Is the Indian Government and Prime Minister Modi really willing to juggle with the lives of 1.58 billion Indians and Pakistanis with nuclear-level recklessness to show belligerence to the entire region? That was the question on my mind today when we read the DRDO statement for the new Indian nuclear missile that was just tested. I find two very, very concerning things, and we will keep it short. It seems like India is again playing its time-tested role of a major spoiler to strategic stability in the region and signaling that the Indian government is steadily increasing its willingness to take measures with the potential to dangerously list the subcontinent towards a nuclear catastrophe. First, this missile disproves the already bogus Indian insistence that its new strategic concern is from China and its recent massive investment of resources in newer and advanced nuclear delivery mechanisms is aimed at China. That is not what the range of this missile tells us. The so-called Agni-I Prime medium range ballistic missile tested today was announced to have a range between 1,000-2,000 kilometers. Looking at the dimensions of the missile and the size of the NOTAM issued, the missile is probably ranged between 1450-1650 kilometers. This is exactly the range envelope required to hit most Pakistani cities from most Indian ballistic missile regiments. The range is simply too small to be used against the Chinese Eastern Seaboard, thus we can safely say that the prime target of the Agni-Prime is Pakistan. Indian defense journalists are even calling it the Agni-P (leaving out the Prime and leaving it to the reader to guess what P stands for). The second and much more concerning thing is the admission in the DRDO statement that the missile is “canisterized”. Now this is highly, highly concerning. For context, neither Pakistan nor India, in part due to bilateral Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and responsible nuclear posture, deploy actual strategic weapons in the field. Ever since India became a declared nuclear weapons state, Indian warheads themselves are NOT mated to the ballistic missile, hence kept separate, and mated only if required as per strategic threat level in vogue. Attached to this was the fact that the vast majority of both the country’s strategic weapons delivery systems were road-mobile missiles that are fired from Transporter Erector Launchers. Meaning before this, India’s missiles were exposed to modification and thus during time of use the weapon can be attached to the missile as per if and when a rising strategic threat level presents itself. This is extremely important to stop unauthorized use of weapons. India has now unilaterally changed this. In the Press Release the DRDO of India released today they explicitly mentioned and highlighted the fact that the Agni-P missile is fully canisterized, meaning the missile is enclosed in a canister already mated with a warhead during the time of operationalization of each missile system and ready for launch. Since the Agni-P is meant for the Indian Strategic Forces, India intends to deploy nuclear weapons in the field, with a live warhead ready to fire on a moment’s notice. Secondly, the canisterization of the solid fuel Agni-P missile means that India would be able to store the system remotely and launch it with little warning or no warning, eliminating the sort of support vehicles that would generate a large satellite signature to observe. In sum, the missile is specifically designed to increase survivability and even obtaining a second-strike capability.
This is an extremely belligerent and worrying move made by the BJP-RSS party of India’s authoritarian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unnecessarily endangering the lives of 1.58 billion people in the Pakistan-India subcontinent. India is also known to be working on other methods to decrease the time required for a missile launch and the satellite signature of its platforms as well, thus destabilizing the strategic stability paradigm of not only South Asia, but Asia in general and globally as well. Couple this with the news of uranium being captured in rogue hands, not once but twice this year in India with gangs selling kilograms of the stuff, raises serious questions on India’s strategic irresponsibility and shines a light on the sheer strategic recklessness of a belligerent regime.