27 December 2016

Fire in the sky

The successful test-firing of the long-range ballistic missile Agni-V for the fourth time is a significant step towards building a credible nuclear deterrence. With this test and the recent commissioning of the indigenously built nuclear submarine INS Arihant, India is inching towards creating a robust and world-class second-strike capability. For a nation sworn to no-first-use of nuclear weapons, a reliable second-strike capability is an absolute necessity. In the worst-case scenario, the country should have the ability to withstand an enemy nuclear strike on its key locations and launch a successful second strike. Agni-V rose up from a canister mounted on a truck stationed at Dr. Abdul Kalam Island, Odisha, and went up a few hundred kilometres before following a ballistic trajectory and splashing down near Australian waters, some 20 minutes after the launch. This was the fourth test of the Agni-V missile, but the second from a canister mounted on a road mobile launcher. With the four tests, Agni-V is now ready for induction into the Strategic Forces Command, which already operates other Agni missiles with a target range from 700 km to 4,000 km, besides Prithvi-II.

However, despite the impressive strides made by the security establishment in developing nuclear weapons and delivery platforms, there is still a long way to go before the nuclear triad is complete and competent. Just a few days ago, the Nirbhay land attack cruise missile meant to carry nuclear warheads failed for the fourth time during a test. On December 21, it veered off its designated flight path within a couple of minutes of launch, and it had to be destroyed mid-air. There are several such gaps to be filled to ensure a foolproof nuclear triad. A credible second-strike capability should also be complemented by a modern, powerful military. The Indian military is in crying need of modernisation across its three arms. The Air Force has a huge shortage of fighters; the Navy’s submarine arm is far from meeting multiple challenges; and the Army needs an array of new platforms. Most importantly, India also needs to consistently showcase itself as a responsible nuclear power, and not just through a no-first-strike policy. India has a mature political and military leadership today. In a complex global strategic environment, where nations issue nuclear threats based on fake news and global powers threaten to add to their already bulky arsenal, it is important to be recognised as a responsible democracy.

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