New Delhi: Last month, India tested its indigenously-developed 3,000-km Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Agni III, while Pakistan tested its 1,300-km Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) Ghauri.
Both missiles are part of an ever-growing arsenal capable of reaching every corner of rival territory (including India’s Andaman Islands) and carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Ironically, these tests are also a good way of ensuring the two countries do not go to war.
“Such tests are considered routine exercises for the two arch-rivals since they developed nuclear weapons capabilities in 1998,” according to Foreign Policy.
Nuclear weapons carried by ballistic missiles are strategic weapons of mass destruction meant primarily to scare and deter, usually ending in strategic stalemates between countries that possess such arsenals.
The possibility of “mutually assured destruction”, or MAD, as it is commonly known, also prevents their use on the subcontinent.
India’s ballistic-missile programme is driven by the threat it perceives from its nuclear armed neighbours Pakistan and China.
On May 11, 1998, India’s then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared to the world that India had become a nuclear weapons state after successfully detonating three devices. Less than three weeks later, Pakistan also conducted nuclear weapons tests.
On the 17th year anniversary of India’s nuclear weapons test, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the efforts of Indian scientists with the following tweet:
"We salute efforts of our scientists & political leadership behind the success of Pokhran Tests on this day in 1998. pic.twitter.com/vPVb1v6xxk — Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 11, 2015"
Almost 17 years later, the arch rivals each test fired ballistic missiles. These are strategic delivery systems capable of delivering either nuclear or conventional warheads deep inside each other’s territory, with the focus being predominantly on the former.
Land, fire and falcons
When it comes to Pakistan, India has developed/is developing the Prithvi and Agni series of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.
The Prithvi series comprises three short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) with a range of 150-350 km, capable of targeting major Pakistani cities, such as Lahore, Sialkot, the capital Islamabad and Rawalpindi according to an IndiaSpend analysis.
The Prithvi series are road mobile and deployed. Development of the Prithvi series began in 1983.
Agni I and II, with ranges of 700 km and 2,000 km respectively, are capable of targeting almost all major Pakistani cities, including Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Peshawar, Karachi, Quetta and Gwadar.
The development of the Agni I began in 1999, and it was first tested in January 2002. The Agni I fills the gap between the SRBM Prithvi series and medium-range Agni II missile. It has been in service since 2004.
The Agni II is a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), first tested in April 1999. It allows India to attack all of Pakistan, although it falls short of major targets within China. Like Agni I, it too is highly accurate and is road and rail mobile.
Agni III, IV and V, with their longer ranges, might be able to reach all of Pakistan, but it can be safely said that they are directed more towards China.
Pakistan’s Hatf (named after the sword of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh) series of ballistic missiles have been developed–and is still under development–keeping India in mind. These missiles have varying ranges starting from 70 km, and go up to 2750 km. Some of these missiles are variants of existing Chinese and North Korean ballistic missiles, according to a report on Pakistan’s ballistic missile programme by the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore.
Of these, the operational SRBM Ghaznavi (named after the 11th-century Afghan invader Mahmud Ghazni) is a shortened version of the Chinese M-11 missile and has a range of between 270 km to 350 km; this means it can target Ludhiana, Ahmedabad and the outer perimeter of Delhi.
The recently-tested Ghauri (named after 12th-century Afghan king Shahbuddin Ghauri, also known as Muhammad of Ghauri) is an MRBM, with a claimed range of 1,300 km and is “clearly and unambiguously North Korean in origin”, according to the NIAS report. The report adds that the missile is deployed and can target Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Bhopal and Lucknow.
The Shaheen-III, a road-mobile IRBM was tested this March and has a claimed range of 2,750 km.
Addressing the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference 2015 in Washington, Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai (retd), a former head of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons division, said Pakistan has developed the Shaheen III to prevent India from attaining a nuclear second-strike capability from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public-interest journalism platform, with which Abheet Singh Sethi is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal. Additional inputs from Ramya Panuganty, junior research fellow, National Institute of Advanced Studies)