Ever since April 19th, when India claimed it had successfully test fired its AGNI-V missile from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha state in eastern India, the arms race in Asia has drawn international attention for many reasons.
The Islamic republic of Pakistan, which fought three and a half wars with India, responded with five nuclear-capable missile tests within several weeks. Because Pakistan has already achieved enough delivery capability for a nuclear strike in any part of India, the tests were just saber-rattling of little strategic significance.
Quite notably, AGNI-V, with its 5000-plus kilometer range,has been viewed as “China centric;” capable of reaching Beijing and Shanghai along with the Chinese financial hub concentrated in its northeast. Indian officials called it a “game changer” in characterizing the success of their first ICMB. The Chinese media, voiced in English by The Global Times was cautious and conscious in responding to the AGNI-V test, stating that India lags far behind China in its military potential. On the other hand, Chinese strategists and top scientists alleged that the Indian missile had a range of more than 8000 kilometers, but had been downplayed by India under NATO pressure.
It is rumored AGNI-V will be equipped with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) by 2014, but given India’s track record in the timely delivery of indigenous defense armaments, this is an unlikely scenario. In light of India’s successful placement of a record number of satellites into orbit atop a single missile, the country probably does have the necessary technology for MIRVs. But India’s complicated, politics-ridden bureaucratic system, oxymoronically blessed by democracy, is obviously a hindrance to achieving this.
The Global Times was right in assessing India’s military imbalance vs China’s. China successfully tested its first nuclear device in 1964, and detonated its first thermonuclear device just thirty two months later, in 1967; an unbeatable record. In contrast, India’s assertion of the status of its H- bomb with a yield of 45 KT, which she claimed to have imploded in 1998, twenty four years after its first nuclear explosion of 1974, is incredible. India’s ability for nuclear weapon simulation with the data available from just six nuclear detonations is questionable, whereas China has tested their nuclear weapons into perfection.
In terms of delivery platforms, India is in an even more miserable position. China has a credible, well tested and operational series of missiles, from SRBMs to IRBMs to ICBMs to SLBMs. On the other hand, India’s Defense Research and Development organization (DRDO) can be compared to any other public sector unit (PSU) of India in terms of as its efficiency, technology and capability of timely delivery are concerned.
In a report to the Indian parliament, the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) of India was of the opinion that only 48 percent of the Indian Navy’s submarines in active service were fully operational and the CAG was of the observation that China possessed 16 nuclear powered submarines compared to India’s none.
Even regarding the yet to be launched submarine INS Arihant, despite Russian help, DRDO in collaboration with the Indian nuclear establishment, took decades to design, develop and deliver a reliable ballistic missile submarine (SLBM); considered to be a crucial third leg of the nuclear triad for a credible second strike capability.
In addition to the depressing track record of DRDO, now it looks like India is planning to import weapons, from rifles to main battle tanks to fighter aircraft. It is obvious, as the Chinese have observed, that India will be in trouble if the countries from which these weapons are imported block the supply of spare parts in case of a war. After all, importing missiles is impractical as the missile technology control regime (MTCR) prevents even those countries with missile expertise from selling them to India without their authorization. Even Russia, India’s closest ally, is only willing to lease (but not sell) SLBMS to India with the understanding they will not be used in war.
The United States and its NATO allies were almost indifferent in their response to India’s entry into the elite club of countries possessing ICBM capability. There are three reasons behind such an apathetic response to an Indian missile test from those countries which took a similar attempt by North Korea so seriously, even though N Korea claimed they were only launching an observation satellite.
Firstly, unlike during the cold war era, the US and its western allies no longer consider India a foe. In the new global order, India is regarded as friendly. Whether along strategic, diplomatic or ideological lines, they do not foresee a situation where India becomes a rival. Even after the Indian establishment declared that another ICBM, with a 1000-plus Km range was under development, NATO members were silent, ignoring even the fact that the so-called AGNI-VI would be capable of hitting all of Eurasia, Africa, and parts of Oceania and northern North America.
Secondly, the hidden agenda of China containment policy; despite the Chinese affirmation of peaceful growth, the world is suspicious of its true intentions for its burgeoning economy, growing defense expenditure, military buildup and its aggressive posture towards its neighbors such as India, Japan, Taiwan and even friendly Vietnam and even superpowers like the US and Russia. China’s intentions can be better exemplified by the diplomatic row over the South China sea. It is no longer a secret that a quadrilateral group of US, Japan, Australia and India is in the making to encircle the dragon.
Thirdly, India is already the largest weapon importer of the world; imports which are likely to exceed US$ 100 billion over five years. No player in the world in arms exports can ignore such a massive market.
These factors illustrate what does and doesn’t favor the development of a China vs India India scenario on the global front. The Twenty first century belongs to Asia as did the early Common Era (CE) for the Roman empire, and the era from the nineteenth century to the end of colonial period for Europe, and the decades from end of Second World War for the US and USSR through the later half of twentieth century. Let us hope that the new global powers will not lead humanity into another bloodbath as have occurred periodiucally down the centuries by the former super powers.