India’s latest Agni-P missile no great threat to China: experts

·3-min read

India has tested a new nuclear-capable missile that is said to match China’s DF-21D “aircraft carrier killer”, but it is unlikely to pose a big threat to China, according to analysts.

The Agni-P, a medium-range ballistic missile, was successfully fired on Monday from a test range on Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation said it followed a “textbook trajectory, meeting all mission objectives with a high level of accuracy”.

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter the missile would “further strengthen India’s credible deterrence capabilities”.

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He said the missile – an advanced variant of India’s Agni class – incorporated technologies including fully upgraded composites, propulsion systems, innovative guidance and control mechanisms and state-of-the-art navigation systems.

The Agni-P has a range of between 1,000 and 2,000km (621-1,242 miles) and is less than half the size of the Agni-3 intermediate-range ballistic missile. Its canister packing, which means it can be transported on trucks or by rail, also greatly increases its mobility and rapid responsiveness.

Given the tensions between India and its neighbours Pakistan and China, previous missiles in the Agni series have often had these two countries as their imagined targets. The Agni-5, India’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of up to 8,000km (4,970 miles), already covers all of China.

While the Agni-P would not reach major Chinese cities like Beijing or Shanghai, Indian media said it could target enemy armadas in the Indo-Pacific.

China’s DF-26D was the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, with a range of about 1,800km using conventional warheads. China also has a nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile, the DF-26B, with a 5,000km range which is also capable of striking warships.

Two of China’s “aircraft carrier killer” missiles – a DF-26B and a DF-21D – were launched in an exercise last year from separate locations on the mainland and reportedly arrived at almost the same time in the South China Sea, successfully striking a target ship.

Military commentator Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said the Agni-P would need further testing to prove its anti-ship capability.

“Hitting a warship with a ballistic missile is a complex systematic project. It takes not only the missile itself, but also many other support systems – such as satellite navigation, terminal target identification, guidance and manoeuvring systems,” he said. “I believe India has this demand and willingness to work hard towards this goal, but it will take time.”

Although it might not be ready for an anti-ship mission, the Agni-P, with its improved quick response and accuracy, could still greatly strengthen the Indian military’s precision strike capability, according to Song.

“It probably does not aim at the big cities of China or Pakistan, but tactical targets like armoured vehicle clusters or airports, for which it could do a better job,” he said.

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