Nearly two decades after the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, India is now well on course to induct its first intercontinental ballistic missile Agni-V following its successful test firing from Dr Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast. The surface-to-surface nuclear capable missile, with a range of 5,000 km, marks a significant milestone in the country’s journey towards the development of indigenous guided missile system. The missile, which helps build a credible nuclear deterrent, is now ready for induction into the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). Several systems and subsystems associated with the missile, which brings the whole of China as well as parts of Europe and Africa under its strike range, will be handed over to the new Agni-V unit raised under the SFC. It certainly marks the arrival of India as a missile power. Once the induction process is complete, India will join the elite group of countries comprising United States, Russia and China with access to intercontinental ballistic missiles. The tri-service SFC already has Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-I (700-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km) missile units while Sukhoi-30MKI, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters are also capable of delivering nuclear bombs. The third leg of the nuclear triad is represented by nuclear ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant. These developments on the nuclear capability must be viewed from the angle of strategic preparedness as India is faced with two nuclear-armed hostile neighbours. Though India has declared ‘No-First-Use” policy, there should be no room for complacency when it comes to establishing the nuclear command posts, command and control centres and strategic missile bases.
Agni-V, which can carry a 1.5-tonne nuclear warhead, is much more effective and flexible compared with the earlier Agni variants because it is a canister-launch missile to ensure swift transportation and firing. It reduces the response time and also ensures higher reliability with less maintenance. For a country that has pledged no-first-use of nuclear weapons, a reliable second-strike capability is a must to withstand an enemy nuclear strike on its key locations. India is known the world over for being a responsible nuclear power and for having a mature political and military leadership. While it is understandable that China is upset by India inching towards a fool-proof nuclear triad, it must be pointed out that India’s strategic capabilities are not targeted against any particular country and it abides by all the applicable international obligations. India’s strategic autonomy and growing engagement contribute to strategic stability. In technological terms, Agni-V represents the coming of age for India of a very long range payload delivery capability that is both accurate and survivable. It has a launch weight of 50 tonnes with a 1.5-tonne payload, which is adequate to carry fusion-boosted fission warheads.