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India’s Agni-V Missile Test: Strengthening Strategic Deterrence with MIRV Technology

by Nita Mishra

Power of Extended Range

India’s successful test-fired Agni-V ballistic missile, equipped with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology, significantly extends the country’s strategic reach. The Agni-V boasts an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) range exceeding 5,000 kilometers. This extended reach is a game-changer, altering India’s strategic landscape. Traditionally focused on deterring threats from immediate neighbors, the Agni-V now allows India to potentially engage targets across vast distances, broadening its spectrum of potential adversaries.

MIRV Technology: A Game Changer

The integration of Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology amplifies India’s capability to launch a survivable multiple nuclear attack from a single source. This technology allows a single missile to carry multiple independently targeted warheads. During flight, these warheads separate and maneuver towards designated targets, complicating an enemy’s missile defense system. Previously, an enemy could potentially neutralize an incoming threat with a single interceptor missile. However, with MIRV technology, each independently targeted warhead must be engaged and destroyed, significantly increasing the defensive burden.

China’s Missile Arsenal Comparison

In the regional context, India’s neighbor China possesses a robust missile arsenal, including the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) ICBM with a range exceeding 12,000 kilometers. While the DF-41 dwarfs the Agni-V in sheer reach, India’s successful test-firing demonstrates its commitment to narrowing the strategic gap. India’s indigenous development program allows for flexibility and faster production, making an extended range and more powerful warhead-integrated missile system a matter of time and investment.

Nuclear Deterrence: Maintaining Stability

The Agni-V, with its extended range and MIRV technology, serves as a potent deterrent against potential nuclear threats. Deterrence relies on the credible threat of massive retaliation to dissuade an enemy from launching a nuclear attack. India’s “no first use” nuclear weapons posture, though recently with some ambiguity, complicates strategic choices for adversaries considering a first strike against India. The Agni-V’s capabilities enhance regional stability and discourage the use of nuclear weapons.

Road Ahead: Enhancing Deterrence Strategy

While the successful Agni-V test marks a milestone for India’s strategic defense, the journey continues. Continued development and modernization of India’s missile program are crucial in maintaining a credible deterrent in an evolving global security landscape. India must prioritize research in areas like hypersonic missiles and advanced defense penetration capabilities to stay ahead of potential threats.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM): The Next Step

The next logical step in India’s evolving deterrence strategy should be the enhancement of the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) equipped with MIRV technology. India needs to extend the range and add MIRV capabilities to its Sagarika K4 missile program. This provides critical enhanced survivability and second-strike capability, as land-based missile silos, despite their hardening, remain vulnerable. Submarines offer a more challenging target for adversaries, as nuclear-powered submarines are difficult to locate underwater. An SLBM with MIRV technology on a nuclear-powered submarine strengthens survivability. Even a successful first strike wouldn’t eliminate India’s retaliatory capability.

Countering Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) Strategies

Many potential adversaries possess sophisticated A2/AD capabilities designed to restrict access to critical regions during wartime. SLBMs provide India with the ability to counter these strategies. Submarines can operate within protected zones, launching missiles from a closer range, countering defensive strategies effectively.

Maintaining Credible Deterrence In A Multipolar World

The global security landscape is shifting towards a multipolar world with new powers and advanced missile technology. India’s SLBM on a nuclear-powered submarine with MIRV capability demonstrates its resolve to maintain a credible deterrent against a wider range of threats. Launching missiles from a shifting underwater platform adds strategic ambiguity, complicating an adversary’s planning. This capability offers enhanced survivability, strengthens India’s second-strike capability, and allows it to counter potential A2/AD strategies.

In conclusion, the development of an SLBM on a nuclear-powered submarine with MIRV technology is a natural progression of India’s strategic defense strategy. This robust and credible deterrent is paramount for India’s national security in an evolving security landscape. Challenges exist, but India’s commitment to self-reliance and technological advancements positions it well to overcome them.

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