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India Steps Up Military Rivalry with China

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New Delhi tests new nuclear weapons systems amid growing distrust between the Asian giants and alarm about Beijing's alliance with Pakistan

By Tribune News Service in Islamabad

India has embarked on a series of crucial weapons-systems tests that will result in the first deployment by air, sea and land of nuclear weapons by rival powers in Asia in 2016.

The creation of what military planners call a nuclear theatre in South Asia would pit India against  neighbouring foes China and Pakistan, nations with which India has fought a total of seven wars since 1947. The region comprises a population of 2.8 billion, nearly 39 per cent of the world's people, according to 2014 estimates by the US Census Bureau.

India fought a 1962 war with China and has had six conflicts with Pakistan since attaining independence in 1947, mostly territorial disputes left unresolved by departing British colonial rulers.

The strategic game change in South Asia comes as India perfects its ability to hit targets anywhere in China with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles and establishes an ability to launch nuclear missiles from submarines.

The completion of India's air-, land- and sea-based nuclear weapon triumvirate would place it on rough strategic par with China, its major rival for power in South Asia and Pakistan's key ally.

"The reality of an arms race in South Asia is quite evident. For most Indian decision-makers, it is the China factor that remains the most important issue. [New] Delhi also fears a China-Pakistan axis, and so it feels the need to be prepared for a 'two-front' war," said Harsh V. Pant, an Asia security expert and professor of international relations at King's College London.

China possesses about 250 nuclear weapons and Pakistan has up to 120, compared with India's 110, according to a report published last month by the Council on Foreign Relations, a US research organisation. Only the United States and Russia possess more. The series of strategic events in South Asia started last Tuesday with the Indian military's first successful test of the 4,000-km range Agni-IV, the first Indian ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear or conventional warheads deep into Chinese territory. It is scheduled to be deployed by India's strategic forces command in late 2015.

Later this month, India's strategic weapons trailblazer, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, is scheduled to test the road-mobile delivery platform of its first true intercontinental ballistic missile, the Agni-V. With a range of up to 5,400km, it would extend India's strategic reach to the rest of China when pressed into service in 2016.

The achievement of that key objective of India's land-based strategic weapons programme would be accompanied in 2016 by the Indian navy's deployment of its first nuclear weapons-carrying submarine.

Soon to begin sea trials, the Arihant is the first of three home-built Indian subs that would each carry either four or 12 missiles with a 3,500km or 700km range respectively, strongly suggesting a choice of mission between targets in China or Pakistan.

The likely deployment of India's first nuclear-armed submarine prompted China to dispatch its submarines on a tour of the Indian Ocean for the first time this year. Provocatively, the two conventionally armed submarines called at a Chinese-operated port in Sri Lanka.

"With China spreading its wings in the Indian Ocean, nuclear submarines are considered critical by India to attain a credible second-strike posture vis-a-vis China. The real story here is the growing China-India distrust and how that has impacted the defence acquisitions in South Asia," Pant said.

The strategic stakes in the Indian Ocean would be raised further if China were to agree to sell Pakistan the technology to build Chinese-designed nuclear-armed submarines.

China has added three of five Jin-class nuclear-armed submarines to its arsenal since 2010, each carrying a dozen ballistic missiles with a range of 2,900 miles, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence. It hasn't yet conducted any operational patrols with the subs, according to the Council on Foreign Relations report.

Pakistani defence analysts said Pakistan was pursuing a deal for three nuclear submarines. The first would be built in China, and the other two at a Pakistani naval dockyard in Karachi. However, there's been no official comment from Pakistan or China since the deal first surfaced in the Pakistani media in 2013.

[Source: South China Morning Post]


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