It was not an unusual statement by the Chinese government. Rattled by India’s final test-firing of the nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missile Agni-V with 5,000 km range, Beijing expressed its frustration in diplomatic language. China said that although the two nations are “not rivals but partners,” it hoped that testing of the nuclear-capable Agni V missile complied with “UN Security Council rules” and safeguarded “South Asia’s strategic balance”. For the first time recently, Chinese authorities seemed to be livid with India’s defence capability as the successful and final test firing of the 5,000 km range Agni V missile has put it in the rank of a few select countries which have mastery over ICBM technology.
China’s lone English daily ‘The Global Times’ , which is known for its use of acerbic language, derided the successful test-firing of Agni V missile arguing that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable and India has no chance to catch up. Given this, some experts argue that China appears to be more concerned about India’s progressive march to demolish Beijing’s supremacy in missile technology than its security. Whether it is true or not, the ground reality is that with strategic community members increasingly questioning India’s no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, Beijing seems rattled by New Delhi’s missile prowess.
How powerful is the Agni V missile?
Part of India’s intercontinental ballistic missile development (IBMD) programme, the Agni V missile is the fifth variant of the Agni family, which was first launched in 2012. Since then, the 17.5-metre long solid-fuelled missile which can carry a nuclear warhead of more than one tonne, has witnessed three more test firing, including the one which was recently launched from Wheeler’s Island off the Odisha coast. It is considered as the most sophisticated and powerful weapon as it can travel faster than even a bullet. With a 5,000 km range, which can be tweaked to achieve even 8000 to 10,000 km range, Agni V missile can virtually carry a payload three times the minimum weight of a nuclear warhead.
Besides, it has the capability to survive a counterstrike as it is mounted on a TATRA truck, which imparts mobility to the weapon-system. It should be known that missiles with nuclear warheads launched from fixed silos can be more easily targeted. Agni V is also equipped with Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS) and the most advanced Micro Navigation System (MINS) – all this ensures that the missile reaches the target point with accuracy. Although it has not been officially confirmed, Agni-V missile is reported to be equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), making it capable of hitting several enemy targets with multiple warheads on a single firing. It has also more powerful engine than the earlier Agni missiles.
How many other nuclear capable missiles India have?
India has four other variants of nuclear capable Agni missile system. They are Agni-I (700-1250 km range), Agni-II (2000-3000 km range), Agni-III (3000-3500 km range), Agni-IV (3500-4000 km range). This apart, India also possesses other powerful missiles like Akash, Prithvi, Nag and Trishul with different strike capabilities and roles. All these missiles have been developed and made by the Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) for the use of the Indian armed forces.
What’s the purpose behind induction of Agni V missile?
After claiming that it is final test-firing of Agni V, the country’s defence establishment has indicated that the missile will be inducted into the army soon. But it should be understood that the missile will become more of a political weapon than a war armament as India, with its no-first-use policy, is unlikely to use its nuclear inventory for jeopardising the stability of the region. As such, it will be used as a deterrent against a nuclear attack from its enemies. Significantly, the missile can be launched only on the orders of the country’s Prime Minister.
Is China more powerful than India?
Yes, China is more powerful than India. With a budget more than $100 billion, Beijing is continuously engaged in modernising its armed forces. Just last year, it created new services, namely, the PLA Army, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force. This apart, it merged seven military regions into five PLA Theatre Commands. It has deployed more missiles and fighter jets like J-11, J-10 and Kongjing-500 (the airborne early warning and control system) along areas bordering India.
But experts say if the rising tension between India and China turns into a full -fledged war, the real theatre of the two-way fight would be at the sea. China imports large amounts of oil through the Indian Ocean. And India which sits astride the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean would block the oil shipments going towards China. In the wake of this, experts say that PLA Navy would have to travel thousands of miles around the southern end of Asia, into the Indian Ocean to confront Indian navy.
What is India’s plan to counter China?
Presently, India’s airpower strength is weak; instead of 42 squadrons, the country’s air force has merely 33 squadrons. With the purchase of 36 French Rafale aircraft, a multi-role medium fighter jet, India could be able to have two more squadrons. In fact, in the next 10 years, as per experts, India needs 200-250 aircraft in the medium weight category. In the light weight category, the country plans to fill the gap with indigenously developed 123 Tejas aircraft.
But it will be planned induction of fifth generation fight aircraft (FGFA), to be built in collaboration between India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the Russian Sukhoi Corporation, which will turn the table against the country’s enemies. If experts are to be believed, FGFA will mark a quantum jump in Indian Air Force (IAF) capabilities and will provide India the same class of aircraft that the US has with its F-22 or China has with its J-20 aircraft. It is a large multirole aircraft capable of air to air and air to ground combat.
This fighter plane will have all features of fifth generation fighters, including stealth, ability to have flying speed of above Mach-1 level, high level of maneuverability, advanced fire control and powerful radar system. India will invest a total $25 billion in this FGFA project and in return, receive as many as 250 aircraft. Similarly, it is also augmenting its naval power. At the moment, Indian Navy possesses two aircraft carriers, one amphibious transport dock, eight landing ship tanks, 11 destroyers, 14 frigates, one nuclear-powered attack submarine, one ballistic missile submarine, 14 conventionally-powered attack submarines, 24 corvettes, seven anti-mine vessels, 10 large offshore patrol vessel and several others defence equipments.
Given the expansion and modernisation plan, by 2030 Indian navy will become the third most powerful, after the US and Russia. The army is also increasing its capability in consonance with the demand and challenges facing the country.
Even as India has to fill several gaps to meet the requirement of its defence preparedness vis-à-vis its adversaries, its successful test-firing of Agni-V missile has unnerved China and its defence planners. However, all said and done, India is a slow but steady mover.