China, India: Beefing up Nuclear Deterrence!


The Pentagon releasing annual reports on Chinese Military Power is not new. However, for all these years Pentagon’s basic mandate has been to contextualize the Chinese threat to the US interests. Interestingly, in its latest report to Congress, titled "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, 2010" it highlights some issues of concern for India in regards to certain Chinese military investments.

This report highlights that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had replaced the CSS-2 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles with its CSS-5 Medium Range Ballistic Missile systems to improve the regional deterrence. It also mentions about the impact of China’s investments into critical infrastructure, particularly the road network on India’s security. The recent road development along the Sino-Indian border is expected to support the PLA’s plan to boost border defence operations. While concentrating on the rapid increase in the military investments in recent years, China certainly augmented its aircraft carrier programme, cyber-warfare capabilities, anti-satellite missiles and the top-secret J-20 next-generation stealth fighter. Importantly, the report also comments on India's concern at some of these regional developments.

As per the US officials, China’s increasing investments in the military hardware is potentially destabilizing to regional military balances. Such investment also increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation. Finally, they end up contributing to regional tensions and anxieties.

Should India take this report seriously or brush aside as a typical Pentagon rhetoric? In reality, more than reacting hastily to such reports what is important for India is to take the China threat seriously. At present there may not be any eminent possibility in regards both the states actually going out for an all-out war. However, upgrading military technology is a part of strategic signaling. It is important to appreciate that the 21st century is an era of RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs). RMA is all about bringing structural changes in the armed forces and more importantly inducting new technologies. It is the technological superiority which is being perceived as a key to the modern day warfare. The recent upgrading of missile system to CSS-5 by China is a part ongoing process of military modernization by China to factor RMA in their military policies.

However, this particular case should not be viewed as a simple replacement of small missile by a big a missile. What China has done is that it replaced liquid-fuelled, nuclear-capable CSS-2 IRBMs with more advanced and survivable solid-fuelled CSS-5 MRBM systems. This means that it is strengthening its nuclear deterrent posture relative to India.

The CSS-5 is a road mobile missile. Being a solid-propellant system its service life is more but maintenance cost and the required launch time is less. It can deploy 500 kT yield nuclear payload with a minimum range of 500 km and a maximum range of 2,150 km. This makes it an effective system particularly against India. As such China has a hyper-active ballistic and cruise missile programme to add to its already huge nuclear arsenal and the induction of CSS-5, greatly enhances China’s nuclear deployment capability.

In the context of India- China relationship, border tensions remain an irritant for many years. In spite of having good trade relationship, a high degree of mistrust continues to exist amongst these two neighbors. China’s relationship with Pakistan is one more area of concern for India. China has been continuously helping Pakistan towards its military preparedness both in conventional and nuclear fields. Recently, on August 12, China has launched a communication satellite (PAKSAT-1R) for Pakistan giving indications that it is helping them with technologies that have got indirect military significance.

Arguably, India cannot afford to take the Chinese threat lightly. It has learned a hard lesson way back in 1962. On its part India has specific plans of strengthening its eastern borders. It has been reported that Russian-origin Sukhoi-30 MKI and nuclear-capable Agni-III ballistic missile would have a specific role in the eastern theater. There could be troop augmentation near the Sino-Indian border depending on threat perception. Exact details of specific plans obviously would not be made public. India’s defence research organization (DRDO) is having a major programme in regards to its Agni missiles. During September 2011, they would be testing 2,500 km range nuclear capable Agni-II missile; with two further tests are likely to take place in this year. Also, there is possibility that Agni-V, which has range of more than 5,000 km could be tested during this year itself.

On the global theater with their robust economies, India and China are expected to be the 'rulers to tomorrow’s world'. Naturally, keeping India engaged in the South Asian region is of benefit to China. Increasing military challenges for India could be part of long term strategy to keep India preoccupied. Alternatively, it could be in the US interest too, to keep China and India engaged with each other. Hyping military threats leading to arms race is actually a part of 21st century geopolitical games.

Author Note
Ajey Lele, Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi