DPG Policy Brief

Mission Divyastra: MIRV Capabilities and India’s Strategic Posture

Date: March 28, 2024
India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) achieved a milestone on March 11, 2024, with the successful test of the IRBM Agni-5, featuring indigenous Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.  The relevance of this test lies in the successful integration of MIRV technology with the Agni-5 missile, which is the mainstay of India’s intermediate range strategic deterrence.  India is the sixth nation to have developed MIRV capability.

In this Policy Brief, the author examines in depth global and regional reactions to India’s breakthrough, the emerging nuclear order, the strategic postures of the major powers, and finally the Asian regional perspective.

While the reactions of Western nuclear experts have tended to place the Indian MIRV test within a South Asian stability-instability paradigm, Chinese experts point to this test as evidence of India’s bid to enhance its deterrence capabilities through extended reach across mainland China.  Furthermore, India is hardly alone in undertaking the technological upgradation of its strategic forces to meet emerging security challenges.  Major nuclear powers are extensively engaged in upgrading and modernising their nuclear arsenals, driven both by emerging global balance of power considerations and the deepening strategic competition between the US-led West and the Russia-China axis.    

With arms control and associated treaties either abrogated or in cold storage, and the flux in the global balance of power, an environment of strategic instability prevails, which an emerging power like India cannot ignore.  

The author points out that while India’s major concerns are centred around China’s nuclear modernisation, China and Pakistan are, individually and collusively, also engaged in a military and nuclear arms race with India.  However, India cannot approach this challenge from the limited perspective of South Asian stability alone.  Given China’s formidable strategic and conventional capability, India must ensure the survival of its strategic assets, as well as its capability to undertake credible massive retaliation against a first strike.  The MIRV and MaRV systems being developed by India are thus part of necessary technological advancements to ensure the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent.  

The author concludes that India’s strategic environment is worsening, driven by both the doctrinal precepts of its adversarial neighbours and the modernisation of their arsenals.  This makes the constant technological upgradation of strategic capability not a choice, but an imperative.  India’s MIRV test is at best an initial step in that direction.  The technology upgradations being undertaken by India fall well within the purview of its minimum credible deterrence, with the focus on both ‘credible’ and ‘minimum’.  

To read this Policy Brief Vol. IX, Issue 11, please click “Mission Divyastra: MIRV Capabilities and India’s Strategic Posture”.