With the successful launch of India’s longest range intercontinental ballistic missile Agni-V on Sunday in Wheeler Island of Odisha, a new day has dawned on the country’s strategic defence development, with India joining the hallowed club of five who own long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. This is indeed a great achievement for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which has been trying to further strengthen the national interests in terms India’s defence security, and in the Prime Minister’s apt phrasing, ‘The successful Agni-V test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science.’ The indigenously developed, nuclear-capable missile has a strike range of 5,000 kilometres, weighs 50 tonnes and has a length of 17 metres, thus making it a sophisticated weapon that can travel faster than a bullet, while carrying about 1,000 kilograms of nuclear weapons stashed within. Along with the other missiles in a crucial Agni family developed by the DRDO, such the intermediate range ballistic missile Agni-II (2,000 kilometre-range, nuclear capable), which was test-fired in April this year, the surface-to-surface missile system has been given a great boost with the state-of-the-art Agni-V’s success. Dubbed a ‘game-changer’ by experts, Agni-V has extended India’s reach all over Asia, including the far corners of China, as well as well into parts of Africa and Europe. Moreover, India is also on its way to develop the long-range nuclear-capable Agni-VI missile that would carry multiple warheads allowing one weapon system to take out several targets at a time (owing to its Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV), easily making it one the most advanced and reliable forms of strategic defence weapon, a ‘force multiplier’ in the defence parlance. Obviously, the newest members of the Agni family have propelled India into the elite club of nations with such capabilities, including US, Russia, China, UK and France, thereby significantly upping India’s credibility as well as clout in the UN Security Council, and paving way for obtaining the permanent membership of the important global body, that India so covets.
However, what must not be drowned in the orchestra of congratulatory messages pouring in from every corner of not just the country but also the whole world, is the fact that we still are a long way from matching the defence capacities of the five biggest nuclear powers. Therefore, steps towards fully developing and operationalising the strategic deterrent asset, especially in the wake of the nuclear reactor in the navy’s aircraft-carrier INS Arihant going critical, must be taken, with the defence and strategic researchers, developers and analysts putting in their resources to consolidate India’s defence security. Although Agni-V, along with the forthcoming Agni-VI, have escalated India’s defence preparedness vis-à-vis belligerent neighbours such as Pakistan and particularly China, especially in the wake of Beijing’s upping its ante in recent times by deploying missiles in Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India, there’s still a lot that remains to be desired. Pertinently, in comparison with the star missiles and technologies of nuclear deterrence possessed by the league of big five nuclear powers – such as Russia’s RS-24 (10,500-km range, 47,200-kg weight, 1,200-kg payload, multiple warheads), the United State’s Minuteman III (13,000-km range, multiple entry) or Trident D-5 (12,000-km range, 2,800-kg payload), or China’s DF-5A (13,000-km range, 3,200-kg payload, multiple nuclear warheads) – India’s self-defence and offence systems are still puny at best, even though it’s trying to break into the hallowed club of nuclear powers. However, India must not overestimate its strength and given the delicate state of current relations with China and Pakistan, we must never harp on the hubristic strength of the weapon over the humble strength of the word. Clearly, while acquiring cutting-edge nuclear technology is a commendable feat, over-reliance on arms and actually becoming a reckless participant in the arms race are not the solutions to any diplomatic quagmire.