The day of the first Agni-5 test launch from the Odisha range is also the occasion when a Ministry of External Affairs-sponsored seminar with international participation on Strategic Export Controls was inaugurated in IDSA, by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, who spoke earnestly about India adhering to nonproliferation norms and seeking membership of the four technology denial regimes — NSG, MTCR, Australia Group, Wassenar Arrangement. This, as a Joint Secretary, said to me with a wink was not a coincidence, Nice touch! We are finally beginning to play the game as the big boys do — saying something but doing our own thing.
That said, why is the Agni-5 being touted as an ICBM when, at 5000 km range, it is only an IRBM? It is true that this missile has all the technologies such as, the vernier rocket motors in the nose-cone for maneuvering in the terminal phase for exact guidance to target, and only requires the Manmohan Singh government to gird up its loins and give the green signal for the ICBM presently at an advanced design-development stage at the Advanced Research Laboratory, Hyderabad, to start becoming a reality. But that will be Agni-6, or whatever it may becalled. For the ICBM, moreover, a more powerful solid fuel propellant — with slower, but more intense, burn, will be required, because to add another stage to the 3-stage missile would be impracticable to enable payload delivery to in excess of 10,000 kms — the true mark of an ICBM.
Mislabelling Agni-5 as an ICBM is par for the course with the Indian atomic establishment claiming a thermonuclear weapons status for the country when, in fact, the fusion and boosted fusion weapons designs remain unproven, because the design correctives incorporated into the thermonuclear and boosted fission designs that fizzled in 1998, are still untested and, therefore, unreliable.
Can there be a cost to hyperbolicizing our strategic capabilities. Yes, because some risk-acceptant adversary, such as China, could call our bluff. Where would that leave India? Up a creek.