Indian Decade

Flip Side of the Agni-V Launch

India took a big leap forward with the launch of the Agni-V missile. But it complicates ties with China.

India likely conveyed a very pointed statement to the international community, most notably China, with Thursday’s successful launch of its Agni-V Long Range Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. After all, the new ICBM can strike deep into China as well as Eastern Europe. However, a reality check is in order before analysts get too excited.

Though India has demonstrated its technological, scientific and military prowess by successfully launching its 5,000 kilometer range Agni-V missile,at a development cost of $480 million, it won’t be formally inducted into the Indian armed forces before 2016, defense sources have said. While it’s true that the successful launch of Agni-V has in many ways brought India into an elite club of nations that have proven ICBM technology, India still lags far behind China. In terms of the number of missiles, their range and type, India is no match for China and cannot – and should not – expect to match China missile-to-missile.

In the meantime, the diplomatic fallout of the launch can be expected to be a hardening of Chinese attitudes even though officially, China maintains that India isn’t a rival. Indeed, China’s semi-official Global Times on Thursday warned India, saying: “India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.”

“A number of new technologies developed indigenously were successfully tested in today’s Agni-V mission,” the Indian Ministry of Defense said in a press release, adding, “The redundant Navigation systems, very high accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS) and the most modern and accurate Micro Navigation System (MINS) ensured the missile reach the target point within few meters of accuracy. The high speed onboard computer and fault tolerant software along with robust and reliable bus guided the missile flawlessly.”

In many ways, the Agni-V test launch is akin to India’s second generation nuclear tests of 1998, tests that triggered the Chinese intensified diplomatic and strategic rivalry with India. China may put up a brave front diplomatically, but the truth is that Thursday’s event will only exacerbate anti-India feeling within the Chinese establishment. The Global Times commentary is simply a harbinger of things to come in Sino-India relations.