India is seriously contemplating to enhance the reach of its strategic missiles. The Defence Ministry is considering a proposal to develop intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) [often labelled Surya 1 or 2] capable of hitting targets 10,000 km away.
At present, there is a voluntary cap on developing missiles beyond 5,000-km range and the ICBM capabilities will propel India into the elite league of nations possessing the deterrent with nuclear warheads — China, the US, Russia and the UK [France and Israel (Jericho II)].
The proposal for developing ICBM capabilities was moved by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) last month and currently being examined by the Defence Ministry. Since it is a major policy decision as ICBM has international ramifications and India is a nuclear weapon State, sources said here on Saturday that the ultimate decision to go for it would be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
Air Chief Marshal PV Naik had recently pitched for developing ICBMs with a strike capability of 10,000 km and beyond, given India’s growing influence globally. While he had called for breaking out of the regional context, he also questioned the need for capping the missile programme, especially, if India had the technical capability to build it.
Explaining the significance of the proposal, sources said the Government had put a voluntary moratorium on developing a missile beyond a range of 5,000 km. This cap came about after India successfully test-fired Agni-III missile [see missilethreat.com Agni III specs] with a range of more than 3,000 km in 2006.
The Agni-III test enabled the DRDO to develop capabilities for an ICBM but a political nod is needed to go ahead. The Agni series of missiles fall into the category of intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) which can hit a target at 5,000 km. The DRDO will carry out preliminary tests of Agni-V [see more Agni V details] in December this year or early next year. This missile will have a range of 5,000 km.
India embarked on the indigenously designed and produced integrated missile development programme in the late 1980s and successfully developed Prithvi, Akash and Agni series of missiles. With the successful launch of Agni-3, the Government announced that the integrated missile programme had concluded.
As regards the ICBM, sources said the main objective of the proposed programme is to develop capabilities and have a deterrent in place to counter the growing military might of China. The neighbour has a very robust and the state-of-the-art missile programme, including ICBMs, and the capability to shoot down a missile in space.
Keeping this factor in view and the growing economic and strategic stature of India in international community, the security establishment has urged the political leadership to go ahead with the ICBM programme, sources said.
The security establishment wants India to develop ICBM as New Delhi is not part of Missile Technology Control (MTCR). Moreover, though a declared nuclear weapon State, India has resisted international pressure to ink Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as it has a ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons doctrine in place. This policy was announced after India conducted the Shakti series of nuclear tests in 1999.
All the UN Security Council countries having ICBMs can fire these long-range missiles from land or underwater from submarines known as submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The first ICBM was reportedly developed by the erstwhile Soviet Union during Cold War with the US, and China quickly followed.
While short range and medium-range ballistic missiles known as theatre ballistic missile carry conventional warheads, ICBMs which can travel across oceans and hit targets across continents are strategic weapons with one or more nuclear warheads.