Sunday, December 4, 2011

China feels India's nuclear heat

Missile ... the Agni II, a predecessor of Indian's newest nuclear-capable missile, the Agni V. Missile ... the Agni II, a predecessor of India's newest nuclear-capable missile, the Agni V. Photo: Reuters
NEW DELHI: Given the incendiary moniker ''the China killer'' by the more sensationalist press, India's newest nuclear-capable missile will be its most powerful yet - and an unmistakable signal to its neighbours.

Missile ... the Agni II, a predecessor of Indian's newest nuclear-capable missile, the Agni V. Agni V - named after the Hindu god of fire - is due to be tested within three months. It will be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead 5000 kilometres, meaning it can reach not only Beijing and Shanghai but all of northern China.

India's existing arsenal can already reach every corner of Pakistan using earlier models of the Agni delivery system.

Indian officials are at pains to reiterate the country's no-first-strike policy, but the new muscular armoury is feeding regional anxieties about a hastening arms race.

India was recently declared by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as the biggest arms importer in the world - ahead of China - with 70 per cent of a $US32.5 billion defence budget spent on
hardware and weapons from overseas.

We are not looking at how many missiles China or Pakistan has,'' said V.K. Saraswat, the chief of the Indian government's Defence Research & Development Organisation. ''With a 'no-first-use' nuclear weapons policy, we only want a sufficient number of missiles to defend the country in the event of a crisis. Ours is a defensive-mode strategy, even if others have offensive postures.''

While regional concerns are loudest, India's improvement of its present nuclear capability comes at a sensitive juncture for Australia too.

At the Labor Party's national conference this weekend, one agenda item is a motion to end the ban on uranium sales to India, a non-signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

The move, unveiled by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, a fortnight ago, is expected to become Labor policy.
Australian uranium sales to countries with nuclear weapons programs come with strict provisos that Australian uranium is used only for civilian purposes.

But uranium is fungible. And a new market offering high-grade uranium ore for India's civilian reactors frees up the country's limited local supplies for boosting its military program.

India has been developing its Agni category ballistic missiles for nearly a decade, with each edition capable of greater range, and carrying a larger warhead, than its predecessor.

It was three years between the testing of Agni III and the first, failed, test of Agni IV.
But Agni IV was successfully fired on November 15 and already there are rumours Agni V will be ready to test before the end of the year.

Agni V is presently undergoing integration and we may test fire it by the end of February. It is right on schedule and the successful test of Agni IV will prove to be a building block in development of this missile,'' Mr Saraswat said.

The pace of missile development is of particular concern to China, which feels that the latter Agni iterations are being built specifically with it in mind.

The People's Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote: ''India is expanding its military strength but it is still uncertain whether India will realise its dream of being a leading power, because India's weak economy is severely unmatched with the image of a leading military power.

'In addition, international communities and India's surrounding countries are all suspecting and even being on guard against this kind of unbalanced development mode.''

China's nuclear arsenal still dwarfs India's. Beijing is believed to have about 410 nuclear warheads - some estimates put it much higher - to India's 70.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has long resented India's Agni missile program. Islamabad loudly proclaims the superiority of its own Shaheen missiles and derides its neighbour's attempts as ''incompetent''.
Pakistan officials are saying less now that India's missiles have a greater range than theirs


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