However, while Yogesh Joshi, a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, at the National University of Singapore, acknowledged India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was aiming to ensure his country had a place at the table in future international arms control talks, the strategy also increased the risks of a potentially deadly future confrontation by upsetting the delicate balance of power in south Asia. India is estimated to have spent over $500 million (£408million) on the research and development of hypersonic weapons, according to an analysis published by Jane’s at IHS Markit last month. Programs include Shourya, Brahmos II and Hypersonic Technology Demonstrating Vehicle (HSTDV), with India collaborating with Russia for the development of Bramhos II. Funding for the Indian hypersonic weapons programs is expected to grow as they are still at the development and testing stage.
Mr Joshi said: “Even when Chinese interest in Hypersonic weapons is primarily driven by its need to counter the US in Taiwan or in the South China Sea, China is increasingly deploying more missiles on India-China frontier especially in Tibet.
“In any crisis situation over the disputed border, China may use hypersonic weapons to target India’s military forces. Given their manoeuvrability, hypersonic weapons can easily traverse the mountainous terrain along the Sino-Indian border.
“Chinese use of hypersonic weapons can seriously degrade Indian military’s ability to defend the disputed border. Without fear of an Indian retaliation in-kind, Beijing may also be tempted to use these weapons to inflict a quick but painful militarily embarrassment upon New Delhi.
“India’s development of hypersonic weapons especially cruise missiles like Brahmos is therefore intended to send a serious message to China that New Delhi is also capable of responding to any military escalation by Beijing.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s opposite number Imran Khan
The first generation Brahmos is a supersonic missile – Brahmos II is hypersonic
India has already deployed Brahmos I, a supersonic cruise missile which can be launched submarine, ships, aircraft, or land, along the Sino-Indian border, Mr Joshi said.
Mr Joshi said another motivation reflected India’s regional rivalry with Pakistan, which threatened to boil over earlier this year after a terror attack by militants in the disputed Kashmir region in February claimed the lives of 44 Indian paramilitary police.
India launched retaliatory air strikes on what it called “terror camps” inside Pakistan, with Islamabad responding by shooting down two Indian jets in Kashmir.
Mr Modi last month revoked Article 370, the section of the Indian constitution guaranteeing special status to Kashmir and neighbouring Jammu – a move which Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called a “historic blunder”.
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Jammu and Kashmir are hotly disputed territories
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Mr Khan said on Monday a war between the two countries would be a “fight to the death”, hinting at the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Mr Joshi said: “Pakistan’s first use posture on nuclear weapons has complicated India’s nuclear calculus. New Delhi has continued to maintain a no first use policy but more and more Indian officials have started doubting the strategic rationale behind such a policy.
“Pakistan’s continuous nuclear sabre-rattling has deeply unsettled Indian decision-makers. Hypersonic weapons could provide New Delhi a means to not only eliminate Pakistani nuclear weapons but also disrupt its nuclear command and control apparatus.
“For this purpose, India can employ hypersonic weapons with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Such preemptive strikes may substantially degrade Pakistan’s ability to use its nuclear weapons against New Delhi.
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India and Pakistan both possess nuclear weapons
“Given that Pakistan is yet to start working on hypersonics, early development of such a technology may provide India a first mover advantage in any future crisis situation.”
India’s decision to spend heavily on hypersonics was partly an attempt to stake a claim as a major player on the international stage, Mr Joshi said.
He explained: “Technological innovation in weapons development is also important for prestige purposes. Status considerations, which in international relations primarily engenders out of state’s military power, are also an important reason behind India’s quest for hypersonic weapons.
“Without developing the capability, India would have little say in any future arms control negotiations around hypersonic weapons. India’s recent Anti-Satellite test was also partially informed by this consideration.
“To be a stakeholder in international arms control negotiations, India would have to first develop certain capabilities in the field.”
Nevertheless, he warned: “Any use of hypersonic weapons may lead to accidental or inadvertent escalation. First, in case of China and India, even when the two states may employ hypersonic weapons for purely conventional operations, fog of war may lead to nuclear escalation.
“It is because neither India nor China can be fully confidant of the kind of warhead a hypersonic weapon may deliver.
“This ambiguity in the payload of the weapon may create pressure upon the decision-makers to escalate the conflict further with the use of nuclear weapons.
Mr Modi has revoked Article 370, which guarantees special status to Kashmir
India’s use of hypersonic weapons to target Pakistan’s nuclear command and control infrastructure would be considered a preemptive nuclear strike by the latter, thereby inviting an extreme response from Islamabad
“India’s use of hypersonic weapons to target Pakistan’s nuclear command and control infrastructure would be considered a preemptive nuclear strike by the latter, thereby inviting an extreme response from Islamabad.
“Given the fact that hypersonic weapons have a major first-use advantage, possession of such technology can tempt decision-makers to use them quickly during a crisis situation.
“Introduction of hypersonic weapons therefore would only upset the already precarious balance of strategic stability in South Asia.”