Get on with testing A-5 and the on-shelf MIRV tech: No lame excuses please!

Yesterday I was asked by the New Indian Express for my reaction to DRDO Chief Dr S Christopher’s reasons for the repeated postponement of the Agni-5 launch originally slated for 2015 Fall as not political but technical, specifically a “snag” in the battery! The report is accessible at:

The news story did not, however carry my quote in full, cutting out some pertinent facts. So here it is:
“This seems a lame excuse by the DRDO Chief. The Agni-5 test was
originally slated for sometime in Autumn 2015,which has been postponed
a couple of times already. Is it Dr Christopher’s contention that the
supposed battery “snag” — a relatively trivial problem compared to
what can go wrong in a complex IRBM system — is of so grievous a
nature that ASL, Hyderabad, has been unable to fix it over the past
nine months? Actually, it confirms the suspicion that the A-5
testing has been stalled for political reasons, to avoid friction with
the US. But now that membership in MTCR has been secured, perhaps,
time is now to remind the US, China, and the world what India has in
its missile quiver with a series of A-5 tests, including to extreme
range of 8,500 kms.”

Trouble is the Modi government continues in the policy pattern set by the predecessor Manmohan Singh regime of being over-sensitive to Washington, always worried about what the US would do if New Delhi did this or that, until now when policy is into doing nothing, hamstrung between the uncertainties at the MEA and MOD ends buttressed by the PMO.

The reason why GOI held off on testing the Agni-5 was the Missile Technology Control Regime, fearful that it would rub the Obama Administration the wrong way, and lead to the US scuppering India’s chances of gaining entry into this technology-denial regime. So much can be deduced from the events leading up to the formal membership in MTCR and since.

However, have consistently opposed India’s seeking entry into MTCR because the country has now lost an extraordinarily disruptive leverage of upsetting the whole missile tech denial apple cart, to impose its will on other matters of import in international forums. India as member of MTCR cannot hereafter export ballistic missiles — India’s strongest strategic suite, of 300km+ range. China has been denied MTCR entry, which it first applied for 12 years ago, because of its proliferation record. But do you think Beijing will do other than force an entry soon by threatening (and carrying out the threat) the transfer of ever more potent MRBM/IRBM technologies to Pakistan via North Korea? Wait and watch.

Of course, New Delhi has always been too lack-lustre and apprehensive, chicken-hearted really, to ever do anything similar — elbowing aside resistance by promising to do worse against the West-dominated global order. Modi, like the other recent PMs, wants to get along to go along with mainly the US and the West, w/o any independent vision for the country as driver of policy, plans, and strategy.

Even so, there’s something the Modi govt will have to gird up its loins to do. With India in MTCR, and assuming the PM is serious about showing Beijing what is what, he should remove all testing constraints on the Agni-5 so a rapid series of test-firings can happen, some to its max range of 8,500 kms. Modi should also immediately sanction the testing of the MIRV technology that’s been withering away on the shelves of the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad — the progenitors of the Agni missiles, since the early 2000s (detailed in my 2008 book — ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’). With MIRVed warheads, the A-5 can actually extend its reach to ICBM range, something the Chinese have feared, whence their dubbing the A-5 an ICBM!

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 arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Technology transfer, United States, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Get on with testing A-5 and the on-shelf MIRV tech: No lame excuses please!

  1. Excellent comment and most appropriate. Is A-5’s max range 8500km ? Wow!

  2. SANKET says:

    I agree with you Mr Karnad. India needs to start testing ICBMs. We cannot allow the US or any country to veto policies which are in our national interest. Do you think time has come for review of our no first use nuclear doctrine to a ” first use doctrine” which will send a strong message to China. Also ,what are your opinions about India conducting an ” anti satellite test?” Won’t this show our technological and military advancement to international community, particularly US and China?

    • Sanket@ – Well, as I have been arguing since my days on the N-doctrine drafting group days and in my books, especially ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’ — NFU is not practical in real war situations and a hindrance in peace time, and generally a liability. In my latest book, ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ have detailed the credible use of the ballistic missile defence less for area defence than as an anti-satellite weapon to knock out Chinese satellites in low earth orbits (as part of the Beidou constellation/system).

  3. andy says:

    If there’s one thing that gets China’s goat it’s India conducting tests of the Agni 5 which can easily reach downtown Beijing, as illustrated by the following comment in chinese state run media following the 2012 test firing of A5.

    “India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China,” stated The Global Times.


    As Bharat karnad reccomends, a whole series of A5 missile tests are due, including with MIRV warheads to show Beijing what is what.

  4. &^%$#@! says:

    Modi’s suppression of the A5 and further missile developments, in the alleged cause of attempting to gain membership in “clubs” India has no need to be a part of, and for a “pat on the head” from his masters for being a good “House Negro” to the US is a very serious matter. If I may venture to say, such activities could be construed as constituting treason. In these activities, Modi’s advisers such as S. Jaishankar are also culpable. It does appear that the bad apple has not fallen far from the rotten tree.

  5. &^%$#@! says:

    One hopes that the slaps meted out to Modi, in a very short space of time by the US Senate and the NSG, respectively have put some senses in his head. Modi needs to remain largely at home, and keep his promises to the Indian people. One does not earn respect by subverting ones own countries strategic strength, merely for the opportunity of being feted in foreign capitals. The much touted Make in India initiative has turned out to be a farce, with absolutely no incentive given to the Indian private sector in the defense sector. Modi needs to realize that that sloganeering and cheap gimmicks do not constitute good governance. When it comes to misplaced priorities, bogus and vacuous agendas, and lost opportunities, there seems to be much in common between Modi and the trio of Yeltsin, Nehru, and RG-1.

  6. Vignesh B says:

    I must agree with New Delhi, some time politics should be allowed to reschedule such timing, after all its not cancellation..just postponement. Had we delayed 1998 N test by about 4-5 years, IAF would have had 2+ sqdn of Tejas.

    • Vignesh@ — Don’t kid yourself. GOI has never shown the spine to stand up for the national interest unless there was backup (the Soviet Union in 1971). Recall that no govt after Indira Gandhi’s which stopped tests after the first one in 1974 wanted to be at the receiving end of the Western pressure on nonproliferation. Even Vajpayee backed down from further testing even when informed the S-1 fusion test was a dud.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Vignesh: Get real!

  7. andy says:

    @Bharat Karnad
    A couple of questions on the pokhran 2 nuclear tests maybe you could clear the ambiguity surrounding the various claims and counter claims.
    What was the effective yeild of the S1 test in 1998?
    It’s stated objective was 45kt and India claims to have achieved the same ,but the American scientific community States that the effective yeild was between 29kt to 35kt.Who is lying and why?

    • Look too much for me to keep going over the same thing. Discussed in very great detail in my tome ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist foundations of Strategy’ in its 2nd edition [2005, 2002]. Or look up my earlier posts on the subject. Tks.

  8. andy says:

    Will read it ASAP!

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