MIRV-testing by stealth — II

Sorry, original blog on the issue of MIRV testing by stealth inadvertently deleted. This augmented replacement blog on the same topic.

The PSLV-C 20 launched February 25 carried a payload of seven satellites, which were injected into their separate precise orbits using the embedded System-on-Chip (SOC). The SOC, it may be recalled, was used on Agni-5 for guidance and terminal accuracy. The SOC on C-20 is the testing of MIRV capacity by stealth. And while India has had this capability to disperse payloads from PSLV — MIRV tech in situ since 2004-05, this is the first near military application of it. Hopefully, GOI will greensignal a proper MIRV-ed Agni-5 test soon. The only problem with the MIRVed military payloads will be that such miniaturisation of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons as has been obtained to fit the nose cone geometries of Agni missiles cannot be reliable, unless the level of miniaturisation achieved in the 1998 tests is deemed adequate. Because that’s the level at which the weapons designs have got frozen, and absent further testing, will be a liability. To iterate, assuming warheads miniaturised to a certain extent were actually tested in 1998, then that’s all the level of miniaturisation the country will have to be content with. No testing means that the 20 KT weapon has been sufficiently miniaturised to fit several of these in the nose cones of Agni IRBMs. The bigger, older, problem remains however: The fizzled S-1 means the thermonuclear weapon too is suspect. Marry the suspect miniaturised warhead with the suspect thermonuclear warheads and we get a suspect hydrogen deterrent assuming again there’s such a thing. In the event, the 20 KT fission warhead seems the standard weapon for all delivery sytems. So, why pretend to having fusion weapons in the 125-175 KT scale in the arsenal? After all, there’s only so much traction missile accuracy will get India against equally accurate Chinese missiles carrying the 1.1-3-3 megaton standard issue warhead on its IRBMS.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Cyber & Space, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, satellites, South Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to MIRV-testing by stealth — II

  1. RK Anuj says:

    Better said than the original blog. The traction then boils down to the numbers of acceptable civilian casualties. Hard to imagine any world leader, less NoKo with a huge pinch, can even think of casualties in terms of hundreds of thousands and still take a chance. That’s deterrence for you.

    • satyaki says:

      What you say would be true for leaders of smaller countries and leaders for countries tha are democratic. For Pakistan, @BK once pointed out that a dozen 200kt warheads would cause that entity to cease existing as a nation state. Since a single 200kt warhead has the same area of destruction as 5 warheads of 20kt, one would require the guaranteed ability to deliver anything between 12 200kt warheads and 60 20kt warheads (or something in between) after whatever first strike they may attempt to convince an extremist Pak leader about the futility of war with India.

      As for PRC, they after all recovered from the Tangshan earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands in 1976. Their own govt. killed 30 million of their own people in Mao’s time. Their ability to take casualties would be far higher than that of a western country. To deter such an entity, the ability to destroy ten to twelve major cities after a first strike from their side is what we require. This would amount to the ability guarantee the delivery of 50-60 200 kt warheads (or the equivalent number of 20 kt warheads) after receiving a first strike from them. Given that China is developing ABMs as well, and given the money they can put in this direction, our requirements become quite large.

      All in all, in the 2020+ time frame, we would require a “quantum of nuclear deterrence” comparable with France (in fact, marginally more). This means around 300 warheads in the 200kt range or the equivalent number of 20 kt warheads. The second course is of course, doable without further testing (given that the successful S-1 primary is likely to be sufficiently small to allow MIRVing of almost all our missiles) provided we produce the fissile material required. It would however, come with issues related to maintaining a large N-forces, etc. The first course would require testing at some point in the not too distant future. Testing should not be viewed as our behaving like NoKo: our behavior in 1998 was very different from NoKo’s current behavior. Rather, it should be understood as a response to the strategic pressure created by the Pak-China-NoKo axis.

      Maybe a course in between the above could be taken as well: produce the untested 125-175 kt thermonuclear weapons in an intermediate quantity between the two extermes suggested above, while waiting for an opportunity to test. Test when the opportunity arises, and decide the course to take based on the outcome.

      • RK Anuj says:

        Now you got my point. There are several options, some that you have yourself rightly brought out. BK’s absolutism will only lead us down the tube.

      • RK Anuj says:

        But you see, you cannot compare the aftermath of natural disasters or genocides organised by a mad man to any sensible national leaders reaction in today’s world. Will any country bring upon itself utter ruination by choice. That’s going too far, will any world leader countenance even a fraction of that…… to my mind, not a chance.

  2. manish says:

    Agni 5 is not going to be MIRVed, Its only Agni 6 which is scheduled to be launched in Early 2015.

  3. RV says:

    One cannot test bits and pieces of a system and claim that the entire system works as per design specifications. There’s no substitute to testing an entire system including the payload. These gimmicks of piecemeal testing sub-systems doesn’t send any message across to anybody, other than there’s no stomach for the “real thing”. The people to whom these gimmicks are ostensibly directed are masters at the “real thing”.

    • RK Anuj says:

      I see where that’s coming from. Since you have read the little exchange on the original blog, you display an amazing lack of understanding of these matters or perhaps the language. @BK understood my point very well and has thus suitably modified this augmented blog.

      • RV says:

        @Anuj: What is the understanding that I lack and you possess? What language” are you precisely referencing? Put these down explicitly. What gives you the notion that Karnad modified this current blog in “deference” to your point of view? What substances are you abusing that has led you to this delusion, and many others? What tangible point of view can you possibly put forth and logically defend with hard evidence, without resorting to flame-baiting while deluding yourself into believing that your moniker has conferred anonymity onto you?

        I urge you to voluntarily seek professional help immediately, before your condition worsens and treatment is forcibly administered to you. You come across as a deluded individual with plenty of time on your hands, possessing some useless jargon and vacuous theories, and, with a very unhealthy mindset that is distinctly psychopathic. You are the buffoon who has stated in a post in the article “China hand behind growls of NoKo paper tiger” on this blog, that NoKo is a puppet of *both* the US and the PRC, and is used as a proxy by *both* Nations.

        This is one of the most fantastic theories I’ve come across, and certainly does tell a lot about you, and your thought process (if the noisy signals emanating from your brain which appears to be undergoing fission may be ascribed such a quality). So kindly pipe down, stop sniffing whatever it is you are, and behave yourself on this blog and elsewhere. Try to allow people to be seemingly polite with you, at least on sympathetic ground and pity for you,

      • RK Anuj says:

        LOL, now you got me!! Good for you, amazing harangue. I am honoured.

  4. satyaki says:

    @RV, @Anuj: While at the end of the day, we do need to test an Agni-5/Agni-6 with an MIRVed payload, one should not dismiss the test of the guidance on a PSLV (if it has indeed happened) as a gimmick that sends a message to others that we do not have the stomach for the real thing. After all, given that we are a nuclear power now, why would we test such a guidance system unless we eventually intend deploying MIRVs ? Also, given that there was no opprobium after the Agni-5 test, one can expect that there will be no opprobium after we test an MIRVed missile in the Agni-5/slightly larger category (outside some whining non-proliferation ayatollah circles : but they are more interested in NoKo these days). Therefore, such a test will not require any extra “stomach”.

    The test of an Agni-V type guidance system on the PSLV would indeed serve to reduce the risk that a missile test with an MIRVed section would suffer any failure. Success from the first test onwards also enables quicker deployment.

    • RK Anuj says:

      Well said.

    • RV says:

      @stayaki: What you say is well taken. However, a guidance system performs a lot more tasks than dispersal of MIRV’s. The said system, which is a very sophisticated one, has been flight tested only once on the A-V, and even then, not to its full capacity and flight profile envelope. The tests like that ostensibly performed on the PSLV, need to be done either parallel to A-V tests, or later down the line. Testing the A-V guidance system (or certain portions/functionalities of it) on the PSLV is no substitute to testing it on the vehicle it is designed/meant to operate. There are certain critical parameters that vary.

  5. satyaki says:

    @RV: I already said very clearly that we need to finally test the A-V/A-VI with MIRVs. What this kind of testing does is, as I mentioned, to reduce any risks of failure. It is standard practice in Russia and China. China often used the CZ-1D to test parts of the DF-31/31A. The warheads sections of many missiles such as the R-29RM, R-39, RS-24 and Bulava appear to have been tested on a variant of the Kosmos-3M SLV (check Russian wikipedia pages on these using google translate).

    • RV says:

      @satyaki: True and well said. However, you may also want to check up as to what part of the DF-31/-31A’s development phase were its subsystems tested on the Changzheng 1D (CZ-1D). The same holds true for slew of Russian vehicles tested on the Kosmos. In this regard do note that the CZ-1D launch vehicle was based on a specially modified DF-4, which was used as a test vehicle for suborbital tests of the DF-31 re-entry vehicle. Though it was stated it would/could also be used to economically launch satellites, this aspect has known to have been employed and/or fully utilized for whatever reasons.

      Testing the A-V/A-VI subsystems on the PSLV *may* to some extent reduce the risks of failure in the delivery of MIRV’s. OTOH, not only does the flight profile of the PSLV differ from that of the A-V/A-VI, one of the less talked about features of the A-V is the digitally connected multi-channel communications for the control system, which enables reducing a lot of the cabling and thus the weight. The PSLV does not possess this feature. There are various stages where the said guidance system may encounter a “glitch”. Thus, the SoC guidance system on the A-V needs to be thoroughly calibrated with the other critical sub-systems (one of them mentioned above), and a proper sensitivity analysis done. This requires more A-V tests.

      My *guess* is that the A-V subsystems *may* have been “piggybacked” onto the PSLVs regular guidance system, to test a certain functionality, if indeed it was ostensibly employed on the C20. Finally, do note that in my post I have explicitly stated that these PSLV tests need to be done in parallel with A-V tests or at a later stage. I’ve never stated that they shouldn’t be done at all. With the second fight test of the A-V being long overdue, and the available data limited to a single test with a curtailed flight envelope, the PSLV tests are certainly no substitute to testing the said vehicle.

      I believe any and all opportunities should be taken to test sub-systems, but not at the expense of throttling the main system. After all, many critical sub-systems on some of the more modern vehicles in the Indian stable, were tested on the venerable Prithvi!

  6. RV says:


    The sentence in the above post should read:

    “With the second fight test of the A-V being long overdue, and the available data limited to a single test with a curtailed flight PROFILE, the PSLV tests are certainly no substitute to testing the said vehicle….”

  7. xxx says:

    Hey guys, SOC was never tested on AGNI V

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