Indian missile pride hides strategic flaws: Analysts

Published: April 20, 2012
Agni V has a range of 5,000 kilometres and can carry a one-tonne nuclear payload. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Agni V has a range of 5,000 kilometres and can carry a one-tonne nuclear payload. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

NEW DELHI: India’s pride at the successful test of a long-range, nuclear-capable missile hides weaknesses in strategic military planning that undermine its global power aspirations, analysts say.

Thursday’s launch of the Agni V, which has a range of 5,000 kilometres and can carry a one-tonne nuclear payload, triggered a round of intense, patriotic self-congratulation.

“This launch has given a message to the entire world that India has the capability to design, develop, build and manufacture missiles of this class,”  said VK Saraswat, head of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation.

“We are today a missile power,” Saraswat announced.

The sense of achievement was not unfounded.

The Agni V is more than 80% indigenously developed, and with a range extending across the whole of China and beyond, it holds the potential to significantly upgrade India’s military deterrent.

“It has been termed a game changer, and in many ways it is a game changer. It covers the whole of China which was not the case before,” said strategic missile expert PK Ghosh.

But while acknowledging the technological achievement, a number of analysts noted it was just a tiny step towards achieving any military parity with its giant regional rival.

“We are still way behind China. In terms of missile numbers, range and quality, they are way ahead of us,” said C Raja Mohan, a security analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a policy think-tank in Delhi.

Mohan also argued that there was too much focus on “demonstration” launches, which only proved that India’s missile policy was led by the scientific community rather than the government and military bureaucracy.

“We can all wrap ourselves in the flag today, but there’s a dearth of real strategy on how to actually deploy missile technology,” he said.

The Agni V remains some way from actually being inducted into the armed forces.

Experts said it would require four or five more tests to confirm its flight path, accuracy and overall competence, before production could actually begin.

Rahul Bedi, a consultant with global security analysts IHS Jane’s, said India’s political leadership had failed to capitalise on the technological breakthroughs of its scientists.

“India’s nuclear deterrence lacks political foresight and understanding of its employment primarily because of the politicians’ limited understanding of  strategic matters,” Bedi said.

“The euphoria over Agni V’s success will abate fast if not followed by firming up this dissuasive deterrence capability that has only been demonstrated today, not confirmed,” he added.

Agni, which means “fire” in Sanskrit, is the name given to a series of rockets India developed as part of its ambitious integrated guided missile development project launched in 1983.

While the shorter-range Agnis I and II were mainly developed with traditional rival Pakistan in mind, later versions with a range of 3,500 kilometres are perceived as China-centric deterrents.

India and China, each with a population of more than one billion, have prickly relations and a legacy of mistrust that stems from a brief but bloody border war in 1962.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Thursday it had taken note of the Agni launch, and downplayed any sense of rivalry between the neighbours.

“China and India are both big emerging countries. We are not rivals but cooperation partners,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

After the successful test, much was made of the fact that the Agni V could eventually push India into the league of countries with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

But K Santhanam, one of the military scientists behind India’s 1998 nuclear tests, questioned the strategic motivation behind extending the country’s missile strike range even further.

“The Agni V has strategic relevance, but how far do you want to go? Do you want to go to Washington DC?,” Santhanam told AFP.

“We don’t need ICBMs because we are at most a regional power and they wouldn’t fit into any coherent strategy given the current security scenario,” he added.

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Reader Comments (48)

  • Apr 20, 2012 - 3:31PM

    They don’t have courage to fly a missile. It takes the jigar of Salauddin Ayubi and knowledge of Iqbal to flay a missile.. how can they achieve it? Tell Tell


  • Moti
    Apr 20, 2012 - 4:12PM

    I doubt this is a matter of “pride” for India. The matter of achievement probably was to sent a spacecraft to the moon. Thereafter, a missile with a range of 5,000+ kms should be a walk in the park.


  • antony
    Apr 20, 2012 - 4:16PM

    The editor who named this title should point out what strategic flaw mentioned in the whole of article ! . Agni 5 with 5000 kms which cover china –does it have strategic flaws –which Indian scientist says there is strategic flaws here ? .IF not why add your own title to the content .The nuclear scientist santhanam pointed out if theoritically this agni 5 can be extended for 8000 kms but if that is the case then there is no need as India is a regional power… So until the range extension is even planned dont see this deterrant missile has any strategic flaws..


  • Tony Singh
    Apr 20, 2012 - 4:52PM

    Scientists have done their job. Now its a political decison.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 20, 2012 - 5:41PM

    I think it is just a badly structured title – nothing new here; there is no strategic flaw in Agni V but there are strategic gaps/ limitations in our strategic thinking. I agree with the analysts that we don’t really demonstrate the political and diplomatic foresight in building a active (and consistent) strategy for the future – one that leverages our economic or military weight sufficiently. This also has to do with the fact that the intelligentsia, scientific community, military strategists and politicians all work in independent silos with divergent success criteria.


  • zoro
    Apr 20, 2012 - 6:01PM

    Very very FUNNY TITLE … hehehe


  • Ravish
    Apr 20, 2012 - 6:06PM

    I have two words for this article. Sour grapes.


  • narayana murthy
    Apr 20, 2012 - 6:10PM

    @Zaid Hamid



  • Apr 20, 2012 - 6:11PM

    As long as the Defence budget stays within the 2.5% of GDP mark I will always be proud.
    India’s GDP will double in 6 to 7 years, then it will have double the resources to achieve its minimum deterrence.

    What Indians should be really proud is the fact that we are growing at a very decent pace in every area, be it economy, defense or space. Recommend

  • Simb
    Apr 20, 2012 - 6:31PM

    Hahaha. Indian missiles will fail to fly when the time comes.


  • Anjaan
    Apr 20, 2012 - 6:40PM

    Indian DRDO scientist has declared that the range of the missile will not be capped, as India can not simply focus on today’s threats and ignore the future.

    In strategic matters it is the capability that matters, and not intention.

    Will India work towards increasing missile range to bring the US within its range … ?

    The simple answer is, yes.Recommend

  • Suresh
    Apr 20, 2012 - 6:44PM

    @BlackJack, @antony

    The strategic flaw in Indian missile policy if any arises due to the fact that apart from acquiring some minimum deterrent and achieving few scientific milestones, India has no other objectives to be derived from these missiles. Hence the “mileage” serves no purpose beyond certain point. and any increase beyond 5000 km may even cause loss of political “mileage”. with friendly countries. There are hundred other important things that goes into the success of the missile which have to be continuously perfected, and common people are least interested in such details. Unlike satellites, misses do not bring any tangible benefit to people in their daily lives. There is already a missile fatigue, and the next best thing Indians want to hear about is launch of some advanced satellite or something on Chandrayan or mission to Mars!


  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Apr 20, 2012 - 7:10PM

    NASA’s scientific activities has led to various commercial spin off like laser, microwave etc. One should not ook everything from defense lens. This technology can be used for space holidays, faster and cheaper travel and process improvement in launching of Satelites etc. It also added soft power to India’s image.


  • fahim
    Apr 20, 2012 - 7:38PM

    What a misleading title by ET? There was not even one paragraph highlighting a flaw ! They have tested a missile, it has proven number of new technologies. Subsequent tests are required. They will deploy the missile in 2 years time. They have no first use and minimum deterrence policy and this adheres to this. I dont think India should or is planning to match china in defense spending. I dont see any flaw in the argument.


  • j. von hettlingen
    Apr 20, 2012 - 7:39PM

    Behind China’s assurance that it doesn’t perceive India as a threat and despite the latter’s humbleness it were still behind the former, both countries keep an eye on each other. With the Agni-V India could in theory fire nuclear warheads at Beijing and Shanghai, yet India has shown itself very docile. China responded with big-heartedness and lauded India’s historic moment by joining the exclusive club of countries that own ballistic missiles. The two can teach the West a lesson in skill and tact in international dealings.


  • Organ of Big Profit
    Apr 20, 2012 - 7:52PM

    Was Agni 5 Carried on a Boeing 747 to it’s 5000 Km destination?


  • Apr 20, 2012 - 8:39PM

    I think the big question is whether Pakistan needs it’s own ICBM program?


  • Sanjay, Mumbai
    Apr 20, 2012 - 11:03PM

    Doubt if strategic analysis can ever be linear in nature. Agni V testing is one step in over all strategy of India’s scientific achievement. Space programme meant for civilian use started from Pandit Nehru’s days..encouraged by Mrs Gandhi and later on by other PMs, we have come a long way.Rockets designed and developed for launching satellite ( of various kinds Geo Synchronous, PS etc.) ..are being modified and enhanced to carry warheads now. Hence , Agni V is one such step in chain of events. Agni V i s not end in it self, but will be deterrence for any country even thinking of getting engaged with India. India will have to develop and implement complete security network in space, air, protect itself and also at same time expedite scientific development for Lunar/ Mars landing. These are not just meant for show of , but will have many off-shoots..letting many pvt Indian cos to grow and Indian personnel to contribute. Journey has already begun..lets step on gas and accelerate. It wont be bad idea if we can co-opt neigbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Sr Lanka, Nepal, Mynmar, Thailand, Malaysia , Singapore , in this journey..!! Why not invite research and education institutes from all countries to work together to develop Satellites for common weather forecast, etc. Time to think global…!


  • ukmuslim
    Apr 21, 2012 - 12:24AM

    indian (as well as american, british, japanese or russian) missiles have only one objective. and everyone knows that. but space and missile technologies goes hand-in-hand. in science and technology, there is no limit. its like exploring your boundries. generic people thinks after getting BA/Bcom/Bsc, its enough. But if you have thurst for knowledge, enough is not enough. its like after MBBS, Diploma, MS/MD, DNB, DM, FRCS/FRCGP/FRCA… you just keep on going. or in software you keep on learning new technologies.

    now regarding taking on new projects, isro being a pure scientific institution, they have to make case for every project, convince govt the worth of spending for that project.

    sometime, i hear people complaining whats the use for nano-technology, it will not bring any tangible benefits to the poor people.


  • Usman Ahmad
    Apr 21, 2012 - 1:53AM

    The news item has been taken from AFP. ET did not prepare this report. I’m baffled by the Indian readers’ response, who most probably think it is news item by a Pakistani paper to somehow undermine the Indian accomplishment.


  • Zeta
    Apr 21, 2012 - 2:03AM

    Painting russian missile into their own is the job of india’s dodo sorry Drdo


  • WoW
    Apr 21, 2012 - 2:04AM

    Yes if you keep on training and arming your non state actors to create havoc inside China.


  • Singh
    Apr 21, 2012 - 3:22AM

    Just like Saheen or other Pak missile


  • Thomas
    Apr 21, 2012 - 4:31AM

    @Organ of Big Profit:

    Boeing 747 dosesn’t go up 600 miles in the air, smart guy. I hope you know what a Boeing 747 is!!!!!!!!


  • khaliq
    Apr 21, 2012 - 7:16AM

    agni v will not have any affect on china or pakistan because they know very well about the secret letter of indian army chief which revealed that 97% of india’s deffence is completely can such ill equiped army deter an emerging super power or a nuclear neighbourer?


  • observer
    Apr 21, 2012 - 8:27AM


    Hahaha. Indian missiles will fail to fly when the time comes.

    Well, someone’s RADARs failed when the time came.


  • JSM
    Apr 21, 2012 - 8:41AM


    “…. 97% of india’s deffence is completely obsolet.”

    Ideal time for Pakistan to attack India and finally resolve all issues.


  • cheeta
    Apr 21, 2012 - 9:11AM

    last hope?


  • Indian
    Apr 21, 2012 - 9:15AM

    I don’t know if it is something to be proud of given that missiles are meant for destruction of someone but i surely do know that thanks to DRDO and Indian scientific community now we can be more confident in dealing with frequent and arrogant Chinese incursions in India’s North East.


  • cheeta
    Apr 21, 2012 - 9:15AM



  • arpita
    Apr 21, 2012 - 9:57AM

    its a proud moment for all….but not for pakistan,they have to concentrate on economics,home wars,..india,china are developing day by day,if they always keep anti indian attitude nothing will happen to them


  • vasan
    Apr 21, 2012 - 10:12AM

    JSM : I thought you have assumed that and tried in 1965, 1971 and Kargil. Care to look upto the results ?


  • General Opinion
    Apr 21, 2012 - 10:32AM

    All that money spend on stupid war and ammunition. Why not spend it on agriculture and the poor farmers in need? These people having power need to stop focusing on war.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Apr 21, 2012 - 11:41AM

    The manned ( or womanned ) space flight programme needs to be speeded up. Progress is too slow. ISRO are you listening ?


  • khaliq
    Apr 21, 2012 - 11:52AM

    @JSM: why should pakistan attack india?what will we get by attacking india except 360 million starving people.are we that short of hungary people to feed?


  • pankaj
    Apr 21, 2012 - 1:06PM

    @khaliq… have u forgotten kashmir and Gajwa-e-hind ? please atleast try.


  • Hot potatoes!
    Apr 21, 2012 - 1:36PM

    if you attack india, you might get a USD 2 trillion economy too!! 360 million poor and a USD 2 trillion economy.


  • "
    Apr 21, 2012 - 2:14PM

    @Zaid Hamid:

    “They don’t have courage to fly a missile. It takes the jigar of Salauddin Ayubi and knowledge of Iqbal to flay a missile.. how can they achieve it? Tell Tell”

    Dear ET moderators. The comment area should be a place for honest and serious opinions of the readers, rather than a place of entertainment by jokers or a propaganda toolRecommend

  • Shere Ponjab
    Apr 21, 2012 - 2:21PM

    India achieved 2 objectives – China knows India is there neck-to-neck and will force Pakistan to compete Misile technology and continue to eat grass.


  • indian
    Apr 21, 2012 - 4:17PM

    @Zaid Hamid:
    U r simply excellent.
    I wait for ur comments more than the article itself.


  • jahandad
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:12AM

    The entire Indian nuclear and missile program is Western assisted and in many cases transferred and even assembled ,,,,there is none of actual Indian intelligentsia behind any practical strategic manufacturing,,,,,,,this is well proved in any true research minded approach,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,NO1=INDIA was provided with nuclear reactors by Canada in fifties and sixties,, with direct nuclear assistance from USSR,,and reactors plus technology from France and Israel,,,,,,,,NO2=regarding missiles ,,,if you remember some year or two before Europeans in collaboration with Indians manufactured a space satellite far advanced and exactly working ICBM in style and design,,,,,,,,,,,Indian involved in it and insisted it TO BE manufactured in India ,,,,,, for their own this agni5 project,,,and they succeeded,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,so don’t feel like a giant ,,,,you were a an old dumpy and lazy buffalo , and will remain so till you start thinking and acting positively,,,,,,,


  • jahandad
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:26AM

    @observer: i don’t know your point here,,,, yes your missiles can fly ,,but you need only 1000 km for Pakistan and this 5000km for end place china,,,,,,,,,,,but radar fail pointing at Pakistan,,,,,,,why are you kidding with 1300million Indians,,,,remember a joke of Asoka times needs 10 minutes to complete and then allow the people to laugh,,,,,,,but ,today’s modern joke like yours will work in less than 5 minutes and ,,and there will be only roasted dead all over dancing at the theme of your funny joke,,,,,,,,,hope you don’t,,,, mind ,,,and come to senses,,,,


  • JSM
    Apr 22, 2012 - 5:05AM


    But you tried in 1947 and 1965 and 1971 and 1999.


  • Lala Gee
    Apr 22, 2012 - 5:31AM

    @Shere Ponjab:

    “China knows India is there neck-to-neck and will force Pakistan to compete Misile technology and continue to eat grass.”

    Eating grass to maintain freedom is more dignified than eating “Bhojan” and remain enslaved for over a millennium.


  • musharaf
    Apr 22, 2012 - 12:02PM

    india proof him, this time they named china as their target not pakistan.


  • unbeliever
    Apr 22, 2012 - 12:57PM

    @Lala Gee:

    that was indeed a better reply, but the point is, even the grass that you are on is being purchased from american money.

    pretend sovereign when you are sovereign.


  • Cray
    Apr 22, 2012 - 9:28PM

    @Lala Gee:
    Since the territory that is now Pakistan, was enslaved for a millennium, when did you change your stance?!!!


  • from India
    Apr 23, 2012 - 12:07AM

    If I am convinced that i will become blind or may lose one of my limbs or become paralyzed while fighting with my enemy, even if he is killed in the end, then I will never fight with him, unless he launches an attack on me.


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