7 Years After ISRO Proved MIRV Capability, India Celebrates It Now With ‘Nuke-Capable’ Agni-5: OPED

OPED By Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd)

Among numerous successful launches by ISRO in recent times, the AGNI-V launch on 12th March 2024 has garnered a huge reaction from the international community. Be it Derek Grossman or the Chinese mouthpiece Global Times, as well as a few Indian pseudo-military strategists, all of them have gone overboard, either condemning or celebrating the demonstration.

Top US Scientist ‘Slams’ India’s Agni-V Missile Test; Says New Delhi Could ‘Disarm’ Pakistan With MIRV Tech

For records, ISRO launched PSLV-C 37 on 15 February 2017, which successfully placed a mind-boggling 104 satellites in various orbits. The main payload was a Cartosat-2 series satellite weighing nearly 700 kg.

In a flawless and precise operation lasting a little over 12 minutes, all satellites separated from the launch vehicle successfully. 96 of these miniature satellites were from the US.

Obviously, the Indian strategists failed to notice ISRO’s unbelievable achievement. But the reigning missile powers not only took note of this amazing accomplishment but also deemed it fit to highlight their concerns.

India had arrived in the most exclusive, technologically intensive, and operationally incomparable field of launching multiple satellites in a single launch. Just replace the word ‘Satellite’ with a ‘Nuke,’ and the script assumes an entirely different connotation.

A lot of noise has been made during the past 24 hours about the MIRVed Agni V launch. It may sound ironic, but self-proclaimed military strategists of our great nation have hailed it as a formidable step towards ‘Second Strike’ capability. It is alarming to read such views because their opinions invariably help shape the operational philosophy of any nation, including India.

‘Second Strike’ mindset is indicative of the intellectual paralysis of our military strategists. When, if at all, shall we think and advocate the ‘First Strike or Pre-emptive Strike’ option?

When will the pseudo-intellectuals/strategists place ‘Intent’ ahead of ‘Capability’? Deterrence is not (r) not based on capability. It is based on intent, which must be enunciated in the national security strategy document.

But do we have any such document? With the National Security Advisor having been in the chair for nearly a decade, India ought to have had a document in the public and international domain.

All major powers have done so. For instance, China clearly and unambiguously stated the option of using nukes against any nation occupying Chinese land illegally, and not forgetting Pakistan, which has stated dozens of times that Pak Nukes are against India.

It is not as if our leaders have not thought of the ‘First Strike’ option. Unfortunately, the sole leader having such clear perceptions was former PM Vajpayee. Two of his views will prove the point.

First, when China exploded its first nuclear device in October 1964, Vajpayee said, “Such weapon can only be countered/matched by similar weapon’. By opining so, the great visionary had clearly stated that India must go nuclear.

We took 10 more years to go nuclear in May 1974.

The second such instance occurred during another India, Pakistan tension. Nawaz Sharif was sitting in Washington with Bill Clinton, threatening to nuke India; Clinton called Vajpayee in the middle of the night and informed him of Pakistan’s decision. Vajpayee quietly but firmly told him that ‘he is willing to lose 50 crore Indians, but by tomorrow morning, Pakistan will cease to exist’ and disconnected the line.

That is the power of ‘intent’ if clearly and unambiguously enunciated.

When will we enunciate our nuclear weapons use policy? Sticking to an ideological but operationally defunct and impotent policy of ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapons against hostile nations will destroy the amazing feats of our technical experts.

What if our adversaries’ preemptive strike destroyed our launch vehicle/s on the launch pad itself? Of course, the weak and meek pseudo-strategists will argue that the destruction of all launch vehicles is not possible.

But the more important aspect is what happens if the national leadership is eliminated during the adversary’s preemptive strike. Who and how quickly will fill the decision-making vacuum?

That is why the ‘No First Use’ option is a defunct option. There is nothing like being ‘hawkish’ or ‘dovish’ when it comes to using weapons of mass destruction. First strike, therefore, remains the best and only option.

The most important strategic aspect of MIRVed capability has not even been commented upon. The enormous operational significance of such capability is that it will/has neutralized the possibility of successful intercept of most warheads by any known Anti Ballistic Missile system.

Even if the ABM can track and intercept, it will intercept just one of the many warheads. No ABM system is yet capable of intercepting all warheads carried by a MIRVed-capable missile.

The only possibility of destroying/diverting warheads carried by a launch vehicle is to intercept it before the missile releases all warheads. Although it is a technically feasible option, it is well nigh impossible operationally.

Warheads are normally released from the launch vehicle during the cruise phase, during which interception is extremely difficult. The highest chances of intercept are during the boost phase when the launch vehicle also presents a prominent heat signature.

Agni nuclear missile
File Image: Agni Nuclear Missile

Additionally, due to their size and little or no heat signature, warheads have extremely low radar signatures. Each warhead is assigned a specific target coordinate, and it follows the ballistic trajectory towards the target at near hypersonic speeds.

It is almost impossible to intercept multiple warheads separated by hundreds of miles, depending on the target systems each one is programmed for.

Miniaturization of nuclear warheads will be a great strategic accomplishment. During the last nuclear test, it is believed that at least one of the warheads must have been a miniature warhead. In any case, we need not look at huge megaton warheads, viz ‘TSAR BOMBA,’ the Russian monster. A 10-20 kiloton yield warhead exploded at about 3000 ft AGL will be enough to destroy a city.

Of course, it is not celebration time yet. We need to develop a rocket that can lift much heavier loads. The Ongoing Chandrayan and Gaganyan programs will lead us into that zone.

Nevertheless, the successful test on 12 March will serve as a formidable deterrent to Pakistan and China. But again, India comprehensively achieved MIRV way back in 2107.

Bravo! Indian scientists!

  • Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare. VIEWS PERSONAL OF THE AUTHOR
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