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Missile Developments in China, India and Pakistan: A Burgeoning Missile Race

The rapid development and deployment of cruise and ballistic missile
capabilities in recent years has raised the security stakes on the
South Asian subcontinent. The three major nuclear states—India, China
and Pakistan—have been sharpening their respective missile capabilities
and stockpiling a growing arsenal, while simultaneously
developing/acquiring ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability to
defend against potential threats. China has also developed a potent
nuclear triad (i.e. strategic bombers, land-based missiles, and
ballistic missile submarines) that Pakistan may be able to acquire
given the close relations between Beijing and Islamabad, India will
soon achieve this capability after the nuclear submarine INS Arihant is
commissioned. The on-going missile race has the potential to severely
undermine regional security and necessitates greater transparency among
the three Asian nuclear states.

Verbal Posturing

Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong of the People’s Liberation Army National
Defense University (NDU) made the observation that India still lags
behind China in missile technology by more than a decade and “It’s
[sic] still unknown when the Agni-III will be deployed by the Indian
army, though they claim the missile is ready for use. And it might take
at least another five years to ready the Agni-V.” He has also set aside
the notion of an Indian missile threat and stated, “In developing its
military technology, China has never taken India as a strategic rival,
and none of its weapons were specifically designed to contain India”
(Global Times [China], February 12).

RA Zhang’s statements
were in response to India’s Chief Military Scientist V.K. Saraswat’s
comments that, “After Agni III and Agni V, as far as cities in China
and Pakistan are concerned, there will be no target that we [India] want to hit but can’t [sic] hit” (Zeenews.com, February 10). Further
adding fuel to the fire, Sarasvat, the chief of DRDO (Defense Research
and Development Organization)—one of Asia’s largest government owned
defense contractors and a leading missile developer—also noted that,
“We [India] feel our accuracy is better than China’s DF-21”
(TibetanReview.net, February 13). The Chinese Foreign Ministry,
however, has played down the verbal duel between the two experts and
observed, “The China-India relation is friendly and cooperative. China
will not be a threat to India, and nor will India pose a threat to
China” (Expressbuzz.com, February 14).

On February 7, India
conducted its third consecutive successful launch of Agni III, a
land-mobile ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and
hitting targets at a distance of 3,000 to 3,500 km (Deccan Herald,
February 11). India announced plans to test Agni V (5,000 km range) by
March 2011 thus joining the elite club of militaries possessing an
inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability (Indian Express,
February 11; The Pioneer, April 16). The Agni Program Director Avinash
Chander reportedly stated that Indian missiles are quite accurate and
can strike within ‘a few hundred meters’ of the target (Indian Express,
February 11).

It is a well-known fact that both Agni III and
Agni V were designed with China in mind and can reach targets as far as
Beijing and Shanghai (The Times of India, Jun 20, 2009). The earlier
variants Agni I (700 km range) and Agni II (over 2,000 km range) are in
different stages of induction in the Indian defense forces and can
easily strike targets anywhere in Pakistan.

Chinese Missile Deployments in Tibet

growing militarization of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) also have
deepened Indian concerns over Chinese military capability after the
PLA’s Second Artillery Corps began positioning a variety of
sophisticated missiles in the Himalayas. In 2001, there were reportedly
about eight ICBM, 70-medium range and 20 intermediate-range missile
sites in Tibet (News.Indiamart.com, March 19, 2001). Over the years,
liquid fuel missiles such as the DF-4 that required longer preparation
time for launch have been replaced by more sophisticated solid fuel
medium-range ballistic missile DF-21 (single warhead of 200-300
kilo-tons yield), which can hit targets at a distance of 2,150
kilometers (Dnaindia.com, May 16, 2008). These are located at the
Delingha site in TAR, which is about  2,000 km from New Delhi [1] and
are under the command of  812 Brigade of the SAC [2]. Similarly, there
are other missile sites in Tsaidam at Terlingkha, the headquarters of a
missile regiment and Amdo bordering Sinchuan [3]. There is also other
DF-21 missile site located at Kunmin in the Yunan province (Indian
Express, May 17, 2008). Moreover, China now has a potent long-range
missile inventory of DF-31 and DF-41 inter-continental ballistic
missiles (ICBM) that can strike targets at 6,000-10,000 km. Therefore,
several north Indian cities including New Delhi are within the Chinese
missiles range.

Missile Developments in Pakistan

has acquired an impressive array of missile that includes the ‘Hatf’,
‘Hatf I’, ‘Abdali’, ‘Ghaznvi’ in the short-range category; ‘Shaheen I
and II’ in the medium-range category and the long-range ‘Ghauri’ [4].
It also has the land attack cruise missile ‘Babur’ and the air-launched
cruise missile ‘Raad.’ Pakistan and China enjoy an ‘all-weather’
relationship that also involves the supply of military hardware
including missiles. A large proportion of Pakistan’s missile inventory
is of Chinese origin and Beijing is reported to have facilitated the
transfer of North Korean Taepodong and Nodong ballistic missiles to
Pakistan (Business Standard [Delhi], December 31, 2006). New Delhi is
also concerned about the close degree of military cooperation between
Beijing and Islamabad on nuclear cooperation, including the transfer of
technology and joint development of military equipment.

Ballistic Missile Defense

another level, India has been attentive to Chinese successes in
anti-satellite (ASAT) system tests in 2007, and the more recent
ground-based mid-range anti ballistic missile tests on January 14.
Apparently, India has completed the ‘building blocks’ for an ASAT
weapon system but there are no plans to make these operational (The
Hindu, February 11).

India is also developing technology to
intercept incoming ballistic missiles that may be launched by either
China or Pakistan. In 2007, soon after the Chinese ASAT tests, the
then-chief of the DRDO M. Natarajan had disclosed that the indigenous
program of ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield had made a
technological breakthrough and a ballistic missile was intercepted at a
height of 50 km (The Tribune [Chandigarh], February 20, 2007).

November 2006 and December 2007, India conducted successful
“exo-atmospheric,” “endo-atmospheric” tests and incoming missiles were
intercepted at 40-50 Km and 15 Km altitudes respectively
(Asiatimes.com, January 15, 2009). Further, the DRDO has claimed that
by 2011-12 it would have developed the BMD capability to neutralize
incoming missiles with ranges in the order of 2,000 Km and in the near
future it will be possible to field systems that can thwart threats
from missiles with ranges of up to 5,000 km (Asiatimes.com, January 15,

More recently, while comparing the Chinese and Indian BMD
programs, V.K. Saraswat observed that India’s BMD program started in
1999 (The Hindu, February 11) and “This is one area where we are senior
to China” (Indian Express, February 11). Reacting to Saraswat’s rather
provocative assertion, Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong retorted “India’s
technology for its measurement and control system, which is used to
trace launched missiles, remains at a very low level, and they are
unable to constitute a complete and reliable missile defense system”
(Global Times, February 14).

India is investing a substantial
amount of technological resources to develop a robust missile shield.
The Indian Air Force and the Indian Army are planning to deploy the
Akash (25 km range supersonic missiles; 88 percent kill probability)
air defense systems with the associated network of radars along the
India China border and the first system is scheduled to be made
operational by 2011 (Arunachalnews.com, February 17; Tibetanreview.net,

India is also planning to establish centers for
nuclear and missile intelligence that will function under the direct
control of the National Security Council (Times of India, July18,
2009). Besides monitoring regional nuclear and missile developments,
the centers will also collate information from other national
intelligence agencies.

There are significant ballistic missile
related developments in the maritime domain also. The Indian Navy is
exploring the possibility of equipping its warships with the advanced
shipboard Aegis Combat System (ACS) to intercept incoming missiles.
(Sspconline.org, May 14, 2009). A few Indian ships of the Sukanya-class
are capable of launching Dhanush (250 – 350 km range), the nasalized
Prithvi II missile, capable of carrying nuclear and conventional
warheads (Thaindian.com, December 13, 2009).

In response to the
growing Indian missile inventory, Pakistan is actively exploring the
possibility of acquiring high-altitude anti-ballistic missile (ABM)
systems from China. According to a Pakistani defense analyst, the
Chinese HQ-9/FD2000 developed by the China Academy of Defense
Technology is the favorite “since no other supplier will sell these
types of missiles to Pakistan” (Asian Defence, April 3, 2009).
HQ-9/FD2000 is a sophisticated and potent anti-missile system capable
of hitting aircraft, air-launched cruise missiles and ballistic
missiles. Apparently, HQ-9 draws technology from the S-300s acquired by
China from Russian and the U.S. Patriot system obtained from Israel
(Asian Defence, April 3, 2009).

India’s ‘Two Front War’

December 2009, General Deepak Kapoor, the Indian army chief observed
that India should prepare for `two-front war,’ purportedly referring to
Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s Foreign Office termed his remarks
‘jingoistic,’ ‘irresponsible’ and of ‘hostile intent’ (The Times of
India, Dec 31, 2009). Yet, experts have argued that there is nothing
alarming in the General’s statement. India had in the past engaged in a
‘two-front war’ during the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars when China
had conducted military maneuvers/redeployments along the India-China
border, thus preventing relocation of Indian troops to the western
borders and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Nevertheless, the
Indian Army Chief’s observations merit attention. Pakistan has engaged
in covert warfare involving use of terrorist groups to foster militancy
in Kashmir (Bbc.co.uk, March 3). It also mobilized Mujahideen along
with regular military and waged war against India as seen during the
1999 Kargil Operations. In 2001-02, the Pakistan based militant group
Jaish-e-Mohammad was responsible for an attack on the Indian Parliament
(The Tribune, December 16, 2001). India’s border with Pakistan
continues to be active with frequent attempts by the Pakistan Army to
facilitate infiltration by terrorist elements under cover of fire.
India-China border has seen increased border intrusions by the PLA and
China is investing significant resources to develop military related
logistic infrastructure such as all weather roads and rail links. As
noted earlier, New Delhi has watched with great concern the Chinese
missile arsenal in TAR. Further, the close nexus between China and
Pakistan in nuclear and missile related technology has prompted the
Indian defense minister to state: “The nexus between China and Pakistan
in the military sphere remains an area of great concern. We have to
carry out continuous appraisal of Chinese military capabilities and
shape our responses accordingly. At the same time, we need to be
vigilant at all times” (Indian Express, November 27, 2009).

Regional Security

is perhaps most worrisome in the region is the fact that missile
superiority for one protagonist is perceived as disadvantageous to the
other, which could result in a zero-sum missile race. There are no
regional political or diplomatic initiatives in place to slow down the
regional missile race. Besides, there is scant public knowledge or
debate in the regional media about how to manage the dense missile
environment in the subcontinent. At the same time, there are fears that
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Jihadi elements
undermining regional security, which has been vehemently denied by
Islamabad. There is reason to believe that the regional missile race
can be addressed through diplomacy and confidence-building measures
(CBM) aimed at transparency. China, India and Pakistan would have to
collectively address the regional missile developments sooner rather
than later and institute mechanisms to prevent accidental missile
launches and alleviate anxiety and fear.