Letter from the Editor | November 2021

In early October, the Washington-based correspondent of Financial Times reported that China had tested Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) armed with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV). The Pentagon confirmed that it was indeed so. The US Chairman Joint Staff, Gen. Mark Milley agreed that it was close to a Sputnik moment (strategic surprise).

With the test, however imperfect, China has moved the nuclear triad to nuclear quad. Nuclear triad refers to nuclear delivery vehicles or vectors, which have traditionally been from land, air, and sea. China has added the new space vector.

The FOBS involved the firing of China’s Long March 2C orbital launch rocket which took the HGV to space, about 120km from earth, so that the HGV could be placed in the Low Earth Orbit. At a decided point on the orbit so as to evade US’s North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) whose early warning systems and interceptors face the north pole, the HGV de-orbited and entered the atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere it cruised to its target at hypersonic speed, with highly manoeuvrable trajectory at higher reaches of atmosphere.

While the spectacular test by China was meant to outmatch US’ nuclear deterrence, the message to India was also clear: It needed to review its nuclear deterrence against China. Yet, unmindful of the test, India test-fired its Agni-5 missile with advertised range of 5,000km, with the Indian media saying that it was meant to send a powerful message to China. The reality is that India is not in the game with China on nuclear issues.

These are home truths that must be borne in mind when fanciful claims are made. It is critical that India resolves its outstanding issues, both internal and external, for peace because frankly, there is no other option.

The cover story this month is on Kashmir, which continues to convulse. Far from ushering in the promised peace, the reading down of Articles 370 and 35A have opened several fault lines which until two years back were covered by layers of short-term ameliorative schemes. Not any longer. Once the fault lines open, they only get wider. And in Kashmir, it is something that we can ill-afford.

This issue also carries the interview with the new Chief of Air Staff. Normally, this interview used to be the crowning glory of the October issue. But this time, the new chief took office only on October 1 and by the time he had time to address the FORCE questions, half the month was gone. But just as well, as it fits it nicely with the report on the IAF Day.

Enjoy the issue.



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