TESTING AGNI-II


Dinkar Shukla

    Eleven months after conducting a series of complex nuclear tests at Pokharan, India carried out yet another feat on April 11 by successfully test-firing an advanced Agni-II intermediate-range ballistic missile. The launch of the missile, which has a considerably enhanced range of over 2,000 km, took place from Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast. It was a perfect launch carried out without a single hitch. The splashdown took place in the designated zone in the Bay of Bengal.

    The much-awaited test-firing of Agni-II was a logical corollary to the Pokharan nuclear tests. It is significant for India in more than one way. In the first place, it signifies the country’s glorious entry into the select club of the nuclear nations possessing an indigenous capacity to develop a missile system.

    After the successful launch of Agni-I, it took our scientists, engineers and technologists ten years of patient and painstaking effort to evolve and test Agni-II. The integrated guided missiles development programme which was undertaken by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1983 has had a run of success with its test-firing of other missile systems, viz., Prithvi, Trishul, Aakash and Nag. The Agni-II bears out the hopes reposed in the DRDO.
 

Profile

    Angi-II can carry a payload of one tonne, which is twice the estimated minimum weight of a nuclear warhead. And with reduced payload, say of 500 kg, its range could increase significantly.

    A notable feature of Agni-II is that its test flight took place from a mobile launcher. A mobile launcher can be moved anywhere, including rugged areas, and is, by its very nature, less vulnerable to air strikes. The mobility factor additionally implies that the range of the missile can be enhanced by several hundred kilometres.

    The most significant aspect of Agni-II was the use of solid fuel as a propellent. Solid fuel is compact and non-corrosive and has a greater shelf life. It permits greater mobility, survivability and manoeuvrability and opens the path to the development of advanced intermediate range ballistic missiles and even inter-continental ballistic missiles.

    The acquisition of a missile system capable of delivering conventional or nuclear warhead bridges a key gap in the nuclear deterrent profile of the country. The double distinction of being a nuclear-capable and possessor of the means of delivery means that India can hold its head high without fear of being bullied in a hostile security environment. China with its vast nuclear arsenal, Pakistan with its nuclear weapons and delivery system capability, America perching in Diego Garcia and 11 other Asian countries possessing missiles is quite a grim security scenario.
 

Objective

    As far as India is concerned, it has no aggressive designs. All that it is striving for is a minimum credible nuclear deterrence. The Pokharan and Agni-II tests were an effort in that direction. Pokhran -II and Agni-II are a symbol of a resurgent India which wanted to stand on its own and to be able to defend itself without dependence on others. The government reiterated after the Agni-II test-firing that India is committed to "minimum deterrence", to "no first use of nuclear weapons" and to "never use them against non-nuclear states".

    What lends credibility to the Indian stance is the fact that Agni-II was meant to be a demonstration flight. And, despite the missile technology having reached a point where it could be made operational, India has no desire towards Agni-II's production schedule, let alone any deployment designs. All that can be said about the latest achievement is that it has added a new dimension to India's defence capability and that hereafter no country would dare threaten India. A point to note is that by conducting the Agni-II test India has not violated any existing international treaties.

    While there was jubilation in India in the wake of the successful test-firing of Agni-II, some countries reacted quite strongly to it. Only Russia was understanding enough to acknowledge that in the given security environment India had no option but to develop its own deterrence to safeguard its national security interests.

    The Chinese criticism rests on its apprehension that with its solid fuel technology and mobile launch capacity the Agni-II could strike deep inside its territory. In that sense, the Agni-II indeed possesses characteristics of an inter-continental ballistic missile.

    Pakistan did not rest content with a mere criticism of Agni-II's test- firing. It lost no time in testing its nuclear capable Ghauri II and Shaheen-1 missiles which are claimed to have a range of 1,500 and 750 km respectively.

    The swiftness with which Pakistan proceeded implies that it had in its possession ready-to-fire missiles which, as western commentators believe were not its own but acquired ones.

    What strengthens the assumption of outside assistance or ready-made supplies to Pakistan is the absence of infrastructure or an adequate industrial base to sustain sophisticated strategic programmes. A question naturally arises as to why is it that nothing was heard of any previous trial test flights of Pakistani missiles. The only exception was the test-firing of Ghauri-I last year. Such test firing involves years of preparation and a record of trial and errors.

    Raising doubts about the Pakistani claim to have developed Ghauri-II by itself is its test firing from a populated surrounding near Jhelum. To quote strategic analyst, K. Subramanyam, Pakistan was confident enough to test-fire Ghauri-II overland without worrying about anything going wrong because it was already a proved and tested missile.

    On its part, India says that its nuclear and missile development programmes are not Pakistan-centric. The Pakistani threat is only a marginal factor in New Delhi's security calculus. Agni is at the heart of deterrence in the larger context of Sino-Indian equation. What is more, Islamabad should have no reason to complain because of its having reached a fairly advanced stage in its missile programme. Its HATF-1 and HATF-II missiles and the M-11s from China are a case in point.

    India has reacted to Pakistani test-firing of its missiles recently with restraint and dignity. It has only hoped that Agni-II or the Ghauri or Shaheen missiles would not ignite an arms race in the sub-continent, nor vitiate the atmosphere for the continuance of the ongoing dialogue. In fact, New Delhi is looking forward to the two neighbours agreeing upon confidence-building and risk-reducing measures. It wants the Lahore spirit to prevail.