Another K-4 testfiring soon but Kasturirangam metric poses danger

Preparations are afoot for the fourth test launch soon, and second from a submerged Arihant SSBN, of the K-4 missile. The first two firings were from an anchored underwater pontoon.

While this is good, the restricted number of launches planned from submerged submarines imperil the thorough training of submarine crews and the testing of the capacity of the vessels to instantaneously fill the ballast tanks to buffer the recoil from the launch. The international standard is upwards of 15-20 test launches at a minimum to get everything right in terms of not just ensuring that the technical mechanisms work properly but the crewmen — two crews to a submarine — know just what each of them has to do, how to do it, and, most importantly, to hone their firing drill and reduce the launch sequence and time taken to less than ten minutes. This sort of rigorous training requires repeated tests of missiles from submerged boats.

In previous posts, I have questioned the tendency of the government to minimize the test firings of every type of ballistic and cruise missile before its induction.  When the K Kasturirangan Committee established the metric a decade back of three successful test firings before missile induction, it was essentially an economizing measure. Whether this standard should still hold at a time when the strategic milieu daily grows more tense is a thing to ponder, as also the effects of such pusillanimity in terms of the quality of strategic/conventional military preparedness.

This kind of thinking has already affected the credibility of the Agni-5 5,500 km missile, which has yet to be launched to its full range. So far the A-5 has been fired four times, all at depressed trajectories.  Until the IRBM is seen to reach its advertized distance and to successfully achieve its fabled accuracy, there’ll always be a question mark around its performance, and India’s nuclear deterrence will have to be a matter of faith, not evidence. China and anybody else would not be wrong in taking Delhi’s claims of securing the wherewithal for strategic deterrence with a ton of salt.

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.
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23 Responses to Another K-4 testfiring soon but Kasturirangam metric poses danger

  1. GhalibKabir says:

    A very reasonable thing to be saying. The K-4 needs to be fired a few times to full range from submerged Arihant to get valuable training for crews besides gaining credibility.

    Ideally if as the Chinese claim the A5 can indeed reach 8,000 km then we need to test fire it to its full range and also demonstrate MIRV capability and ASAT capability at the earliest.

    BKji, what do you think prevents India from testing full range for say half a dozen times? I can only put it down to will power rather than capability. Also does the K-4 Mk2 exist in reality?

    • Lack of political will is THE problem; has always been. Re: Mk-II — perhaps, it is covered by “K-4”.

      • GhalibKabir says:

        Following up quickly BK ji, what is the status of our MIRV capability? Stimson Center’s Michael Krepon says it is something still in progress and attributes lack of political vision and also engineering mastery of the process as primary factors.

        Political vision, I agree totally. But engineering mastery? I think Indian skills in this area should not be that bad.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        Krepon is wrong. There is no skill shortage in this area.

  2. There are some details of the Indian MIRV capability in my 2008 book — India’s Nuclear Policy. As mentioned in an earlier post a prototype has been on the shelf since the early 2000s awaiting a green signal from GOI for testing!

  3. andy says:

    All GOIs manoeuvres regarding enhancing Indias strategic capabilities in terms of testing delivery systems as well as weapons development fill one with a deep sense of de ja vu.Starting with Nehru who delayed nuclear testing, losing the nation a decade till the first test in 1974, by which time the overtly nuclear countries had formed a cosy little clique resulting in India becoming a nuclear pariah and the perinneal outsider as far as nuclear weapons and their delivery systems were concerned.This status is only now gradually changing but what should have been Indias by right has become an uphill task with China contesting each and every move that India makes to break into the NSG.

    The self imposed moratorium on weapons testing since 1998 has crippled the credibility of any deterrance value that Indias nuclear weapons might have had,after all a fire cracker cannot deter an adversary who has mega ton bombs in his arsenal.The delivery systems have also suffered the same fate,with GOI going ahead with testing only in fits and starts, not honing their capabilities through repeated testing and quick induction into the SFC.Such procrastination in the face of implacable nuclear armed adversaries like China and its stooge Pakistan doesnt do Indias nuclear deterrance any favours.This lack of urgency on GOIs part is partly due to pressure by the USA,although how they benefit by limiting Indias nuclear programme is beyond comprehension.Professing an enduring security partnership with India, while at the same time trying to limit its nuclear weapons capabilities which can enhance Indias security in a tough neighbourhood is a contradiction only the Americans can justify.

    • GhalibKabir says:

      @andy, all valid points. Nehru’s idealism and false utopian view have pegged India back to a point where we are being lectured by an arch proliferator, thug, bully like China on nuclear responsibility. That man should have taken back PoK in 1948 and not twiddled his thumbs from 1949 till 1959 when China was busy occupying Tibet and Aksai Chin.

      Interesting view on the US too. However, given the circumstances I think Indian foreign policy has not done badly. esp. the balancing of relations with the US and Russia (Russia we need to take care a bit more though). I have a different view on US vis a vis N-Bomb, I think the US does not care for India’s nuclear capability any more given what it sees as reasonable overlapping interests. That said, We should not embrace them for many reasons incl. the political interference US embrace begets in any nation over time.

      India should try to be a France as much as possible. French (and Israeli help) is more than adequate for us in the military whether it is the SSN or Aircraft development. I fail to see what LM or Boeing would give that Sukhoi Corp and Dassault/Safran did not give in 30+ years. Parrikar should have given Tejas national priority and spared no cost to get the Tejas Mk.2 full spec with IRST etc into service by 2021. A 300-400 Tejas buy would have given India a big boost in gaining more strategic autonomy. Whether it is the Apache buy or F-16 MII…it is completely unclear what purpose it serves except $ spent.

      • andy says:

        @Ghalibkabir
        Indias nuclear program cannot be held hostage by anyone else,be it the US or China.The Chinook and Apache procurement as well as the ULH are supposed to be China specific.One factor why the US seeks to restrain Indias nuclear program could be that they want a piece of the action in conventional arms sales as India splurges billions of dollars in importing weapons systems, this build up could probably be curtailed a bit if the deterrent value of Indias nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are at par with China.

        As for your take on the Tejas I concur,the only way Indian military will lose their interest in buying fancy foreign stuff is to have a robust indigenous arms industry.Time and again it has been proved that once the import options are nullified the military gets down to backing indegenous arms development, the most recent examples are the Dhanush and ATAGS artillery guns,due to various reasons the import of artillery guns has not happened so now the Indian army is happy to induct these guns.

        As long as there are import options the military is a reluctant backer of indegenous arms.Some estimates say that more than 70% of arms development efforts have been systematically run down by the military, firstly by putting out fantastic SQRs,then making changes midway through the process and sometimes by outright sabotage (Arjun tank is an example). How the Tejas survived this rigmarole is actually a miracle of sorts.

  4. However, amidst this buzz about the so-called “friends of the Kremlin,” few in Russia are paying attention to one obvious, if important, problem: A really great power is supposed to be self-sufficient and not rely on political changes and new leaders in other countries. A really strong and successful nation should not really care about the future presidents of France, the U.S. or any other nation. Furthermore, for a great power, there is no reason to have a strong view on the Senate hearings of the future members of the Trump administration.

  5. Karnad sir, Please explain America, China and Israel nexus.

  6. A really great power is supposed to be self-sufficient and not rely on political changes and new leaders in other countries. A really strong and successful nation should not really care about the future presidents of France, the U.S. or any other nation.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      Sir, you need to take an appointment with Narubhai Chaiwala bin Tughlaq and enlighten him over a tea session with these nuances that a strong country needs to observe. However, have you ever wondered whether your wise pronouncements apply to Nations that are determined and dedicated to become/remain Banana Republics?

  7. Obama compounded India’s regional security challenges, both by emboldening China through his meekness toward Beijing and by bolstering China’s ‘contain India through Pakistan’ strategy. While refusing to take sides in the China-India territorial disputes, the Obama administration actually strengthened China’s strategy to box in India by extending munificent US aid to Pakistan, thus encouraging that country to continue to sponsor cross-border terrorism with impunity.
    January 20, 2017, Brahma Chellaney

    • &^%$#@! says:

      1. There’s nothing much that Obama could have done to “contain China”, as you have suggested.
      2. The policy you have described is the official US policy till date.

  8. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    1) What is the max. range of the K-4 (including the “Mk-II” variant) ? Is it about 5000 km ?

    2) Is the K-4 MIRV capable ? MIRV’s are especially needed for SLBMs given their limited numbers.

  9. apna says:

    Agni and other missiles were limited to reduced range to please British and the Americans — the very people against whom we Indians need deterrence in the first place. But we Indians are too deluded to realise that.

  10. apna says:

    Narendra modi now bribes the USA in the form of decision to buy spy infested american junk weaponary costing billions of dollars without any tender.

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