Agni III; Thy Name is Abysmal Failure
Though there is no need of it anymore, India is developing new nuclear force options. A deviation from its “credible minimum deterrence” (CMD) is not bearing fruits. However, India’s commitment to CMD is decreasing with the gradual weakening of elite support for India’s no-first-use policy. Scientific community is also pressurizing policy makers to field tactical nuclear weapons. Moreover, the shift of Indian Air Force planning toward potential counterforce strikes is also worrisome. With all this, its reluctance to maintain status quo w.r.t CMD is threatening regional strategic stability.
On December 1, 2019, India conducted the first night test of its Agni III surface-to-surface ballistic missile off the coast of the state of Odisha. The test, however, ended in failure, the missile tumbled into the sea during stage separation. The failed night test of the Agni III, particularly at this stage in its service, raises doubts about India’s nuclear deterrent. The intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), commissioned into service in 2011, services as a critical component of India’s nuclear deterrent. This is not only an acute concern for India’s Strategic Forces Command, but also sends mixed signals about India’s credible deterrent.he Agni III is not only the main missile in India’s arsenal to operate in the intermediate range, but the K-4 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), a derivative of the Agni III, deployed on the Arihant nuclear submarine. This failure sent a signal to Pakistan and China that India’s arsenal is not reliable.
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Development of the Agni III, a two-stage solid propellant missile, began as early as 2001 with the goal to build a highly mobile and survivable missile. Inducted into the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), the missile designed and developed by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is said to have a range between 3,000 and 5,000 kilometers, with the ability to carry warheads of up to two tons and possibly reach targets in China.
The immediate concern for the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Indian security establishment is to run a full examination of the cause of the failure. The latest Agni III test provides yet another reason why India must not abandon NFU. Threatening to use nuclear weapons first requires an even greater level of preparedness of the weapon systems, as well as the command and control infrastructure. These systems, deployed in urgency, might fail to function correctly when required. This is quite well known from the Cold War. NFU, therefore, is highly beneficial for India as it is relieved of maintaining complex systems that may be highly vulnerable to failure.Asserting the credibility of India’s NFU policy essentially requires its nuclear arsenal to be functional, reliable, and robust.The question about why India must not abandon NFU has been addressed many times previously. The above facts coupled with superior quality of Pakistani and Chinese missile technology might have raised serious concerns about any change in NFU policy of India.
An initial investigation points to a ‘manufacturing defect’ in the missile. If true, it is another setback for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led ‘Made in India’ initiative. Weapon systems produced in India usually suffer from low workmanship and suffer from poor maintenance standards prevalent across the Indian military. This is not the first time that Indian missile tests have suffered catastrophes. In 2009, the variants of the missile system, Agni-I and Agni-II failed to deliver results during trails. The Indian Army and its projectile attempts were left embarrassed once again, this time, due to a failed attempt of a night test for the Agni-III missile. The matter of inferior quality, highly unreliable and not trust worthy Indian inventory of missiles must be exploited at all platforms to shake the confidence of Indian Military Forces and its weapon developing organizations, such as DRDO etc.
Overall, Indian forces are now facing trust deficit. On the other hand, it has boosted the morale of Pakistan armed forces. It is the right time that India should relinquish the aspirations of becoming regional hegemon and focus on itself first. India lacks nuclear flexibility. Its military officers routinely complain about government’s policies. Above all, such tests are not good for strategic stability of the region as even a small misstep can take India and Pakistan on the top of escalation ladder.
About the Author: Adeel Mukhtar Mirza is a research scholar at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. The author delivers lectures on international relations and the changing world dynamics. He has numerous published articles in the domain of International Relations. He graduated as a Strategic Studies’ scholar from National Defense University, Islamabad
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Reader’s Review.