an increased and more intense nuclear arms race in Asia. “The United States, Russia, and the international arms control community should discourage this competition by significantly curtailing their own MIRVed weapon systems and ballistic missile defense programs,” it says. [Times of India]

Mr. Kristensen’s statements defy logic because the development and deployment of MIRVs is not only in keeping with India’s nuclear weapons doctrine, they are an essential component of it.  India’s policy of No First Use (NFU) means that it must necessarily ensure both the survivability of its nuclear assets in the event of a preemptive attack by an adversary, as well as maintain the ability to respond in a manner that will impose unacceptable costs on the enemy.

Both components of the NFU (i.e., survivability of its arsenal and assured imposition of unacceptable costs) will be enhanced through the induction of MIRVs.  This better assures the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent, which, in turn, also enhances nuclear stability between India and China.

India has quite lucidly articulated its position in its Nuclear Doctrine (emphasis added):

2.3. India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence. In this policy of “retaliation only”, the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors. India’s peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that :

(a) any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat: and (b) any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor

4.3(i):  India’s nuclear forces and their command and control shall be organised for very high survivability against surprise attacks and for rapid punitive response. They shall be designed and deployed to ensure survival against a first strike and to endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor. [Federation of American Scientists] (1999 Draft)

The nuclear programs of both China and India continue to evolve today, thereby contributing to a more competitive nuclear dynamic in the region, whether one side would acknowledge it or not.  A legitimate question for us to ask here is whether both countries (and the region) would be better served and stability enhanced if India and China were to engage each other in nuclear confidence building measures.

The answer, of course, is yes.  India for its part has indicated an interest in entering into a strategic dialog on nuclear issues with China.  However, not only does China continue to refuse to engage India in talks over nuclear CBMs, it remains unwilling to even acknowledge India as a nuclear weapons power.

India’s options are indeed limited if China simply refuses to talk. Meanwhile, territorial disputes between India and China remain unresolved, China’s clandestine assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program — brazenly flouting all non-proliferation norms — continues, and its belligerence towards India and other neighbors has increased in proportion to its growing global clout. Under such circumstances, efforts to enhance the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent are both necessary and entirely in keeping with India’s national security interests.

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…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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