India’s Nuclear Forces 2008

Mystery missile: widely reported as a future sea-launched ballistic missile, is the Shourya launch in November 2008 (right) a land-based mobile missile (left), a silo-based missile, or a hybrid?      Images: DRDO

By Hans M. Kristensen

A decade after India officially crossed the nuclear threshold and announced its intention to develop a Triad of nuclear forces based on land-, air-, and sea-based weapon systems, its operational force primarily consists of gravity bombs delivered by fighter jets. Short of the short-range Prithvi, longer-range Agni ballistic missiles have been hampered by technical problems limiting their full operational status [Update Feb. 2, 2009: “Defense sources” quoted by Times of India appear to confirm that the Agni missiles are not yet fully operational]. A true sea-based deterrent capability is still many years away.

Despite these constraints, indications are that India’s nuclear capabilities may evolve significantly in the next decade as Agni II and Agni III become operational, the long-delayed ATV nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine is delivered, and warhead production continues for these and other new systems.

Our latest estimate of India’s nuclear forces is available from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

21 thoughts on “India’s Nuclear Forces 2008

  1. I think the reports of India’s military might is exaggerated as India is dogged with corruption and the materials used for the manufacture of missiles or other weapons are of inferior quality. Hence the actual capabilities will be less than 50%.

    Reply: That is partly the argument we make, although not necessarily for those reasons. How you get to “less than 50%,” however, is not clear. Care to elaborate? HK

    AA: Pertaining to Comment 1. The simple question is that your article deduces an arbitrary probability of 50% pertaining to the Indian Missile ranges. Amit, like myself and many others, is simply curious as to why and how this specific number is deduced?

    “A similar argument can be that “hush hush” of capabilities until the very end of program can actually mean that the ranges are UNDER REPORTED by more than 50%.”

    This of course is simply an opinion, devoid of any scientific or statistical backing. I am sure this is not the case with your blog post.

    Reply: Sorry, to the best of my knowledge we haven’t made any claim of “an arbitrary probability of 50% pertaining to the Indian Missile ranges.” Perhaps you confused me with another commenter. HK

  2. For a layman, I am very puzzled by the facts that India can send a probe to the moon yet has trouble to develop a long range missile, let alone an ICBM. Most other nuclear states developed their ICBMs well before developing the capability of a lunar mission. Could the technical experts comment on the relative difficulties in shooting the moon vs. somewhere on earth 10,000 km away?

  3. What technical problems, where? FAS seriously seems to be living in cloud cuckoo land. The main website seems to have been ignored entirely ever since John Pike left to found Global, and now, sadly, even the analysis is lacking.

    Even the most trenchant critics of India’s defence research admit its missiles work and are a keynote success. And more importantly, the number of systems emerging in quick succession point to a broad based system of success that has been achieved in Indian missile labs both in ballistic missiles as well as tactical systems. In the last 5 years alone, we have seen some 4-5 new missile systems emerging, and these are not test models testing each individual subsystem, but near production ready units with a lot of critical subsystems tested at one go, and validated as well.

    Amit Agarwals comments are also nonsense, I am afraid. Corruption is a problem worldwide – pork barrel politics in the west, anyone? But it would be foolishness to assume, that corruption is somehow going to prevent Indian warfighters from developing operational systems.

    Poor materials would have meant that most if not all, of India’s tests would fail. There would be repeated problems in tests.Nor could India have anywhere near a working space program. But India has repeated test successes, operationalization of systems (and for those who think this is PR, a quick look at the Trishul program should show that the Indian services do not induct items which do not meet their needs). Even the occasional failure is openly displayed, fault rectification detailed and stated, as we saw with the Agni-3.

    For those still thinking that India is depending upon aircraft alone, I would suggest a quick dekko at the Kargil conflict, some 9 years back, at which time itself, India had readied a handful of Prithvis and Agnis.

    Today, India has the Prithvi-1, 2 and Dhanush in series production, the Agni-1 and 2 in producion, and the Agni-3 recently cleared trials along with the K-15 SLBM, and the Brahmos is in production as well. Each of these is N capable. Each of these has a specific Army, Navy, Air Force unit associated with it. Every second, third trial has users involved.

    Furthermore, the Shaurya missile has been advertised as a wooden round technology demonstrator for the IA. A developed variant will in all probability replace the Prithvi series missiles in Indian service.

    And a sea based deterrent is many years away? How many is many, exactly? The India media has been consistently reporting, that the K-15 has been cleared, and that the Indian ATV will be operational ~2009. That doesn’t sound too far to me, even give or take another couple of years. And nothing prevents the IN from deploying the K-15 on OPVs instead of the Prithvi, as an ad hoc deterrent either.

    Reply: Oh well, sorry to hear how bad everything is here at FAS. But let’s see, the specific questions:

    1. What technical problems? The technical problems that face all budding nuclear states as they strive to develop new complicated missile, reentry vehicle, and guidance technologies. Add to that the challenge of incorporating the finished product into the armed forces in a way that works operationally and institutionally. It is a common misconception that once a missile has been tested a few times, enters production, and is declared “inducted” into the armed forces, then whoopty do, it’s operational. What we’re carefully suggesting, even though some apparently do not like to be reminded of it, is that delay and technical hurdles are a fact of life for all nuclear powers – also for India.

    2. ATV operational by 2009. Again, be realistic. Just because a government official, a boat builder, or the media say so doesn’t necessarily make it so. India has no previous experience in building or operating an SSBN, nor has it finished the ballistic missile to arm it. In comparison, Russia’s new Borey-class SSBN is far behind schedule and its Bulava missile has had several test failures. This is a country with decades of experience in building and operating SSBNs and SLBMs. China’s first SSBN was a failure and has never conducted a deterrent patrol, technical and operational facts that face the new Jin-class program. That India would suddenly be able to flush out an “operational” SSBN in 2009 is highly doubtful. Besides, what makes you think the ATV will be an SSBN? It might also turn out to be an SSN, and perhaps only a technology demonstrator. If it’s lucky, India may be able to finally launch the ATV in 2009, after which the boat will undergo several years of tests and engineering fixes, and then – if the missile works as well – India will eventually be able to make the boat operational. But as all nuclear powers know, getting the boat to sea is only part of the challenge; then comes the question of how to ensure effective command and control and transfer of launch orders to be able to operate the SSBN as a credible retaliatory force.

    So, sorry if I sound like I’m raining on your parade, but it is actually harder than people normally think to make nuclear weapon systems fully operational. Oh, and one other thing, why do you think Prithvi II and Brahmos are nuclear capable? HK

  4. The Bulletin publishes a lot of rubbish. Do not believe them. India has a larger nuclear arsenal than China (see even views of foreign experts such as Albright) and has the Surya ICBM since 1992. This was tested by the orders of P. V. Narasimha Rao. The Bulletin does not like India. A country that can place a probe with accuracy on the moon surely has an ICBM.

    Reply: I’ll let the Bulletin answer for itself. It sure would be interesting to see the references you use to conclude that 1. India has more nuclear weapons than China, and 2) that India has had an ICBM since 1992. HK

  5. [Edited] Thanks for injecting some semblance of sense into the article. The other two guys have lost the plot. Let me add a couple of data points. Earlier this year India launched a rocket that deployed 12 (or 13?) satellites precisely into orbit in one go. What does that tell you about India’s capability to pack and launch multiple independent vehicles in one rocket? Earlier this year India sent a capsule to space which after orbiting Earth for few days, de-orbited itself and came back to earth at a pre-determined location in the ocean and was recovered by naval vessels. What does that tell you about India’s capability to accurately arrive at a pre-selected location anywhere on earth?

    Reply: Deploying multiple satellites into orbit actually doesn’t tell us a whole lot about India’s capability to “pack and launch multiple independent vehicles in one rocket,” only that they can launch multiple satellites into orbit. Getting a specially designed reentry vehicle to reenter earth’s atmosphere and land fairly close to where it is intended is quite another achievement.

    I don’t know how close to the intended impact area the capsule you mention landed (do you know?), but for a reentry vehicle to have any military application the accuracy has to be fairly good. A couple of miles is probably not enough for a 12-kiloton warhead. An ICBM reentry vehicle comes in with a greater speed than the reentry vehicles India currently have on its short- and medium-range missiles. An Agni III will be another milestone, if and when it becomes operational, but still short of a true ICBM.

    Once they get to that stage, India might potentially decide to deploy Multiple Reentry Vehiles (MRV), which will be another challenge. Significantly more difficult will be development of a Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRV) capability, which the older nuclear powers spent many years and unknown amounts of resources to make fully operational.

    But I’m always curious why people assume India would decide to deploy multiple warheads on its ballistic missiles? Its potential adversaries don’t have advanced ballistic missile defense systems that MRV or MIRV would be needed to overwhelm (decoys would be simpler anyway), and Indian nuclear doctrine doesn’t call for taking out large numbers of enemy missile silos. If India did decide to deploy multiple warheads on its missiles, however, it would represent a significant and dangerous departure from a minimum deterrence posture that I don’t think would be in India’s national security interest.

    Even though hungry defense contractors might dream up such a plan, my advice is to take claims about plans to deploy multiple warheads – certainly MIRV – on Indian ballistic missiles with a healthy grain of skepticism. HK

  6. The latest launch of the Shaurya seems to indicate that India has developed a platform from which variants of missiles can be developed. That shows a mastery of the technologies involved and the ability to mix and match stages to reach a configuration.

    Lets not forget that the Indian armed forces have demanding requirements. Desert on the western side, mountains to the north/north east, long coastlines and a large peninsular landscape means a range options for location, mobility, range and launch types. The DRDO seems to have pursued this platform approach to satisfy the needs of its customers.

    The Agni nose cone seems to be quite unique that is not seen even in the US warheads. I will not be surprised if these appear in the US missiles pretty soon.

    The recent switch from steel to composites also seem to indicate that the DRDO is now trying to fine tune performance through every means possible.

    Also, with the IRNSS, India would soon be able to have total control over a 12,000-km radius.

    IMO, the Prithvi will be discarded soon and will be replaced by the new generation of highly mobile missiles that are currently being evaluated.

    In other words, India seems to be on the the way to have lethal combination of missiles not seen even in the western/Russian ones.

    Without confidence in the core technologies involved, I doubt all this would be possible. More so, especially with the AAD test.

    I would encourage the author to visit a couple of symposiums that the DRDO has planned for the first half of next year to see first-hand what the Indians are capable of.

    Reply: Be careful not to get seduced by the technological wonders that defense contractors show you. HK

  7. [Edited] Mr. Hans M. Kristensen claims are based on “Indian nuclear forces, 2008” authored by himself and Mr. Robert S. Norris available on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists site. This is the link for the Indian nuclear forces, 2008 (

    In this pdf on Page number 1, 3 column, 3 line, this is what is written: “Aircraft Fighter bombers are the mainstay of India’s nuclear strike force.4”

    The 4 refers to “proof” that Hans and Robert have for claiming aircraft are the primary nuclear delivery systems that India depends on in the event of an all-out nuclear war. In the last page of the pdf under the Notes section, we find that the 4 refers to: “4. Vishal Thapar, ‘N-Capable Agni-III Ready, but Aircraft Remain First Choice,’ CNN-IBN, May 8, 2008.”

    Members here will remember Vishal “chemical weapons” Thapar of the great Videshi channel CNN-IBN and his by now legendary reporting on defence matters for which he has no knowledge and has even less patience to understand when others try to teach him the basics. So all these claims being made by Hans and Robert are based on hearsay and false information rather than any research or intelligence input. Great job then, Ahmed Chalabi would be happy with his students.

    Reply: Interesting discussion style. Yet while Mr. “CP” apparently doesn’t approve of Vishal Thapar or CNN-IBN, Mr. Norris and I were more interested in the information in the article, which quoted the former chief of India’s Strategic Command, Air Marshal Teja Mohan Asthana, as saying in the context of nuclear forces: “Today it is the air which would be the greater reliance factor as far as India is concerned, the answer to that would be yes.”

    When Strategic Command was set up in 2003, statements by some Indian officials and media left the impression that India would more or less leap into possession of an operational Agni missile force. Even after Agni I and Agni II were declared “inducted” into the armed forces, Mr. Norris and I noticed that this, at least in the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, did not mean the weapons were therefore also fully operational.

    Test data is another important clue. Only in October 2007 did the Indian Army actually conduct an operational test launch of Agni I; the second in March 2008. To our knowledge (and please tell us if we missed it), the Army has not yet conducted an operational test of Agni II. In fact, we’ve been unable to find any references to any Agni II test since 2004, of which it seems only three have been conducted in total. That is as many as Agni III tests conducted so far, but not enough to pass all the technical hurdles to make a weapon system fully operational. And that makes us at least wonder whether India has given up on Agni II and moved on to focus its development efforts on Agni III. HK

  8. India developed and tested the ICBM Surya in 1992. A country which can send a mission to moon is way ahead of the ICBM technology. India also has a huge nuclear arsenal, they produced tons of Plutonium-239. So forget external data on India.

    Reply: The Surya did not materialize as a weapon system. Yes, a country that can build a booster capable of placing a payload in orbit or reaching the moon can in theory – in theory – also develop and ICBM. But it takes a great deal more to convert the booster to a ballistic missile with a payload that can reenter the atmosphere at very high speed and deliver a workable warhead and fuze that can reach a target fairly accurately. The lesson from all the nuclear powers fortunately is that weaponization is a long and expensive progress, something Indian engineers also seem to be learning. The Indian government has taken the step-by-step approach, beginning with the Prithvi and Agni systems, and is only now beginning to develop missiles that can reach decisively outside its region. HK

  9. [Edited] The author seems to indicate that there are technical problems with Agni. I wonder how would India tests out 3,500 km Agni-3 (and planning for Agni 5, 5,000) if there are “technical problems” with Agni 2 (2,500 KM)?

    Even more, why is India testing out canistered missile version if there are “problems”? If India has only gravity nukes, what did it test in 98? and yes the world seems to ignore that India tested out it’s first nuke in 1974. Does the world think that India does not have the capability to weaponize the nuke for a missile warhead? Isn’t it something interesting that Prithvi a 150 km low range missile has an “unusually” large payload of 1 tonne!

    Do you want me to believe that it will be delivering “only” high explosives?

    Reply: You (and some of the other commenters) are over- and misinterpreting what we say in the article. It is entirely possible to work on several systems despite problems. Just look at the U.S. ballistic missile defense program. What we point out is the apparent delay – at least compared with public perceptions of what “induction into the armed forces” actually means – in bringing systems up to full operational status. We do not say that “India has only gravity nukes,” as you claim, but also operational Prithvi and probably (and finally) Agni I. But Agni II might not be quite up and running yet. But don’t worry; no national pride is shattered by technical obstacles, which all nuclear weapon states have to live with. It is, fortunately, quite difficult to build a fully operational strike force. HK

  10. A very well written article. However, there is one clarification to me made. All your inputs are based on published articles or newsprint, which in turn is relying on inputs from a person, an entity or organization based in India. These days, when even President of USA, is know to have mislead people with false pretext to wage war, How do you expect a country like India to tell everyone we have the capability? Basically, even US does not disclose all its capabilities in open until and unless its pretty sure that it has an superior alternative. In 1998, even CIA was not sure about the extent of nuclear weapons development in India and had to digest the fact that they (Injun’s) in fact managed to detonate five different type of devices. So we can only be sure what you have concluded is 100% fact, when India puts its nuclear machinery to use and I am afraid we both don’t want that to happen, just to prove what you have stated is fact and nothing less.

    Reply: You’re correct that these matters are not an open book by any means, and not even the best intelligence is without its problems. I’m not expecting India to “tell everyone” about its capabilities. In fact, just like the other nuclear powers, I’m expecting the Indian government to keep as much uncertainty as possible and exaggerate a little here and there. HK

  11. An answer by you to one quick question that I have could give us a good perspective on the current state of India’s missile based deterrent, and bolster, or cast doubt on, your claim that the deterrent has not yet matured: “Considering the number of tests that India has conducted of its Agni missile variants, the number of tests it has conducted of its nuclear warheads, and keeping in mind that India did not start with the blueprint of an operational nuclear warhead or missile with its re-entry and guidance system, what would be the percentage likelihood that India does have a credible missile based deterrent at this point of time?”

    Reply: We estimate that Prithvi I and possibly Agni I are operational. We don’t see good indicators that Agni II is fully operational. Our assessment is that the air-based capability still is the most mature operational leg of the posture. How “credible” the deterrent is is not a percentage value but a perception in the mind of potential adversaries. HK

  12. There are severe problems with reports like these.

    If they come from the western reporters, they face the following issues:
    1. Inaccuracies due to second hand or third hand resources being used as references
    2. Some incompetence from the reporters.
    3. Subtle subconscious bias and blind faith

    If they come from reporters in India, we face the following problem:
    1. Total incompetence of many reporters
    2. National pride issue

    Now add to these India’s intentionally inconsistent reporting from DRDO/ISRO to keep foreign reporters like these guessing.

    For example, there is not ONE SOUL on earth in public domain who can confidently state the variations within AGNI missile series and its performance parameters. Indian govt keeps giving conflicting reports that just doesn’t gel.

    A lot of guess work is needed to patch the reports from Indian govt press wires and that make all these reports worthless to varying extent.

    Here are some things to ponder:

    1. If it is possible for India to lob a 1000 kg payload on a lunar transfer trajectory at beyond 100000 miles, why would we think India cannot lob a 250 kg TN device in a simple ballistic trajectory for 10000 miles? Are we stupid or or we stupid to believe that India cannot do this?

    2. Does anybody outside of DRDO, REALLY know the actual ranges for any of these missiles? If the missiles are really inefficient that they limit themselves to stated ranges, how come missiles are becoming smaller and smaller?

    3. If missile defence/interception has be proven at endo and exo atmospheric ranges, how come India still claims problems with missile controls?

    In essence, this stupidity serves everybody. Everybody thinks what they want to think and present it as a report. A lot of people agree, a lot more disagree and the people who really know, just smile.

  13. [Edited] Indian missile program was developed primarily keeping in mind China well within the reach of Agni II (500-km range) and probably with Agni III ( 4,000 km and beyond). Thus from Indian context the land-based second strike capability is ready for China. As far as an ICBM program is concerned, as Agni III well addresses India’s strategic land-based capabilities, there is no need for India to desperately go in for a land-based ICBM. India would rather utilize its resources to develop submarine-based IRBM’s with 3,000-km range and beyond which in my opinion will be a strategic deterrent provided the adversaries are aware of it.

    Reply: Agni II has been test-flown to 1,500-2,000 km, which at its maximum range theoretically brings parts of western and south-eastern China within range from mainland India. This includes the Chinese missile sites at Delingha and nuclear weapons production facilities near Chengdu (not that I think India has a counterforce posture). If India deployed Agni II to northeast of Bangladesh, then it could theoretically reach a large part of China’s main populated areas short of Beijing. But as mentioned in our article and elsewhere in responses to comments on this blog, we don’t see clear signs that Agni II is operational.

    It appears focus has now shifted to Agni III, which has been test-flown to a range of some 3,000 km. Once it becomes fully operational, this range will enable India to threaten roughly the same targets that Agni II theoretically could at maximum range – but without having to deploy the missiles northeast of Bangladesh. In order to reach Beijing, however, a 3,000-km range Agni III would still have to be moved into the area northeast of Bangladesh, a poor choice if the mission is retaliation.

    Apparently convinced that threatening most of China’s population south of Beijing with nuclear annihilation is not enough for deterrence to work, enthusiastic missile designers at DRDO have now promised an Agni IV (or Agni III+) with a range of approximately 5,000 km. Such a weapon would theoretically be able to threaten Beijing from launch sites anywhere in India.

    Why a submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile would be needed in addition to such capabilities for a minimum deterrent posture to be credible is beyond me. It is hard not to see the race for more and more capabilities as India and its potential adversaries stumbling into a regional nuclear arms race. HK

  14. [Edited] If China finds it hard to understand why India is so keen in developing a missile that could hit Beijing, then China might share Americans’ dismay why China is so determined to have the ability to strike CONUS targets. It appears that nation states are doing all the same tricks, based on their capabilities, not intentions, which can change much faster than capabilities. According to the new book by Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, The Nuclear Express, China let Pakistan test its first nuke in Lop Nur on May 26, 1990, presumably as a contingency to hedge against a nuclear-capable India. Now that the US is really interested in nuclear cooperation with India, perhaps it would not be too long for India to acquire the ability to hit Beijing. My technical question is how much more difficult it would be for India to develop the ability to hit Washington (from 5,000 to 13,000 km). The answer may well have determined Washington’s willingness to coach its Indian deputies.

    Reply: China has had the ability to strike targets in Continental United States since the early 1980s when the DF-5 was first deployed. According to the U.S. intelligence community, deployment of the Trident sea-launched ballistic missile in the Pacific convinced Chinese planners that their long-range deterrent was vulnerable to a first strike and set out to develop a long-range mobile ICBM. That system (DF-31A) is now entering service to complement and perhaps replace the DF-5.

    As for U.S. nuclear cooperation with India, that is civilian cooperation and I would be very surprised if the U.S. would directly assist India in improving its nuclear capabilities. That there should be any correlation between India’s ability (or not) to target Washington with nuclear weapons and the emergence of the U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement is, as far as I am aware, completely without foundation. The U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement appears to be a grand strategic gamble to deepen relations with India and counter China while at the same time trying to avoid undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. Whether this gamble pays off or makes things worse remains to be seen, but the U.S. is very concerned about the medium- and long-term implications of the Indian-Pakistani-Chinese nuclear dynamic. HK

  15. >1. What technical problems? The technical problems that face all budding >nuclear states as they strive to develop new complicated missile, reentry >vehicle, and guidance technologies. Add to that the challenge of incorporating >the finished product into the armed forces in a way that works operationally >and institutionally. It is a common misconception that once a missile has >been tested a few times, enters production, and is declared “inducted” into the >armed forces, then whoopty do, it’s operational. What we’re carefully >suggesting, even though some apparently do not like to be reminded of it, is >that delay and technical hurdles are a fact of life for all nuclear powers – also >for India.

    Let us compare the above with the original blog post.
    1. You have mentioned that there are technical problems in the blog.
    2. In this reply, you seem to mention that after a few tests, it is declared operational but then induction is not easy.

    Question on 1.: Where/what are the technical problems?

    Question on 2. How many tests are required to effectively state that it is operational according to you, especially when a lot if subsystems have been used before. What parameters would you test repeatedly for a new missile. Do you think simulation would have helped the DRDO?

    Question on 2.
    Logistics, warhead mating, decoys, readiness, target identification, etc etc are some of the issues with induction. But since Prithvi , a lot of water has passed under the bridge… you think the defence forces are still grappling with the issue?

  16. [Edited] Can FAS do comparison of ballistic missiles of all countries? Is it possible for Indian GSLV rockets to carry warheads?

    Reply: FAS periodically produces, in collaboration with Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nuclear Notebook, which is published bi-monthly in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Notebooks present our updated analysis of nuclear forces of all nuclear weapon states, including their ballistic missile programs.

    As for the GSLV (Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle), yes it is potentially possible for it to carry nuclear warheads if India decided to do so and developed the technology. But a rocket doesn’t become nuclear-capable just because it looks similar to other ballistic missiles that have such a mission. The GSLV is a space launch vehicle, not a military ballistic missile, and it would take a government decision and a dedicated engineering effort to convert it into a delivery vehicle for nuclear warheads. I am not aware of official information declaring such a capability for the GSLV. If you know of any, please let me know. HK

  17. India’s defense seems to be in a big hurry. Now they have announced that Agni V is in the offing 2010 with a 5000 km range. Has India even acquired warhead miniaturization.

    Reply: When referring to new reports, please include a link to the story in your comment. HK

  18. I think Indian Nuclear launch capabilities are exaggerated. India may have some delivery platforms but these are at least 50 years behind what US, Russia and China have.

    India has another 20-30 years before it can modernize its military. For starters it can start by getting rid of the WWII helmets off its army and wooden frame rifles.

    As for ICBM, I have been hearing about Surya for decades now. If a 12,000-km range missile is already in the arsenal, then why it took them almost 20 years to move from Agni 1 to Agni 3.

    With regard to the ATV, that must be a dud of a project. Getting close to the silver jubilee of the project.

    Take LCA. That must be a world class joke. Even the IAF is fed up with the project and now tendering for 126 fighters from foreign countries.

    Just by having a few nuclear war heads doesn’t make a nation a Superpower. It requires the economic and technical prowess.

  19. [Edited] Regarding the Agni V, the news is a re affirmation and only indicates that work may be starting.

    Savom: you got it absolutely right, but the need is urgent only now.
    Earlier the 600 odd MiG aircraft were enough for Pakistan with Prithvi completing nuclear angle.
    Previously China had not built airbases and road near the border. Also the border issue has flared up again. The IAF will anyhow add 126 crafts in addition to 2+ squadrons of the LCA.
    That’s why with China adding nuke subs you will see the ATV program “reviving”.
    In fact, I think it is China helping India’s defense sector develop. The go-slow attitude had a US influence if I am not mistaken.

    I agree that the Indians tend to name their missiles years before they construct them 🙂

  20. While it is definitely possible that Indian capabilities are not as advertised, the general assumption always is that their capabilities are inferior to their claims and that they lack the ability to carry out their claims. This seems almost contradictory to other facets that they have demonstrated, like their robust Satellite launch program or their recent Moon probe or the scale of scope of their research institutions and lest we not forget their nuclear tests in 1995 that they carrier out in secret.

    There is a bizarre dichotomy in their technological achievements. On one hand they have a pretty successful space program while on the other hand they seem to be struggling with simple rocketry which countries like Iran and N.Korea seem to posses. The Agni-2 and 3 with ranges of 3000 and 4000km are almost primitive compared to the capabilities of their space program with its Polar Launch Vehicle, Geostationary launch vehicle with a domestic cryogenic engines and their recent launch of 11 payloads simultaneously. While on the other hand they claim to be having trouble with SLBM’s and operationalizing the Agni missiles.

    I would contend that there is a campaign of misinformation as to their true capabilities and that their true capabilities are much further along than even their seemingly exaggerated claim. It is hard to believe that a nation that has a GDP close to 3 trillion dollars, more than 50 defense research institutions and can put an impactor on the moon can’t build a reliable missile to drop a bomb 5000 kms away. While an impoverished nation like North Korea/Iran have the ability to launch a 2 staged missile over 3000 kms ? The facts dont add up and make little sense.

  21. To bicker about whether India has/can/will successfully operationalize missiles around/beyond 5000 km based on information from Indian media and western media is not always productive. In matters of defense, a massive dose of skepticism has to be undertaken when viewing the overall capability.

    China: For all the “inferiority” which western media applies in extremely liberal doses to everything “made in china”, for starters, my layman advice would be to just start watching a few informative documentary programs on History Channel. To just highlight two facts that the:

    1. The Chinese had a naval armada 500 years before the Europeans learned how to construct decent ocean going ships and that this armada sailed up to Africa not once but twice
    2. That the Chinese created oil drilling equipment and technology many centuries before the Americans.

    Probably 50 years of power grabbing, mass human mind washing by communist party officials may have slowed the Chinese ascent to power, does not mean China will always remain under the US/UK/France/Russia bloc in terms of technological superiority.
    Western media must learn to accept that Asians can and will supersede their achievements. Supremacy of civilizations is also very cyclical like the financial markets. Rome may have been the pinnacle at a point in time, but so was Beijing or Tokyo.

    India: As Indians, we suffer from two key issues: we love to not-believe the govt. when it has any sort of capability and secondly, we believe that the western sources are always right.

    When analyzing India now, we must however put one thing in perspective: Since economic liberalization in 1991, we have broken through a lot of mental shackles. Yes politically, we still may behave like the cave men, but we have a big belief in our capabilities as individuals now (beyond the western stereotype of IT help desk, which partially replaced the snake charmer stereotype) based on our achievements.

    Extrapolating this onto the defense establishment, I would like to believe that we are sitting at a good point in the cycle from where we will be able to produce effective systems to meet our needs. We and the western media, often state the case of LCA or Arjun to ridicule the research and defense guys. Perhaps a large portion maybe true, but what we miss in this process is that India does not always try to copy designs from outside (as the Chinese have been criticized) but begins from scratch. This re-inventing the wheel philosophy may not be feasible in today’s fast shrinking world, but does not imply a lack of achievement. If you can make a 150-km nuke missile fly and put 11 satellites into orbit in one go, and possess the largest remote sensing capability in the world, clearly you have reached a certain critical level of competence.

    With an eye on the future, it would be prudent for a defense analyst to not always look at the western powers as being the only benchmark of capability and achievement. Scaling up in confidence by the Asian powers will be a game changer in the blink of an eye. Exercise healthy skepticism with rigor. Do not fall prey to mere national pride posturing. And finally, open your mind to new people coming to the party.

    Reply: Our assessment is certainly not just based on Indian and western news media (although they sometime carry important information) but also on government statements and intelligence assessments. You’re right that pride can certainly distort, but I would add in India as well as in the “west.” Yet since “the party” you mention is a nuclear one, I believe that fact adds an important additional dimension not to mention a responsibility to critically assess claims about capability regardless of whether one lives in the “west” or in India. And in doing so, I for one find it is helpful to compare with what other nuclear powers went through in their quest to develop and deploy nuclear forces. Not least because nuclear weapons promise or threaten so much that they have a nasty tendency to corrupt minds and bend rules. HK

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