Although the primary reason for the establishment of India’s Rocket Force is China’s rapidly expanding missile and nuclear forces, the IRF contrasts sharply from its Chinese counterpart
Albeit, the SFC does not control the fissile cores of warheads, which are exclusively under the control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) during peacetime, and transitioned for mating with delivery systems in crisis and war.The IRF is distinct from the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) established in 2003, which is also a tri-service command organisation responsible for launching India’s nuclear weapons in the event of a war, under the control and orders of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) led by the Prime Minister of India. Albeit, the SFC does not control the fissile cores of warheads, which are exclusively under the control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) during peacetime, and transitioned for mating with delivery systems in crisis and war. More needs to be spelt out about this new tri-service organisation, but the imperative to create one has existed.
Spelling out some of the key differences between the incipient IRF and the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) is critical to understanding the way Indian and Chinese strategic postures vary.Firstly, the Chinese military’s PLARF is the custodian and operator of the PRC’s combined nuclear and missile forces in both peacetime and wartime and reports directly to the Central Military Commission (CMC) led by Xi Jinping. China has proceeded to blend the deployment of nuclear-tipped missiles with conventional missile capabilities, which marks the crucial difference between India’s IRF and China’s PLARF. It has emplaced nuclear and non-nuclear or conventional missiles in overlapping geographic locations. The PRC has adopted a posture of deliberate ambiguity by co-locating nuclear-armed and conventionally armed forces and veers closely to a Launch on Warning (LoW) posture. In a crisis, assessing and determining the firebreak between conventional and nuclear attacks is likely to be difficult for any would-be adversary including India. It complicates the targeting options of China’s nuclear adversaries because they would find it extremely difficult to distinguish between PLARF’s conventional and nuclear-tipped forces. If anything, it might deter them from attacking. The PLARF’s missile forces have also expanded significantly. While the PLARF fields and deploys an extensive range of missiles, the projectiles of particular concern for India are—and should be—China’s dual-capable Dong Feng (DF)-21 and Dong Feng (DF)-26 ballistic missiles. The DF-21 and DF-26 are capable of carrying out both nuclear and conventional missions for strikes against theatre-level targets. These theatre-level targets are likely to encompass anything within a radius of 1,500-2,000 kilometres from the Chinese mainland or across continental Asia. The Chinese have justified their current nuclear posture as being a direct result of the United States (US)’ Global Conventional Prompt Strike (GCPS) and Missile Defence (MD). Washington’s pursuit of GCPS and MD has also, in part, compelled Beijing’s ambiguous deterrent posture as well as induced the Chinese to expand their nuclear and missile arsenal significantly—in turn, stressing India.
The DF-21 and DF-26 are capable of carrying out both nuclear and conventional missions for strikes against theatre-level targets.The IRF, as opposed to the PLARF, is an exclusively conventional missile force and its use against Chinese missile targets is going to be compounded by the PLARF’s co-mingled deployment and will remain a challenge. Nevertheless, the missile forces deployed as part of the IRF will be very effective against a whole array of static and mobile targets belonging to the Peoples Liberation Army-Army (PLAA) and Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). India is unlikely to adopt the risk-laden approach that the Chinese have pursued with PLARF by co-mingling their nuclear and conventional forces simply because India’s C2 architecture places a high premium on caution and fairly watertight civilian control over the country’s strategic capabilities.
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Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme. Kartik specialises in space military issues and his research is primarily centred on the ...Read More +