Barely after a week of test firing “Agni-V”, India’s Strategic Forces Command on January 2 has successfully test fired “Agni-IV” long-range ballistic missile from a road-mobile launcher. Indian media hailed that the two missiles have completed or are about to complete their final test, and will improve India’s ability to “deter China”. In a similar case, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also said in his New Year message that “North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test has entered the final stage.” Have India and North Korea really crossed the ICBM threshold which has always been “monopolized” by the nuclear powers?
“Agni-IV” with a range of 4,000 km is the fourth model in India’s “Agni” missile family. Indian media says “Agni-IV” in the past five years has conducted six test fires. With one failure, and five successful tests, this times’ successful test marks the completion of “Agni-IV” missile’s final test. On December 26 last year, “Agni-V” has just completed the fourth test. Compared to India, North Korea has not conducted an intercontinental missile test in its true sense. The success of “Unha-3” rocket launch in 2016 is considered as North Korea’s initial attempt at the intercontinental missile technology.
From the point of view of the law of weapons development, the ICBM, as a special weapon which undertakes the task of strategic nuclear strikes, has a series of indispensable tests and test procedures during its research and development, testing, finalizing the design and putting into production. Most of the presently commissioned strategic missiles of the world’s nuclear powers have experienced a decade or even decades of accumulated course of development. Even Russia, which has accumulated rich experience in in the field of nuclear missile technology, did not dare to cut corners in the newly commissioned “Bulava” submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It first conducted the surface and underwater tests of the scale model in 2004. In the five years from the first flight test of the missile in September 2005 to 2010, altogether the “Bulava” missile has undergone 13 test launches. From 2011 to 2014, it has again undergone repeated testing and improvement with an average test frequency of 2 times per year. That is how the entire development cycle including the finalization of design, fitting out, mass production and commissioning has taken up to 10 years. India and North Korea proclaiming to have mastered the ICBM technology only after a few flight tests and test launches, is apparently too hasty.
On the other hand, viewing from the standard of missile technology, the level of India and North Korea in strategic missiles is far from the threshold of nuclear powers. India and North Korea often can only “adopt indigenous methods” to increase the range of missiles. For example, India claims that the heat shield of “Agni-IV” can withstand temperatures up to 4000 degrees, while the corresponding norm of the ICBMs of nuclear powers is above 5000 degrees; the first stage of India’s “Agni-V” missile engine works for 90 seconds, both second and third stage for 75 seconds, while the working time of all stages of ICBM engines of nuclear powers is about 60 seconds. In the strategic battle for milliseconds, the inferior “Agni” is more likely to be detected and intercepted by the missile defense systems.
In addition, viewing from the practical requirements of strategic weapons, rapid fitting out of intercontinental missiles does not mean rapid formation of combat effectiveness. For example, the “Minuteman-III” of the US and the Russian “Topol” ICBMs have been in service for many years, but they still conduct repeated random flight tests every year. India’s “Agni” series of missiles and North Korea’s “Taepodong-2” missiles have at best only carried out developmental and appraisal tests; they have not even completed environmental testing and life testing. Regardless of the level of miniaturization of nuclear weapons by these two countries, when their ICBMs have not even passed the critical test of “missile + nuclear bomb”, their actual combat levels can be imagined. ▲ (Du Dongdong)