Price of angering the Bear, & the A-5 decision

The proverbial “well-placed” source informs me that the Indian Embassy in Moscow has been told by the foreign affairs cell of the Russian defence ministry that, given the close military communications interlinks the Narendra Modi government is seriously considering signing with the United States vide the prospective CISMOA (Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement), Kremlin will not be able to risk continued high-level strategic military cooperation with India. Such warnings have been issued in the past. (See, for instance,;, et al)

But now, it seems, the Putin regime is serious. It anticipates that the Modi government will compound the problem caused for Russia by LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) that, as has been argued here will substantively compromise India’s sovereignty (see, by now also accepting the CISMOA.

Moscow has indicated in no uncertain terms that, because India’s generally third world communications infrastructure precludes “selective sharing” of communications, meaning a system with separately operable digital streams that cannot be breached, it will be foolhardy to cooperate and collaborate on advanced military technology programmes and underway projects.

For a start, this about pays put to upgrading the IAF’s Su-30MKI fleet of some 272 aircraft to the “Super Sukhoi” standard. FGFA is of course out, even assuming the government sees merit in keeping the Russians engaged with this project, something that may not suit the IAF, which is apparently keen on going fully Western with the French Rafale — an aircraft of the same 4.5 generational category as the indigenous Tejas LCA, and the antiquated US F-16s (as is the Indian Navy with F-18s of like vintage). It is another matter, as elucidated in an earlier blog, that these buys are at the expense of the Tejas and Su-30 MKIs — with the Modi govt prizing “diversification” of supply sources more than economic or operational sense.

But even more, INS Chakra-Akula SSN on lease may be recalled by Russia on the basis that its own navy is in need of it for Atlantic patrols, and the second Akula-II (Iribis) that was on the table also for lease to the Indian Navy, logically, will stand withdrawn. How the India Navy will then manage to deter the Chinese Navy from growing its presence in the Indian Ocean, is hard to fathom.

Worse still, the Russian participation in the Arihant-class SSBN construction programme underway in the special nuclear-powered submarine building facility in Vizag too may be terminated. That it will hurt the production of the 2nd and the 3rd Arihant-class boats is not in doubt. The question is to what extent and with what effect?

Any chance the US — our new found “strategic partner” of choice — will help out? Not the remotest chance, considering it has not shared nuclear sub building expertise and techniques with its closest ally, the United Kingdom, forcing the Royal Navy to build its own Vanguard-class SSBNs armed albeit with the US Poseidon SLBMs.

India will soon discover that, to paraphrase an old American TV ad about not fooling ‘Mother Nature’, it is not nice to rile Papa Bear!
On strategic issues, the Modi government’s decision to test fire a second canisterised Agni-5 is only spoiled by the authorities describing it to a phenomenally illiterate Press/media as an “ICBM”. Whatever else it is A-5 is NOT an intercontinetal-range ballistic missile. What it is is an IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) able to carry a warhead 8,000 kms. The ICBM appellation for the A-5 is a Chinese ploy to prompt the usual complacency in GOI and the Indian military, ‘coz genuine ICBM range is 12,000 kms.

However, should the A-5 payload constitute MIRVs (multiple independently-targetable vehicles) then the farthest MIRV-ed N-warhead would still be slightly outside the ICBM envelope. Except the Indian MIRV design and prototype has been on the shelf collecting the metaphorical dust for some 15 years now awaiting from New Delhi the green-signal for rapid development and testing (the change from Manmohan Singh to Modi at the helm making no difference whatsoever). So, if PM Modi and defmin Manohar Parrikar want to retain a semblance of credibility for their A-5 “ICBM”, they better immediately approve accelerated development and testing of the indigenous MIRV technology to extend A-5’s reach rather than, as is usual, boast of some weapon as something which it manifestly is not.

Further, news reports suggest that the A-5 “ICBM” post-second testfiring will be inducted into the Strategic Forces Command. The induction decision, however, presumes the second test on the anvil of the canisterised A-5 will be fully successful and that it will be fired to its extreme range, which is the only reasonable way to validate the fact that it can actually reach its stated range and perform as IRBM. Another testfiring, like the first one on January 30, 2015, on a depressed trajectory won’t do.

Besides, canisterised A-5 is a different type compared to the mobile Tatra truck borne TEL (transporter-erector-launcher) system which, so far, has had two tests. So a third test-firing is mandated of the TEL A-5 as per the Kasturirangan principle, again to extreme range. Because so far no A-5 IRBM — TEL or canister, has been physically validated as hitting a target at the far end of its stated range.

Secondly, induction of a missile after only two testfirings ignores the cost-related standard recommended by the R Kasturirangan Committee, which requires three successive tests of a missile-type to be successful before it is inducted into SFC. Indeed, it will inspire a great deal of confidence in the canister-borne A-5 if it is in fact fired to 8,000kms in terms of impacting our main adversary, China’s thinking, especially if the Chinese can see and track the A-5 from liftoff to splashdown deep in the southern Indian Ocean. Short of such openly verified capability, the A-5 — India’s most potent missile will be as hobbled, perceptions-wise (and perception is what nuclear deterrence is predicated on) as the “thermonuclear” arsenal India supposedly possesses. Based on the one test of a fusion device which was a “fizzle” (S-1 in 1998 tests) and without the resumption of open-ended testing, proven high-yield fusion weapons in the Indian inventory are, for all intents and purposes, no good.

The A-5 induction controversy was unfortunately seeded by the former DRDO head Dr Avinash Chander who, after the firing of the first canisterised Agni-5 in January 2015 was quoted by the press as saying “One more test-firing of the Agni-V is required. After that, the objective is to begin induction by end of this year if possible.” ( See Not clear why he thought only two test launches are enough to certify a missile type as operational in violation of the Kasturirangan standard. In any case, the Modi government seems to have cottoned on to his conclusion. But surely if the GOI desires not to have a question mark hang around the A-5 and means to enhance its credibility, it will do as suggested here — test fire the canisterised and TEL A-5s to near about 8,000 kms.

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, civil-military relations, Cyber & Space, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Price of angering the Bear, & the A-5 decision

  1. Rituraj Rao says:

    Bharat, Are you on twitter?

  2. India and Russia must adapt to changing times By M K Bhadrakumar – November 30, 2016

    The Russian public diplomacy has become media savvy, compared to the crudeness in the Soviet era. The latest statement by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow is a gem, making a valiant attempt at damage control when word leaked out that Russia is showing interest in Gwadar Port and in using the infrastructure of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

    Juxtapose the Pakistani (and Russian) media reports – here, here, and here – with the official Russian press release. Simply put, the Russian drafting and play with words is superb. The press release neatly sidesteps the main issue. The point is, the real issue is not about Russia ‘joining’ the CPEC – although Pakistani reports cited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as ‘welcoming’ the Russian decision to join the CPEC. How can anyone think of Russia ‘joining’ a Chinese investment project? The CPEC is being built with Chinese money and unless Russia has money to invest in Pakistan, how can it ‘join’ this mammoth $46 billion initiative? Besides, it is not enough if Russia holds ‘secret talks’ with Pakistan for ‘joining’ the CPEC. The FO in Moscow is spot on.

    But then, the thrust of the Pakistani reports was on something else –Russian ships using Gwadar Port. The reports said Pakistan approves of the Russian intention to use Gwadar. Interestingly, however, the press release doesn’t say a word on that issue. Again, the Pakistani reports disclosed a visit to Gwadar in November by the Russian spy chief Alexander Bortnikov, who heads the Federal Security Services (successor to the KGB). Now, why should a spy chief from a superpower visit Gwadar? Here too, Russian press release doesn’t say a word.

    On the other hand, the press release blandly maintains that Russian-Pakistani economic and trade cooperation is a bilateral matter and that Moscow intends its “further strengthening”. Now, that is a statement of fact, and the FO is absolutely correct. Ironically, that is also what the Pakistani press reports essentially sought to convey.

    Moscow waded into similar public diplomacy once earlier also recently when the FO maintained that Baltistan was not a location for the Russian-Pakistan military exercise in October. Whereas, Russian Ministry of Defence did initially announce Baltistan, only to abandon the idea fearing Indian displeasure.

    The problem with such sophistry is that in the long run it erodes the credibility of Russian statements. As the saying goes, it may be possible to deceive some uninformed people for some time, but it is not going to work in the long run.

    Clearly, regional politics is in flux and new alignments are taking place. Russia and India have a growing need to adjust to the new realities. Shoving the realities under the carpet will not make then go away. The bottom line is that India is moving closer and closer to the US by the day, while Russia is crossing swords with the US. There is a contradiction appearing here, which cannot be ignored much longer.

    Russia’s dilemma appears to be that India is a milch cow, which generates lucrative business, while Pakistan on the other hand happens to be a serious geopolitical partner . The Russian business interests are under no imminent threat in India until and unless Washington showed willingness to share high technology with India in the military field, and the American vendor of nuclear reactors actually opened shop in the Indian market. But that is a matter of time.

    On the other hand, Russia’s entente with China makes India uneasy. Given the heavy dependence on Russian weaponry, India learns to live with the reality of the Sino-Russian relationship in the new context. A normalization between India and China is not on the cards under the present Indian government. In fact, things may get worse if India and Japan embrace each other tightly. (By the way, Russia also has a problematic relationship with Japan.)

    Meanwhile, Russia needs Pakistan’s cooperation to strengthen regional security, whereas India wants to ‘isolate’ Pakistan as a Pariah state. One sincerely hopes that Russian diplomacy can cope with the challenge of making money in the Indian market and playing the great game with the Pakistani generals. After all, Russia is doing splendidly well in the West Asian quicksands – partnering with Iran, Hezbollah and the Israelis at the same time. If wishes had wings, Indian elites would have liked a US-India-Japan-Russia alliance against China in the Asia-Pacific!

    Quite obviously, transparency in mutual dealings between India and Russia is becoming more important than ever. To what extent a strategic dialogue is taking place between the two countries is hard to judge. Russia’s own experience should show that greater transparency in its dealings with the West in the recent years might have prevented the breakdown in trust. Trust lost is difficult to regain.

    The crunch times comes for all of Russia’s friends in the region — China and India, in particular — if and when Donald Trump decides on a bromance with Vladimir Putin. India will be happy if they can sort out the Russian-American tensions. But there is no certainty as to which way the wind will blow. At any rate, Chinese media already displays much angst. (Global Times, People’s Daily)

  3. raj says:

    in a way its good. since the russkies will cut us off and the yanks wont share sensitive technology, india will be forced to look inwards for its defence needs. it begs the question though, can the russian military industrial complex afford to lose its largest client? im not so sure…

    • True, any development that will compel India to rely on itself, even if as last resort, is a welcome thing. Pakistan may not be able to replace India as volume and value buyer, but there’ll be no end of trouble if both Russia and China begin treating our western neighbour as their anchor in the region, as is quite possible. To wit, the recent high-level Russo-Pak defence talks.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Can’t be that confident. There are enough people within India who will beg for SKD/CKD manufacturing of some obsolete US equipment and sell that to India as ‘The Grand Indian Stake in the Global Supply Chain’ of something or the other.

      • Yes. Spot on. We can always trust our decision makers to starve local R&D in favour of financing foreign R&D.

        It comes with an inferiority complex and lack of confidence on own creativity. Something which large number of Indian suffer to varying degree…

      • The “global supply chain” argument is precisely how the “Make in India” production of the F-16 and F-18 is being pushed.

  4. Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj
    This is a masterly example of obfuscation. Chinese analysts have speculated that the range of the Agni-V exceeds 8,000km and that India is understating the missile’s range deliberately. This assertion has found some support with Indian analysts such as Dr Bharat Karnad agreeing with the estimation and urging India to conduct a full-range test.

  5. J Kant says:

    Moscow has indicated in no uncertain terms that, because India’s generally third world communications infrastructure precludes “selective sharing” of communications, meaning a system with separately operable digital streams that cannot be breached, it will be foolhardy to cooperate and collaborate on advanced military technology programmes and underway projects.

    A nonsensical argument by ‘Moscow’. The COMCASA is a communication agreement. The only affect it may have is on older obsolescent Russian systems operated by India; TKS-2 on the Su-30MKI, radios on the T-90 and so on, all which are being phased out.

    So the idea that this would, for example, be a barrier to the Super Sukhoi upgrade is absurd for the simple reason that the ‘Super Sukhoi’ won’t operate Russian comms and will instead be equipped with

    i) Operational Data Link module from IAI-BEL,
    ii) Software defined radios from Rockwell Collins-TATA SED
    iii) SATCOM module from Avantel
    iv) IFF modules from BEL

    Same goes for the FGFA. If its to operate within an Indian C4I network, it’ll need to be equipped with Indian comms.

    No Russian tech is being compromised. Period. They may have whatever political concerns but there are no technical grounds for them to cease business with India.

    • J Kant@ — even if all you say is conceded, the sale of major weapons platforms, such as FGFA, to this or that country is ultimately a political, not commercial, decision dictated by geopolitical/geostrategic calculations. With India tilting to the West, Moscow would have to wonder about the gains from carrying on business as usual. This is where there’s every possibility and danger of Russia’s interests converging with China’s in propping up Pakistan — a neat inversion, as it were, of the Cold War paradigm for South Asia. Given the US’ all or nothing attitude, doubt whether New Delhi will be permitted to enjoy its traditional maneuvering space in foreign policy and, in practical sense, will be afforded access to military technology of the level India enjoyed with Russia. A straw in the wind is the recent turning down by the US Congress of NATO-like strategic partner designation for India.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      If ignorance is bliss, then India is paradise!

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