Misbah Arif*October 23, 2020
Indian anti-satellite missile, Mission Shakti. Photo Credit: DRDO
When the world is fighting with the Coronavirus, employing all their abilities to fight against the pandemic, India is still giving preference to arms buildup over health security. The Indian government issued a statement about the import of 16, 479 light machine guns worth 116 million USD from Israel. The left-wing Communist Party of India CPI-ML, Kavita Krishnan said that “Why is the government of India choosing to spend massively on a military purchase instead of prioritizing a corona relief package, medical infrastructure, free healthcare and testing for all?” However, it didn’t caught attention of the ruling party who is more focused on aggressive military buildup.
The strategic environment of the South Asian region is highly complex these days because of ongoing tensions between historical rivals. PM Modi’s policies are worrisome not only for China and Pakistan but also for other South Asian states. India is the only country in the region who is in conflict with all the other regional states. The main reason behind it is India’s hegemonic ambitions and quest for power maximization. It is obvious that the Indian defense modernization is endangering the regional peace and stability. The 2020, SIPRI yearbook highlighted Indian military spending of 71.1 billion USD and ranked it as the third largest spender for the first time in the world. Along with indigenous developments, PM Modi has been successful in concluding hi-tec defense deals with the U.S., Russia, France, Israel and others. India’s aggressive military build-up is challenging the status-quo.
The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has been accelerating the development and deployment of strategic weapons on a scale which is unbelievable and never seen before. The motivation behind this aggressive fast track development of strategic nuclear and conventional missile is so far vague. It could be either to deal with Pakistan and China or to showcase self-sufficiency in missile development. No matter whether they are for security or prestige, the introduction of new technologies such as Anti-satellite (ASAT), hypersonic weapons, thermonuclear weapons, etc may push the region towards further uncertainty leading to irrepressible circumstance.
In past one month India conducted 13 missile tests. It all started with the test of the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) (7 September); test of nuclear-capable, Prithvi-II ballistic missile with a range of around 350km (23 September & 16 October); the extended range version of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos (30 September & 18 October); laser guided anti-tank guided missile test ( 22 September & 1 October); the nuclear capable Shaurya missiles that can travel twice to thrice speed of sound (3 October); the supersonic missile assisted release of torpedo that targets submarines (5 October); New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile (NGARM) test from a Su-30MKI fighter jet (9 October); failed test of Nirbhay cruise missile (12 October). Other technology demonstrations included the trials of Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART) weapon, which can be launched from a ship to hit stealth submarines and Standoff Anti-tank missile test .
The HSTDV capability will help India in its upcoming space projects and ICBMs. Likewise, Indian DRDO recently claimed that India can have complete hypersonic missile system in three to four days which is alarming considering the ongoing regional tensions and arms race trend. It will push other competitors to follow suit, destabilizing the strategic equilibrium.
The DRDO is expected to test K-5 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in next 15 months. This is the third SLBM India is working on. India’s K-15 is already in service with a range of around 750km. It is argued that K-15 cannot hit population and industrial centers of China during crisis, unless the submarines reaches close to the Chinese coastal line in the South China Sea, which will make it more exposed. Thus, India is working on K-4 and K-5 to deal with this restraint. The K-5 can hit the target 5000 km away, which means it can hit targets in China from the Indian Ocean.
India tested the K-4 SLBM with a range of 3500km multiple times. In January 2020, the missile was tested twice in five days. The development phase is complete and it is ready to enter production series. Furthermore, India’s second SSBN, INS Arighat, is currently undergoing trials, it is likely to enter service in the next six months
Along with strategic missiles, India is also focusing on its armored warfare capabilities as it tested indigenously developed Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) with a range of 4km. India is looking to purchase Spike anti-tank missiles from Israel. It is also aimed to purchase 100 Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective (SPICE) bombs, which have a stand-off range of 60 km.
The 2020 Belfer Centre Report on the “The Strategic Postures of China and India” highlighted that Indian missile forces are located closer to Pakistan than China. Likewise, India is also developing a missile shield that could offer incentive to its decision makers for a pre-emptive first strike. Indian officials have been talking about the preemption and counter-force targeting which signals a clear deviation from its declared policies of NFU, massive retaliation and credible minimum deterrence. All these tests shows that India is determining flexible response options by having both counter-value and counter force targeting capabilities. The apparent shift in its NFU can also be attributed to the military technologies that India has acquired and developed. The advanced technologies and capabilities give confidence to India leading towards escalation dominance strategy. These development will obviously persuade the other side to take effective remedial measures to ensure the credibility of its deterrence.
Pakistan and India have some CBMs in place such as the pre-notification of missile tests and non-attack on each other’s nuclear facilities, however the recent trend shows an urgent need to have more. Both sides should start talking about non-deployment of ABM, moratorium on ASAT and hypersonic weapons. India has always been reluctant to do so because of its aggressive policies. In absence of any regional arms control arrangement, the South Asian strategic landscape will further deteriorate. With the increasing convention and non-conventional imbalance, the deterrence stability of the region will face consequences.
*Misbah Arif, Visiting Faculty at Fatima Jinnah Women University, The Mall Rawalpindi