India's Agni-5 missile is shown during a 2013 test launch. On Monday, the country tested the same missile with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle technology.
DelhiCNN — 

India said Monday it had joined the world’s top nuclear powers by mastering the ability to put multiple warheads atop a single intercontinental ballistic missile.

The successful test of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology on the indigenously developed Agni-V ICBM puts India in a club that includes the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom.

Neighboring Pakistan has also claimed to have MIRV technology, but experts say the claim is unverified.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the country’s scientists for the development, one of a series announced by his government months before a national election. The prime minister is seeking a rare third consecutive term in power.

“Proud of our DRDO [Defence Research and Development Organisation] scientists for Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology,” Modi said X on Monday.

Indian scientists conducted the test at a facility on Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal, off India’s northeast coast, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“Various Telemetry and radar stations tracked and monitored multiple re-entry vehicles. The Mission accomplished the designed parameters,” the statement said.
India did not give an exact number of reentry vehicles released during the Agni-V test, but MIRVed missiles can carry a dozen or possibly more MIRV warheads.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated scientists and the team behind the test. “India is proud of them,” he wrote on X.

Home Minister Amit Shah called it a “a momentous day for our nation,” adding that the technology will “further accelerate” Modi’s vision of a “self-reliant Bharat (India).”

Each warhead, once released in space from the rocket that missile that carried it aloft, can be programmed to hit separate targets up to 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) apart, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation.

India has announced rules that would allow it to implement a controversial citizenship bill that excludes Muslims.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs announced the rules Monday, ahead of India’s general election in the spring, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a rare third term in power.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act provides a fast-track to citizenship for immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan – provided they are not Muslim. The controversial law would apply to religious minorities persecuted on religious grounds, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

The bill, originally passed by India’s parliament in 2019, could not come into effect until the rules were notified.

Despite being well-received by Modi, a Hindu nationalist, the bill was heavily protested by opposition parties, which claimed it was unconstitutional and marginalized India’s 200-million Muslim population.

A decades-old technology

MIRV technology is not new. The United States first deployed it in 1970 with the Minuteman III ICBM, according to the National Museum of the US Air Force.

The Minuteman III was designed to carry three warheads, but the US missiles now only carry one to comply with arms control treaties with Russia.

MIRVed missiles present a problem for ballistic missile defenses because interceptor missiles have to contend with a number of warheads traveling to targets hundreds of miles apart.

They are also considered “destabilizing” weapons, according to experts, as they present tempting first-strike targets.

“This creates a ‘use them or lose them’ scenario—an incentive to strike first in a time of crisis. Otherwise, a first strike attack that destroyed a country’s MIRVed missiles would disproportionately damage that country’s ability to retaliate,” according to a website posting from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

India’s announcement of MIRV capability comes as rival China has been expanding its nuclear forces in a similar fashion.

The US Defense Department’s 2023 report to Congress on China’s military said Beijing “is developing new ICBMs that will significantly improve its nuclear-capable missile forces and will require increased nuclear warhead production, partially due to the introduction of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities.”

China and India share a disputed border in the Himalayas, where deadly clashes have occurred as recently as 2020.

Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping in-person for the first time during his presidency at the G20 summit in Indonesia. Biden described the 3-hour meeting as “open and candid,” and he laid out the US approach to one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world as one of competition and not conflict.

Biden also focused on the need for maintaining open lines of communication between Beijing and Washington. China cut off several contacts and meetings with the US following Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who met his Chinese counterpart in Cambodia last week, also emphasized the need for communication, according to a readout of the meeting.

The report also looked at the relationship between Russia and China. The two countries issued a joint statement on February 4, signaling a desire for ongoing partnership and cooperation. Beijing and Moscow have “complementary interests” in terms of their national security and a shared approach to international relations. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine just weeks later has complicated the relationship in ways that may not be fully clear yet.

“Of course it’s going to be an area of keen interest for us and other observers in Europe and elsewhere,” the official said. “We’ve seen the PRC kind of continue to support Russia diplomatically and to amplify a lot of their propaganda and disinformation. And so those are areas of particular concern.”

In 2020, the US estimated that China had nuclear warheads numbering in the low-200s and expected the stockpile to double within a decade. Just two years later, China has reached that mark and could have some 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 if they continue to expand their stockpile at the current pace, according to the 2022 China Military Power report released Tuesday.

“What we’ve seen really in the past couple of years is this accelerated expansion,” said a senior defense official.

The world’s most populous country is using its burgeoning military as one of its tools to create an international system that favors its world view, posing the “most consequential and systemic challenge to US national security,” according to the report, and the larger nuclear capability is a far cry from what China used to call a “lean and efficient” nuclear deterrent. Beijing’s investment in its nuclear triad – sea, land and air-based nuclear launch options – is cause for concern in Washington.

“We see, I think, a set of capabilities taking shape and new numbers in terms of what they’re looking to pursue that raise some questions about what their intent will be in the longer term,” the senior defense official said in a briefing to reporters about the latest report.

China also conducted 135 ballistic missile tests in 2021, the report said, which is more than the rest of the world combined. (The tally excludes ballistic missiles used in the war in Ukraine, the report noted.)

 

The official also offered new details about the Chinese test of a hypersonic missile in July 2021 that flew around the world before hitting its target, an accomplishment that drew attention to the lagging pace of US hypersonic weapons development. The official said the Chinese system flew 40,000 kilometers and demonstrated the longest flight of any Chinese land attack weapon to date.

The Chinese military, formally known as the People’s Liberation Army, is also developing space and counterspace weapons, the report said, viewing the advanced technology as a way to deter outside intervention in a regional military conflict.

China has a standing army of nearly 1 million soldiers, the largest navy in the world by number of ships, and the third largest air force in the world, according to the report.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy, released last month, identifies China as the pacing challenge for the United States, a point often reiterated by the Pentagon’s top leaders.

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