The rapid development and deployment of cruise and ballistic missilecapabilities in recent years has raised the security stakes on theSouth Asian subcontinent. The three major nuclear states—India, Chinaand Pakistan—have been sharpening their respective missile capabilitiesand stockpiling a growing arsenal, while simultaneouslydeveloping/acquiring ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability todefend against potential threats. China has also developed a potentnuclear triad (i.e. strategic bombers, land-based missiles, andballistic missile submarines) that Pakistan may be able to acquiregiven the close relations between Beijing and Islamabad, India willsoon achieve this capability after the nuclear submarine INS Arihant iscommissioned. The on-going missile race has the potential to severelyundermine regional security and necessitates greater transparency amongthe three Asian nuclear states.
ChineseRear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong of the People's Liberation Army NationalDefense University (NDU) made the observation that India still lagsbehind China in missile technology by more than a decade and "It's[sic] still unknown when the Agni-III will be deployed by the Indianarmy, though they claim the missile is ready for use. And it might takeat least another five years to ready the Agni-V." He has also set asidethe notion of an Indian missile threat and stated, "In developing itsmilitary technology, China has never taken India as a strategic rival,and none of its weapons were specifically designed to contain India"(Global Times [China], February 12).
RA Zhang's statementswere in response to India's Chief Military Scientist V.K. Saraswat’scomments that, "After Agni III and Agni V, as far as cities in Chinaand Pakistan are concerned, there will be no target that we [India]want to hit but can't [sic] hit" (Zeenews.com, February 10). Furtheradding fuel to the fire, Sarasvat, the chief of DRDO (Defense Researchand Development Organization)—one of Asia's largest government owneddefense contractors and a leading missile developer—also noted that,"We [India] feel our accuracy is better than China's DF-21"(TibetanReview.net, February 13). The Chinese Foreign Ministry,however, has played down the verbal duel between the two experts andobserved, "The China-India relation is friendly and cooperative. Chinawill not be a threat to India, and nor will India pose a threat toChina" (Expressbuzz.com, February 14).
On February 7, Indiaconducted its third consecutive successful launch of Agni III, aland-mobile ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads andhitting targets at a distance of 3,000 to 3,500 km (Deccan Herald,February 11). India announced plans to test Agni V (5,000 km range) byMarch 2011 thus joining the elite club of militaries possessing aninter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability (Indian Express,February 11; The Pioneer, April 16). The Agni Program Director AvinashChander reportedly stated that Indian missiles are quite accurate andcan strike within ‘a few hundred meters’ of the target (Indian Express,February 11).
It is a well-known fact that both Agni III andAgni V were designed with China in mind and can reach targets as far asBeijing and Shanghai (The Times of India, Jun 20, 2009). The earliervariants Agni I (700 km range) and Agni II (over 2,000 km range) are indifferent stages of induction in the Indian defense forces and caneasily strike targets anywhere in Pakistan.
Chinese Missile Deployments in Tibet
Thegrowing militarization of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) also havedeepened Indian concerns over Chinese military capability after thePLA’s Second Artillery Corps began positioning a variety ofsophisticated missiles in the Himalayas. In 2001, there were reportedlyabout eight ICBM, 70-medium range and 20 intermediate-range missilesites in Tibet (News.Indiamart.com, March 19, 2001). Over the years,liquid fuel missiles such as the DF-4 that required longer preparationtime for launch have been replaced by more sophisticated solid fuelmedium-range ballistic missile DF-21 (single warhead of 200-300kilo-tons yield), which can hit targets at a distance of 2,150kilometers (Dnaindia.com, May 16, 2008). These are located at theDelingha site in TAR, which is about 2,000 km from New Delhi  andare under the command of 812 Brigade of the SAC . Similarly, thereare other missile sites in Tsaidam at Terlingkha, the headquarters of amissile regiment and Amdo bordering Sinchuan . There is also otherDF-21 missile site located at Kunmin in the Yunan province (IndianExpress, May 17, 2008). Moreover, China now has a potent long-rangemissile inventory of DF-31 and DF-41 inter-continental ballisticmissiles (ICBM) that can strike targets at 6,000-10,000 km. Therefore,several north Indian cities including New Delhi are within the Chinesemissiles range.
Missile Developments in Pakistan
Pakistanhas acquired an impressive array of missile that includes the ‘Hatf’,‘Hatf I’, ‘Abdali’, ‘Ghaznvi’ in the short-range category; ‘Shaheen Iand II’ in the medium-range category and the long-range ‘Ghauri’ .It also has the land attack cruise missile ‘Babur’ and the air-launchedcruise missile ‘Raad.’ Pakistan and China enjoy an ‘all-weather’relationship that also involves the supply of military hardwareincluding missiles. A large proportion of Pakistan’s missile inventoryis of Chinese origin and Beijing is reported to have facilitated thetransfer of North Korean Taepodong and Nodong ballistic missiles toPakistan (Business Standard [Delhi], December 31, 2006). New Delhi isalso concerned about the close degree of military cooperation betweenBeijing and Islamabad on nuclear cooperation, including the transfer oftechnology and joint development of military equipment.
Ballistic Missile Defense
Atanother level, India has been attentive to Chinese successes inanti-satellite (ASAT) system tests in 2007, and the more recentground-based mid-range anti ballistic missile tests on January 14.Apparently, India has completed the ‘building blocks’ for an ASATweapon system but there are no plans to make these operational (TheHindu, February 11).
India is also developing technology tointercept incoming ballistic missiles that may be launched by eitherChina or Pakistan. In 2007, soon after the Chinese ASAT tests, thethen-chief of the DRDO M. Natarajan had disclosed that the indigenousprogram of ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield had made atechnological breakthrough and a ballistic missile was intercepted at aheight of 50 km (The Tribune [Chandigarh], February 20, 2007).
InNovember 2006 and December 2007, India conducted successful"exo-atmospheric," "endo-atmospheric" tests and incoming missiles wereintercepted at 40-50 Km and 15 Km altitudes respectively(Asiatimes.com, January 15, 2009). Further, the DRDO has claimed thatby 2011-12 it would have developed the BMD capability to neutralizeincoming missiles with ranges in the order of 2,000 Km and in the nearfuture it will be possible to field systems that can thwart threatsfrom missiles with ranges of up to 5,000 km (Asiatimes.com, January 15,2009).
More recently, while comparing the Chinese and Indian BMDprograms, V.K. Saraswat observed that India’s BMD program started in1999 (The Hindu, February 11) and "This is one area where we are seniorto China" (Indian Express, February 11). Reacting to Saraswat’s ratherprovocative assertion, Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong retorted "India'stechnology for its measurement and control system, which is used totrace launched missiles, remains at a very low level, and they areunable to constitute a complete and reliable missile defense system"(Global Times, February 14).
India is investing a substantialamount of technological resources to develop a robust missile shield.The Indian Air Force and the Indian Army are planning to deploy theAkash (25 km range supersonic missiles; 88 percent kill probability)air defense systems with the associated network of radars along theIndia China border and the first system is scheduled to be madeoperational by 2011 (Arunachalnews.com, February 17; Tibetanreview.net,February17).
India is also planning to establish centers fornuclear and missile intelligence that will function under the directcontrol of the National Security Council (Times of India, July18,2009). Besides monitoring regional nuclear and missile developments,the centers will also collate information from other nationalintelligence agencies.
There are significant ballistic missilerelated developments in the maritime domain also. The Indian Navy isexploring the possibility of equipping its warships with the advancedshipboard Aegis Combat System (ACS) to intercept incoming missiles.(Sspconline.org, May 14, 2009). A few Indian ships of the Sukanya-classare capable of launching Dhanush (250 - 350 km range), the nasalizedPrithvi II missile, capable of carrying nuclear and conventionalwarheads (Thaindian.com, December 13, 2009).
In response to thegrowing Indian missile inventory, Pakistan is actively exploring thepossibility of acquiring high-altitude anti-ballistic missile (ABM)systems from China. According to a Pakistani defense analyst, theChinese HQ-9/FD2000 developed by the China Academy of DefenseTechnology is the favorite "since no other supplier will sell thesetypes of missiles to Pakistan" (Asian Defence, April 3, 2009).HQ-9/FD2000 is a sophisticated and potent anti-missile system capableof hitting aircraft, air-launched cruise missiles and ballisticmissiles. Apparently, HQ-9 draws technology from the S-300s acquired byChina from Russian and the U.S. Patriot system obtained from Israel(Asian Defence, April 3, 2009).
India’s ‘Two Front War’
InDecember 2009, General Deepak Kapoor, the Indian army chief observedthat India should prepare for `two-front war,’ purportedly referring toPakistan and China. Pakistan’s Foreign Office termed his remarks‘jingoistic,’ ‘irresponsible’ and of ‘hostile intent’ (The Times ofIndia, Dec 31, 2009). Yet, experts have argued that there is nothingalarming in the General’s statement. India had in the past engaged in a‘two-front war’ during the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars when Chinahad conducted military maneuvers/redeployments along the India-Chinaborder, thus preventing relocation of Indian troops to the westernborders and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Nevertheless, theIndian Army Chief’s observations merit attention. Pakistan has engagedin covert warfare involving use of terrorist groups to foster militancyin Kashmir (Bbc.co.uk, March 3). It also mobilized Mujahideen alongwith regular military and waged war against India as seen during the1999 Kargil Operations. In 2001-02, the Pakistan based militant groupJaish-e-Mohammad was responsible for an attack on the Indian Parliament(The Tribune, December 16, 2001). India’s border with Pakistancontinues to be active with frequent attempts by the Pakistan Army tofacilitate infiltration by terrorist elements under cover of fire.
TheIndia-China border has seen increased border intrusions by the PLA andChina is investing significant resources to develop military relatedlogistic infrastructure such as all weather roads and rail links. Asnoted earlier, New Delhi has watched with great concern the Chinesemissile arsenal in TAR. Further, the close nexus between China andPakistan in nuclear and missile related technology has prompted theIndian defense minister to state: "The nexus between China and Pakistanin the military sphere remains an area of great concern. We have tocarry out continuous appraisal of Chinese military capabilities andshape our responses accordingly. At the same time, we need to bevigilant at all times" (Indian Express, November 27, 2009).
Whatis perhaps most worrisome in the region is the fact that missilesuperiority for one protagonist is perceived as disadvantageous to theother, which could result in a zero-sum missile race. There are noregional political or diplomatic initiatives in place to slow down theregional missile race. Besides, there is scant public knowledge ordebate in the regional media about how to manage the dense missileenvironment in the subcontinent. At the same time, there are fears thatPakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Jihadi elementsundermining regional security, which has been vehemently denied byIslamabad. There is reason to believe that the regional missile racecan be addressed through diplomacy and confidence-building measures(CBM) aimed at transparency. China, India and Pakistan would have tocollectively address the regional missile developments sooner ratherthan later and institute mechanisms to prevent accidental missilelaunches and alleviate anxiety and fear.