India’s MIRV Expansion along with Satellites, Missile Defense, AI and Precision Weapons: Destabilizing South Asia

by Zohaib Altaf and Nimra Javed

On 11th March, India successfully conducted the first flight test of a domestically developed missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology, as announced by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the messaging platform X. Following this Indian missile experiment, the Indian media attempted to downplay the significance of a similar Pakistani experiment, falsely claiming that India now stands among the elite nations possessing this technology. However, this Indian claim is inaccurate, as Pakistan had developed this technology seven year before India. While it is argued that the MIRV nature inherently constitutes an offensive weapon and may have implications for the strategic stability of the region, however there is a need to see these capabilities within a contextual framework. There is a need to elucidate how Pakistan’s MIRV capability ensures deterrence and promotes strategic stability, while India’s MIRV capability and its collective, vis-à-vis Pakistan, is offensive in nature and poses challenges to strategic stability in South Asia. Emphasizing this narrative is crucial because if Pakistan understates its MIRV capability, it inadvertently aligns with Modi’s policies and advances India’s international standing in domain of arms control.

Why Pakistan MRIV capabilities Brings Strategic Stability:

First, there is need to understand that why did Pakistan developed MIRV capabilities. Pakistan development of MIRV capabilities is ensure to deterrence because India is investing heavily on missile defense systems. In December 2018, New Delhi approved the Indian Air Force’s purchase of five S-400 systems, including 6,000 missiles, for about US$6 billion with two platforms pending delivery.

Furthermore, India is in the process of developing a comprehensive missile defense system comprising a two-tiered ballistic missile defense system, a three-layered surface-to-air missile system, and an indigenous man-portable air defense missile system. The two-tiered system has successfully completed Phase I and commenced Phase II trials. In April 2023, India achieved a milestone flight trial of its sea-based interceptor missile. This system is designed to intercept missiles launched from distances of up to 5,000 kilometers and will incorporate an overlapping network of radars, command and control posts, as well as early warning capabilities.

Recently, India has recently achieved success in testing its indigenous Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) missile system, significantly bolstering its air defense capabilities. India conducted two successful tests of this domestically developed man-portable air defense missile system. Specifically designed to neutralize hostile aircraft, drones, and helicopters at extremely short ranges, this system marks a notable advancement in India’s defense capabilities.

India, through the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is currently in the developmental stages of a long-range surface-to-air missile (LR-SAM) system, also referred to as Project Kusha. This system is being engineered to detect and eliminate a wide array of threats including aircraft, drones, cruise missiles, stealth fighters, and precision-guided munitions. With an anticipated operational range of up to 350 kilometers, the LR-SAM aims to match the interception capabilities of the Russian S-400 Triumf air defense system. Moreover, it is envisaged to offer robust “area air defense,” boasting an 80% single-shot kill probability and a 90% salvo launch kill probability.

Moreover, India has developed autonomous anti-drone system Indrajaal that can instantly detect, recognize, track, and neutralize threats from drones. With the capability to monitor drones over an area of 4,000 square kilometers, Indrajaal can be customized to meet various operational requirements, showcasing the potential of AI in defensive military applications. Similarly, Russia has deployed an AI-powered anti-drone system known as ‘Stupor’.

There is a great chance that India also enhances AI into its missile defense capabilities. India is already calling the missile defense system it is Iron dome and it already has cooperation in missile defense system with Israel. Israel is using the AI systems to enhance the performance of its missile defense system. Utilizing AI-powered algorithms, data from radar and various sensors are analyzed to track incoming missiles and determine the optimal interception timing. This advancement has substantially boosted the effectiveness of Iron Dome, achieving a success rate exceeding 90%.

There are other countries are exploring this options as well. In 2021, Vice Admiral of the US army discussed the Potential of AI in Missile Defense Testing. In February 2024, the US Space Development Agency, has given a contract of 1.6 million dollars to EpiSci to develop Software to detect hypersonic missiles utilizing the data from low-earth orbit satellites.



Pakistan MIRV Capability Ensuring Strategic Stability

The development of Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) by Pakistan can be understood as a strategic response to the evolving missile defense capabilities of India. The context of these advancements in missile defense technologies, especially those incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), has profound implications for the strategic stability of South Asia.

India’s investment in missile defense systems, such as the S-400 from Russia, its indigenous two-tiered ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, surface-to-air missile systems, and the Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS), represents a significant leap in its ability to neutralize potential threats from airborne attacks, including ballistic missiles. The integration of AI, as seen in the Indrajaal autonomous anti-drone system and potential enhancements to its missile defense capabilities, could further improve the efficacy of India’s air and missile defense by enabling faster, more accurate detection and interception of incoming threats. The cooperation with Israel and the adoption of AI technologies akin to those used in the Iron Dome system underline India’s intent to bolster its defensive posture significantly.

From the perspective of strategic stability, the improvement of India’s missile defense systems poses a challenge to the deterrent capability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. In traditional deterrence theory, the effectiveness of a country’s nuclear deterrent is significantly predicated on its ability to ensure a credible second-strike capability—that is, the assurance that it can respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear retaliation, thereby deterring an initial strike by an adversary.

The deployment of advanced missile defense systems by India could potentially undermine this deterrent capability by giving India the means to intercept and neutralize incoming ballistic missiles from Pakistan. This perceived erosion of Pakistan’s retaliatory capability could destabilize the delicate balance of deterrence that currently exists between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

In response, Pakistan’s development of MIRV technology represents a strategic countermeasure to preserve the credibility of its nuclear deterrent. MIRVs allow a single missile to carry multiple nuclear warheads, each of which can be targeted independently at different locations. This capability complicates the task of missile defense systems, significantly increasing the probability that at least some warheads would penetrate the defenses and reach their targets, thereby maintaining the efficacy of Pakistan’s deterrent.

By deploying MIRVs, Pakistan seeks to ensure that its nuclear forces remain a credible deterrent against any form of aggression, including preemptive strikes aimed at neutralizing its nuclear capabilities. This move can be seen as an effort to restore strategic stability by ensuring that any potential advantage gained by India through its missile defense systems does not upset the strategic balance, thereby deterring both sides from considering a first-strike option.

Why Indian MIRV Capability Vis-à-vis Pakistan Disturb Strategic Stability

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is targeting the launch of 50 satellites over the next five years to enhance geo-intelligence gathering capabilities. This initiative involves deploying satellites across various orbits to enable tracking troop movements and capturing high-resolution images spanning thousands of kilometers. This is a new domain which is coming up not only in optical, but also in SAR (synthetic aperture radar), thermal and various other technologies. Enhancing satellite capabilities to detect changes was crucial, integrating more AI-driven and data-centric methods for data analysis, minimizing data downloads, and prioritizing the retrieval of essential information were key objectives.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is undergoing a significant transformation as it seeks to become the Indian Air and Space Force (IASF) and expand its capabilities in the aerospace domain. With a new doctrine centered around the effective utilization of the “air and space continuum” and a “Space Vision 2047,” the IAF has presented a detailed proposal to the government for its renaming. According to sources, the proposal is expected to receive clearance soon.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) envisions a future where India will operate over 100 military satellites, both large and small, within the next seven to eight years, with active involvement from the private sector. Concurrently, the Defense Space Agency, established in 2019, is on track to evolve into a fully operational Space Command. With this transition in mind, the IAF is intensifying its efforts to fully leverage the potential of space, expanding beyond its current focus on intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, and navigation capabilities.

Collaborating with entities such as ISRO, DRDO, IN-Space, and private industry, the IAF aims to pioneer niche space-related technologies. This includes advancements in positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, and communication systems, space weather prediction, space situational awareness, and space traffic management.

Furthermore, India is enhancing its Earth Observation (EO) capabilities by deploying satellites with improved temporal resolution and AI integration, aimed at augmenting surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The planned launch of the Geostationary Satellite (GSAT)-7B by 2026 will provide the Indian Army with an advanced communications platform, enhancing network-centric warfare capabilities.

Moreover, the Indian Army is modernizing its surveillance and intelligence infrastructure by establishing integrated centers to consolidate data from diverse sensors, providing a comprehensive operational perspective. By December 2025, numerous such centers are expected to be operational, enhancing battlefield management, decision-making processes, and logistics.

Emphasizing automation, digitization, and networking, the army is evolving into a highly adaptable and technologically proficient force. Key initiatives such as Project Sanjay, ACCCS, AIDSS, Project Anumaan, SAMA, and Project Avagat are pivotal in this transformation, leveraging AI for operational precision and heightened situational awareness. The adoption of swarm drone technology, powered by AI, reflects a shift towards more autonomous, swift, and precise military operations, further augmenting India’s capability for proactive measures.

On March 11, an official announcement confirmed India’s successful development of Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology. This advancement is applicable to various missiles within the Agni series, including the Agni-P, which has already been integrated into India’s missile arsenal. The Agni-P incorporates advanced technology, initially introduced in the Agni-V missile, featuring the canisterization of nuclear warheads. This allows for swift mating of warheads with the missile, thereby reducing launch time. The incorporation of canisterization and rapid launch capabilities significantly enhances India’s capacity for preemptive strikes against potential adversaries. Specifically tailored with Pakistan in mind, the Agni-P missile epitomizes precision strike capabilities. With an accuracy of just 10 meters, it can effectively target and neutralize hardened silos and command centers, thereby undermining Pakistan’s retaliatory capabilities.
The initiatives by India to enhance its space and AI capabilities, including the deployment of advanced satellites, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for data analysis, and the development of Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology, significantly impact its strategic posture, particularly in relation to Pakistan. SAR satellites can capture high-resolution images in all weather conditions, dramatically improving intelligence gathering. Coupled with AI, this allows for real-time tracking of troop movements and the detection of missile silos with high accuracy. The ability to monitor and accurately identify strategic assets undermines an adversary’s ability to maintain the element of surprise, a critical component of nuclear deterrence.

MIRV technology enhances the potential for a successful first-strike by enabling a single missile to carry multiple warheads, each capable of being independently targeted. This, along with the precision afforded by advanced guidance systems and the intelligence gathered from SAR satellites and AI, significantly enhances preemptive strike capabilities. Such capabilities challenge the traditional calculus of deterrence by diminishing an adversary’s confidence in their second-strike capability, thus upsetting the strategic balance.

The integration of AI in swarm drone technology, capable of attacking nuclear launch vehicles, further blurs the lines between conventional and nuclear conflict, increasing the risk of escalation. The cumulative effect of these advancements might encourage a destabilizing arms race, with each side seeking to regain strategic advantage.

Why India is Downplaying Pakistan’s MIRV Capabilities

Firstly, Prime Minister Modi aims to present this technological achievement as a testament to India’s advancing capabilities in the technological domain, positioning it as an emerging international power. However, the fact that Pakistan had tested similar technology seven years prior to India does not align well with the image Modi seeks to project. This discrepancy challenges the portrayal of India as a pioneer in technological advancement within South Asia.

Secondly, with the development of MIRV technology and the accompanying narrative that India has joined the ranks of elite nations, there is a clear ambition to secure a prominent seat at major international discussions, particularly those concerning arms control. This move is seen as an effort to enhance India’s influence on global matters.

Moreover, the downplaying of Pakistani capabilities serves as a strategy to undermine Pakistan’s position in international forums. By diminishing the recognition of Pakistan’s technological achievements, there is an attempt to deny Pakistan a significant role in discussions related to arms control and other critical international issues. This approach not only highlights the competitive nature of regional dynamics but also reflects the broader implications of technological advancements on international diplomacy and security discussions.

Way Forward for Pakistan

Therefore, Pakistan should highlight its MIRV capability and tell the world that how its MIRV capabilities are ensuring the deterrence and bringing strategic stability in the region because India is developing extensive missile defense systems and there is also indicator that India incorporate AI into its missile defense system, which can really challenge the strategic stability in the region. So, India cannot deny the space to Pakistan on the table discussions relate to arm control and MIRV related capabilities.  Secondly, Pakistan should highlight the MIRV capabilities not only with its precision which does not align with stated goal of its nuclear doctrine but also how it incorporating AI, space, swarm drone, and building surveillance infrastructure, which shows that India is not jut adopting MIRV for counterforc and for war fighting rather than for defense purposes as Pakistan is adopting.

Therefore, Pakistan should emphasize its own MIRV capabilities to the international community, demonstrating how these capabilities serve to maintain deterrence and contribute to strategic stability in the region. This is particularly important given India’s development of extensive missile defense systems, including indications that India may integrate AI into its missile defense systems. Such advancements by India could significantly challenge regional strategic stability. By showcasing its MIRV capabilities, Pakistan can assert that India cannot exclude it from discussions related to arms control and MIRV-related technologies.

Furthermore, Pakistan should highlight that its MIRV capabilities are not solely focused on precision strikes, which might not align with the stated goals of its nuclear doctrine, but also on how it is incorporating AI, space technology, swarm drones, and building surveillance infrastructure.

This approach suggests that India is adopting MIRV capabilities not merely for counterforce or warfighting purposes but is moving towards a posture that includes offensive capabilities. In contrast, Pakistan’s adoption of MIRV technology is framed as a measure for defense and deterrence, aligning with its strategic goal of maintaining regional stability rather than escalating tensions.

By emphasizing these points, Pakistan can argue that its strategic developments are in response to preserving the balance of power and ensuring peace in the face of emerging threats and advancements from India. This narrative can help Pakistan advocate for its place in discussions on arms control and the responsible use of advanced military technologies, emphasizing the need for mutual respect and dialogue to prevent an arms race and maintain strategic stability in South Asia.


You may also like

Leave a Comment

Stay Connected

Follow and subscribe

Contact CISS AJK

Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir