India has recently unveiled its plans to deploy a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Agni V, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers, which can target China, Russia and several European capitals. Indian defence sources have branded the development of Agni V missile as a game-changer, which is undergoing its pre-induction trials to finally array on strategic locations by taking comprehensive feedback from armed forces.
Role of West in Indian ICBM Program
The space technology which was delivered by the countries like the U.S., France and Germany under the framework of peaceful space cooperation has provided the foundation for India’s largest nuclear-capable missile.
The Indian plans to deploy Agni V doesn’t create any vibe internationally, rather the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is still enjoying unconditional technological support in space affairs from Britain and the United States. Even though there appears to be a little noticeable separation plan between the civil and military missile programmes in India, the U.S. is transferring space-related technology to India.
The most common method adopted by the U.S., USSR, the UK, France and China to materialize space launch capability was to use a ballistic missile as a space launch vehicle. India used this process vice versa and modified a space launch vehicle as a ballistic missile. North Korea has exactly followed the same Indian path to ensure ICBM capability.
In the context of nuclear and missile proliferation, a comparison can be drawn between the roles of space launch vehicles and peaceful nuclear explosives because of their dual uses. Both dimensions contain sensitive hardware and technology which are compatible with military applications. In this regard, India is the only country that has already demonstrated how peaceful applications of nuclear and space technology can be used for military purposes.
For almost fifty years, the foreign assistance through space cooperation has created a beneficial technical foundation for New Delhi to acquire ICBM capability. In the early 1960s, the U.S. trained Indian scientists in sounding rockets and provided Nike-Apache sounding rockets.
Similar technology was also transferred by the UK, France and USSR. The Missile Man of India, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, was also trained during this period at Scout Launch Vehicle Program, NASA. The private firms from the U.S. also supplied the sensitive equipment for the Solid Propellant Space Booster Plant at Sriharikota.
When the U.S.–trained Missile Man of India became head of the ISRO, New Delhi launched its first satellite with the SLV-3 rocket which was an analogue of the NASA Scout. Subsequently, after taking charge of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1980, Abdul Kalam proliferated space launch vehicle technology to ballistic missiles. In the late 1980s, India launched its first Agni “technology demonstrator” surface-to-surface missile which used SLV-3 rockets.
Agni and the false claims
When India became the first country to test a nuclear-capable missile derived from a civilian space programme, Gary Milhollin, the founder of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, wrote an article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He contested the Indian false claims that Agni test was just a research and development vehicle, not a weapon system.
The detailed chronology was offered by Milhollin that how a satellite guidance system meant for civilian use was assimilated into the Indian missile programme.
He emphasized that as India manipulated Atom for Peace initiative for nuclear proliferation, “it is not surprising that India has again taken advantage of civilian imports and technology – related to peaceful space applications – to further what appears to be a nuclear weapons program. What is surprising is that, given India’s record, it was so easy.”
In 2001, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that India could convert its Polar Space Launch Vehicle (PSLV) into an ICBM within a year or two of a decision to do so. Despite this ultimatum, the U.S. government commenced a space and strategic cooperation with India while encouraging New Delhi to launch foreign satellites.
In 2005, when Washington and New Delhi were establishing their closer collaboration in space exploration and satellite navigation, there were reliable reports that Indian scientists were endeavoring to produce an ICBM. Later on, India used this cooperation to launch the first test of its ICBM, Agni V, in 2011.
The Indo-U.S. Space Security Dialogue mechanism opened up the opportunity for India to manufacture long-range missiles and space-related weapons.
Indian ICBM is concerning
Now one wonders why a world’s poor nation is developing the missiles which can take nuclear warheads to major capitals of Europe and Asia? It can be presumed that India is developing the ICBM for the potential source of power projection and hegemonic desires. Indian armed forces have already procured several missiles which can strike deep into its nuclear rivals’ territories. Whereas, India has pumped huge money into ICBM programme just to satisfy its desires to become a global power at the cost of becoming an offensive military state.
The U.S. and its European allies are still reluctant to criticize the Indian ICBM programme despite the fact that New Delhi has acquired the capability to deliver nuclear weapons to economic hubs of Europe and some parts of the United States. Above all, such capability in the hands of RSS inspired Hindutva regime is worrisome for regional peace.
The writer is a student of Current Affairs and Political Science with a Master’s degree from NUST, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.