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Debak Das, an assistant professor at the University of Denver, has drawn attention to India’s successful test of an Agni-V ballistic missile equipped with Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology on March 11, 2024, codenamed Mission Divyastra.

While this development signifies a significant leap in India’s nuclear deterrence capabilities, China is likely to maintain a numerical and qualitative advantage in nuclear weapons delivery.

The deployment of MIRV technology should be seen in conjunction with India’s proposed Integrated Rocket Force. This conventional missile force, encompassing short- and long-range cruise and ballistic missiles, aims to counter China’s military presence. Notably, the short-range Pralay missile, with a range of 150-500 kilometers, is expected to be a key component of this force, specifically targeted towards deterring China.

Professor Das posits a complex situation. While MIRVs could strengthen India’s second-strike capability and potentially create a sense of stability at the nuclear level, it might also create space for escalation at lower levels of conventional conflict.

The perception of a more robust nuclear deterrent through MIRVs might embolden India to utilize its Integrated Rocket Force more aggressively, particularly against Chinese conventional forces along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC). This could lead to an unintended escalation of conventional warfare.

The development of advanced weaponry like MIRVs underscores the importance of open communication and confidence-building measures between India and China. Both nations need to engage in strategic dialogue to mitigate miscalculations and prevent a potential escalation from conventional to nuclear conflict.

India’s MIRV-equipped Agni-V missile test alters the regional security landscape. While it strengthens India’s deterrence against China, it also creates a situation where conventional military options might seem more tenable. To prevent unintended escalation, India and China must prioritize dialogue and transparency in their strategic relationship.