Recently, the Indian Ministry of Defense announced the test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and a range of up to 5000 kilometers. The Agni-5 ballistic missile hit the test target in the Bay of Bengal after being launched from Abdul Kalam Island on the east coast of India. India claims that Agni-5 is an intercontinental ballistic missile, developed by the National Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) of India, powered by solid fuel three-stage rockets, and can carry a 1500 kg nuclear warhead. The Indian media interpreted this test as a “strategic deterrence in response to China’s border conflict” to demonstrate India’s minimum nuclear counterattack capability. So is the nuclear deterrence claimed by India effective? Does Agni-5 have such power?
To answer the above questions, we first need to understand Agni-5. From the point of view of technical indicators, Agni-5 is not a true intercontinental missile. The range of the intercontinental missile should exceed 8,000 kilometers. Obviously, it does not meet this standard. As early as 2014, India had successfully tested the Agni-5 missile, and the Agni-6 missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers was also under development. According to the calculation of India’s past missile development cycle, the Agni-6 should be tested before 2020. However, India has not updated the progress of the Agni-6 so far. Behind this is probably the reason for the immature technology. After all, the total weight of the Agni-5 missile body has reached 50 tons, but the range is only a mere 5,000 kilometers, while the U.S. Minuteman-3 missile weighs only 35 tons and has a range of 13,000 kilometers. , China’s Dongfeng-31 missile weighs 42 tons and has a range of more than 8,000 kilometers. Obviously, India’s current accumulation of engine technology and materials science cannot achieve the actual deployment weight of intercontinental missiles.
However, India’s own strategic positioning is a regional power with global influence, and there is no strategic need for global nuclear deterrence. Its main strategic opponents, especially those with nuclear weapons, are all neighboring Asian countries; the missile range only needs to reach 5,000 kilometers. It can completely cover all the strategic objectives of its main opponents. In addition to technology, the dystocia of Agni-6 also has diplomatic considerations. After all, India’s relations with Europe and the United States are quite good, and relations with Russia are also quasi-ally. Therefore, if India test-fires a missile with a range up to the whole of Europe or the United States, it will inevitably lead to doubts about its test firing in Europe and the United States. Therefore, even if the missile technology is mature, India will probably not test-fire intercontinental missiles casually so as not to cause inconvenience. Necessary diplomatic trouble.
Profile picture of India’s test-fire of “Agni-5” ballistic missile. Picture/Visual China
In terms of indicators, the Agni-5, a technically not advanced missile, can temporarily meet India’s basic nuclear strategic deterrence needs. First of all, Agni-5 is a missile that uses solid fuel, so the preparation time for launch is relatively short, and it can be deployed on a guided missile trailer. In addition, the Agni-5 has a multi-target and split-guide warhead. A missile can carry 2-10 warheads to attack multiple strategic targets, and has a certain anti-missile penetration capability. Of course, due to India’s low technical level, the rapid reaction capability, mobility, and penetration capability of the Agni-5 is still in its infancy, which is quite different from China, the United States and Russia. But even so, as the number of India’s nuclear weapons has exceeded one hundred, the successful test firing of the Agni-5 equipment and the large-scale equipment does indicate that India has a strategic nuclear deterrent capability against neighboring countries.
After the successful test firing, the Strategic Forces Command also revealed that an independent Rocket Force will be formed to strengthen India’s strategic deterrent force. In the past, India set up a special strategic force command to coordinate the strategic nuclear weapons of the army, navy, and air force. However, the daily operation of missile weapons is still under the responsibility of their respective services, unlike the establishment of independent rocket forces in China and Russia. Today, India’s Agni missiles have reached a certain scale of equipment. After the Indian military’s comprehensive theater reforms, it is only natural that the strategic missile force becomes independent. Although the technical level of the Indian missile force is far from that of China, we still have to admit that India already has a certain strategic deterrent capability, which undoubtedly increases the confidence of the Indian government to bargain on the border issue.