B S Raghavan

Testing missiles that will never be used

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on November 15, 2017

I am second to none in my admiration for India's space and missile scientists, but, at the risk of seeming the odd person out, I must express my inability to be part of the gung-ho mood following the successful test firing of the latest version of the Agni series of missiles by India.

By now, all that one would have wanted to know about what it is made up of, and capable of, has been repeatedly flogged in the public main, and it is hardly necessary to cover the ground again. The one thing that has not been specifically spelt out in the celebratory acclamations is the huge outlay of Rs 3,000 crore or more that has gone into the development of the project.

And the outgo will not stop there, and may even cross double the amount. A missile, it must be remembered, is no good until it is inducted and made operational. Agni-V is yet to be put through the mandatory repeatable tests and user-trials to make it fully operational and induct it into the country's Defence system. The present realistic estimate is that it will not be ready for deployment before 2015.

Actually, the 3,000-km Agni-III, test-fired in April 2007 is still to be inducted, while the 3,500-km Agni-IV has been tested for the first time only last November and is waiting in the queue.

The Agni-V missile itself is said to be vulnerable to drying up of supply of advanced technologies in respect of its navigational and guidance systems from their sources in Russia and the US. Also, the existing infrastructural capabilities have to be raised to the standards needed to produce and induct the Agni series of missiles in sufficiently large numbers to meet the full extent of the anticipated threat from Pakistan and China.

In other words, none of the five missiles poses a clear and present danger to any country. India's joining the select missile club has at the moment only a symbolic significance.


In the light of the above, the various statements emanating from India's Defence analysts and strategic experts sound odd. One section of them is asserting that India's missiles are aimed at no specific country, as if the country has gone to such great lengths to develop them to no purpose. Another section is ominously, if hypothetically, labelling the earlier versions of range of 3000 km or less as ‘Pakistan-centric' and the latest one of 5000 km range as ‘China-centric'.

These distinctions are meaningless. ‘Pakistan-centric' missiles can also double up as ‘China-centric' ones, bringing under their cross-hairs Chinese-occupied Tibet and Western China such as Sichuan. With the addition of Agni V, India's missile system can now effectively target the whole of China. In the view of some Defence strategists, this will force China to draw up plans to protect the whole of its territory, instead of only Western China as of now, against a possible Indian missile strike.

However exhilarating to India, the prospect of China, with a stockpile of ready-to-fire missiles with 11,000-12,000 km range, feeling mortally threatened by India's test and scurrying for cover belongs to the realm of fantasy. “But it has led some commentators on Indian Defence and security issues to conjure up a scenario in which India would be using against Pakistan and China inter-continental ballistic missiles with “multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles with warheads on a single missile programmed to hit different targets.”


A missile war among the three countries is likely only if it is assumed that their political and Defence establishments have taken leave of their senses. It is impossible to conceive of any such contingency of holocaust proportions between China and/or Pakistan on the one hand, and India, on the other. Thus, the only purpose the possession of missiles serves is to provide some sort of a psychological feeling of protection.

In essence, therefore, humongous amounts are siphoned away from worthwhile pursuits of development towards producing and piling up of missiles that are never going to be used. As far India is concerned, there is the additional caveat, as The Global Times put it, of India never being able to stand any chance in an overall arms and missiles race with China.

Published on April 22, 2012

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