Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

China’s missile tests could have Sputnik-like effect

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HGV missile

Mains level : Paper 2- HGV test by China and its implications

Context

On October 27 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US, reacted to China testing its nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons system by drawing an analogy with a Sputnik moment.

How US’s Ballistic Missile Defence led to the recent Sputnik moment

  •  Since the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002, both Russia and China have been wary of Washington’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme.
  • It undermines strategic stability: Missile defence is inherently destabilising — it undermines “strategic stability”.
  • A robust BMD would compromise the second strike capability of the adversary by neutralising the surviving incoming missiles in case of a near-decapitating first strike
  • Both Russia and China thus view the US BMD as undermining their deterrence and have sought ways to restore their retaliatory strike capability by investing in new technologies such as Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs).
  • HGVs can escape the missile defence systems.
  • HGVs fly at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, which means they could potentially escape early warning systems, aided by the earth’s curvature.

Implications of Chinese test

  • It can set off competition: The Chinese tests have the potential to set off an aggressive competition among the nuclear powers to modernise their nuclear arsenals and add new, potentially destabilising capabilities to their arsenal.
  • Global and regional arms race: In the present era of minimal arms control measures, the Chinese hypersonic missile system test will trigger an intense arms race both at the global and regional levels.
  • With the Chinese test, the US may be forced to expand its hypersonic programme and further modernise its missile defence systems.

What should be the course of action for India

  • China’s nuclear-tipped hypersonic weapon systems, though not particularly India-focused, could nudge New Delhi to adopt two courses of action.
  • Missile program: First, accelerate its hypersonic missiles programme.
  • Develop missile defence system: Second, consider erecting an equally robust missile defence.
  • Chinese advancement in stealth technologies will drive New Delhi to seek similar capabilities but also develop effective countermeasures.
  • This can then set off a regional arms race, a sign that is not particularly encouraging for regional peace.

Consider the question “Examine the implications of recent hypersonic missile test by China for the region and global arms race control efforts? What should be the course of action for India? “

Conclusion

China’s hypersonic missile test may not have come with a Sputnik-like surprise, but it has the potential to set off a post-Sputnik-like arms race that does not augur well for the strategic stability both at the global and regional level.

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Back2Basics: Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs)

  • A hypersonic missile is a vehicle that achieves a speed five times faster than the speed of sound, crossing Mach 5.
  • These missiles travel at a speed of around 6,115 km per hour, with a combination of technology and manoeuvrability of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
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