FOCUS ON AGNI- VI : A VIEWPOINT
While BMD shield can stop a multiple warhead/missile attack, focus obviously is required to keep upgrading the missile defence to minimise the effects by building more and more safeguards
Beyond the nuclear capable Agni-V, development of Agni-VI by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is welcome news. This three-stage ICBM is expected to be developed by 2014 and likely to be introduced in service and operationalised by 2018-19. It will have a maximum range of 10,000 kilometres, implying effective range of about 8,000 kilometres.
With mobile launchers for the land variant mountable on both 8 x 8 Tatra vehicles and rail, plus the SLBM version fitted onto Arihant class submarines, the three-stage Agni-VI incorporating ‘seeker technology’ will provide a big boost to the Indian armed forces as a force multiplier with strategic dimensions. The multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) warheads that Agni-VI will carry are reportedly four to six though some sources talk of even 10 MIRV warheads depending on the weight of the warheads.
Development of Agni-VI will propel India into the elite club of MIRV warhead ICBMs alongside countries like the US, Russia and China. Though India’s missile development is not aimed at any particular country, it is axiomatic that we cannot ignore the Chinese missile development especially the overall capability of nuclear and ballistic missiles under China’s Second Artillery Corps, which was the first military unit visited by Xi Jingpin.
Though the 2012 Military Balance by the Institute of Strategic Studies is being published only by midMarch 2013, at last count, the overall 500 missiles included some 70 ICBMs (including 20 of 13,000+ kilometres range, 24 of 11,200 kilometres range and 36 SLBMs including 24 of 7,200+ kilometres range. The latest entry has been the Dong Fang 41 ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead of 1 MT or up to 10 MIRVs with selectable weight warheads. With a speed of Mach 10-25, launchpad from silo or road mobile TEL, it will have a maximum range of 14,000 kilometres. Dong Fang 41, translated as ‘East Wind’ in Chinese, has been inducted into the Second Artillery Corps and gives China the first strike capability in the US mainland.
China test-fired the DF 41 on July 24, 2012, while the China-Japan controversy raged over the disputed Diaoyutai (Diaoyu or Senkaku) islands. With reachable targets in the US, the DF 41 provides strategic muscle to China in the balance of power in the AsiaPacific region. As and when China deploys a Carrier Group at Hainan and deploys SLBMs, the balance of power in Asia-Pacific will start undergoing a change.
China’s Dong Fang 41 ICBM
Aside from the deployment of multiple MIRV warhead missiles, what needs to be kept in mind is the Chinese concept of mass missile strikes, both aimed at penetrating the BMD shield of the adversary by ensuring at least some warheads strike intended targets. Then is the question whether all the warheads will merely be nuclear or conventional or can one also expect others like chemical and electromagnetic (EM) warheads, given the Chinese penchant to surprise the enemy asymmetrically?
India needs to examine these issues. Are we catering for an EM warhead mixed with conventional, nuclear, chemical MIRV warheads? While BMD shield can stop a multiple warhead/missile attack, focus obviously is required to keep upgrading the missile defence to minimise the effects by building more and more safeguards. As for deterrence, who is this deterrence against if not China and Pakistan. We need to review our nuclear policy in the context of both. Deterrence must be credible and through the full spectrum rather than only at ICBM level notwithstanding the fact that longer ranges are intimidating to the adversary. Preference also needs to be given to thermonuclear warheads (for greater effect and cost effectiveness) and to the seabased deterrent (SLBMs) as latter are easier to secure and deploy. Finally, would be the requirement to have a robust command and control system and the alacrity with which the second strike option is to be exercised, should we continue with this policy.