China test fired a MIRV-ed missile with ten warheads, attaining the advanced US level of warhead miniaturization. While the Chinese have had trouble with their multiple independently targetable vehicle (MIRV) technology, especially the guidance aspects, it wasn’t expected that they would overcome the technical problems so fast and so well. Essentially, this means the Second Artillery Strategic Forces (SASF) have nuclear/thermonuclear warheads clocking in at around 100 kg weight. This is an astounding achievement.
This’d enable SASF to stay with relatively small numbers of fission/fusion warheaded missiles while multiplying the strike capability many times over, allowing for a very big potential augmentation as it starts adding to the missile holdings. This development is in sync with the holistic Chinese concept of “credible deterrence” involving parity or superiority vis a vis the strongest adversary in all security-related areas — conventional, nuclear, space, and cyber/information.
With such miniaturized warheads, there is every likelihood of SASF retrofitting all missiles in its inventory with the MIRV technology, loading each system with as many warheads as the nose cone geometries of the various missiles permit. India will then be looking at multiples of the current lot of short range and medium range ballistic missiles emplaced on the Tibetan plateau which now total between 300 and 500 units. Even a small fraction of such a force will be able to saturate and defeat the multi-layered Indian missile defence, configured around the interlinked Prithvi AD, Ashvini Advanced AD, and S-400 AD systems slaved to the Green Pines/Swordfish long range tracking radar.
If the Indian government has strategic sense, however little, it would at once see the Chinese MIRVs as compounding and complicating a simplistic Indian, already fraught, deterrence posture and, instead of buying useless high-priced hardware, such as the Rafale combat aircraft, it would invest in concurrent development and induction of the most modern missile in the Indian arsenal, Agni-5, approve immediate test-firing of the ASL, Hyderabad, designed and developed MIRV technology collecting dust — let me remind you for the last decade and more, retrofit the older long range Agni’s with the proven A-5 innovations like the System (or guidance)-on-chip (for terminal accuracy even at extreme range), and prepare to resume testing of high yield hydrogen warheads to close the gap in the strategic wherewithal with regard to China that is widening at an alarming pace.
Then again, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be inclined to do nothing in the strategic sphere to mar the prospects of an early audience with the US President Donald J Trump in Washington. Even the Pakistani test this past week of a MIRVed missile (with three warhead capacity — the technology being transferred to it whole by China) being not enough of a goad.