For a long time, the main components of India’s strategic missile force consisted of the Prithvi I and Agni I short-range ballistic missiles, and the Agni II medium-range missile.
For many years, India has focused on research, development, and procurement of strategic weapons to equip its military, in order to strengthen its strategic deterrence, making India a power in the region and in the world.
The Agni III intermediate-range ballistic missile uses a large-sized solid-propellant rocket engine, with a length of 17m, a body diameter of nearly 2m, a launch weight of 50 tons. The Agni III has a range of more than 3,000km and is transported by rail. Missile Agni IV is the fourth in the Agni series, with a range of over 5,000km, capable of reaching key targets in the territory of potential adversaries.
With the Agni V, this is an Indian nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of around 5,000 to 8,000 km. It is a three-stage, road-mobile and solid-fueled missile which is transported by a truck and launched via a canister. It can carry 2-10 self-targeting nuclear warheads, equivalent to 15-250 Kt per warhead. Agni V can attack targets throughout Asia, reaching parts of Europe, Africa and part of the Americas. With Agni V, India officially joins the club of intercontinental ballistic missile powers, including the US, Russia, China, UK and France.
In terms of fighters, this is a key component of India’s strategic strike force, including the Mirage 2000H, Jaguar IS/IB and possibly MiG-29. They are all nuclear-capable aircraft. Mirage 2000H (known in India as Vajra) is a French multirole, single-engined, fourth-generation jet fighter, deployed in 1st and 7th Squadrons at Maharajpur Air Base, about 270km southeast of New Delhi. Jaguar IS/IB (also known as Shamsher), India currently has 76 aircraft in service with 4 squadrons, of which 2 are capable of carrying out nuclear attack missions.
In addition, the Strategic Force Command (SFC) is establishing two squadrons of dedicated fighter aircraft, including Su-30MKI and MiG-29 multirole fighters, which are well equipped to launch missiles with nuclear warheads. These aircraft will contribute to strengthen India’s nuclear weapons delivery system. The Indian Air Force is also striving to become a strong aerospace force, capable of responding to “crisis” anywhere in the world with lightning maneuverability and strategic depth.
Regarding naval weapons, according to the plan by 2025, the Indian navy will have 5 Arihant-class nuclear submarines, which is the first domestic Indian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The ship is 110m long, with a displacement of 6,000 tons, equipped with 12 vertical launch tubes for Sagarika ballistic missiles with a range of 300km.
Recently, another version of the Sagarika missile, the K-15, was tested from a submarine, with a range of over 700 km, exceeding US intelligence predictions. The K-15 is a two-stage submarine-launched ballistic missile which uses a gas booster to eject out of its launch platform and rise up to the surface of water. A solid rocket motor is fired after the missile reaches a fixed altitude. The missile is 10m long, 740mm in diameter, 17 tons in weight, capable of carrying a 1,000kg nuclear warhead, and the missile’s range can be increased to 1,000km if a 500kg warhead is used. Despite having a range of only 700km compared to 5,000km of submarine-launched ballistic missiles from Russia, the US, China and France, the K-15 missile is an important step forward in making India a military power.
Another nuclear-capable Indian Navy surface-to-surface missile is the Dhanush, which was developed for surface ships, however, its strike capability is limited by a 350km range. In order to reach targets inland, warships would have to approach the enemy’s shoreline, which would make it vulnerable to detection and interception. It is known that a warhead lighter than 500kg for the Dhanush missile is being researched and developed by the Indian defense industry.
India’s strategic weapons development program is facing some difficulties. Currently, India has only short- and medium-range ground-launched ballistic missiles, while the navy’s missile development program is also focusing on medium-range missiles. India’s first domestic nuclear submarine is also only capable of deploying medium-range missiles. According to military experts, India’s nuclear capabilities – with about 110 nuclear warheads – are currently only influential in South Asia and Tibet.