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!