By Dilip Ghosh
India successfully conducted the fourth and final experimental test of its indigenously developed Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, ICBM, Agni-V from Wheeler Island off Odisha coast on December26, 2016.The nuclear-capable missile with its strike range of over 5,000-km was test-fired from its canister on a launcher truck.
Designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the three stage solid propellant missile will now go for user trials before its induction into the tri-service Strategic Forces Command (SFC) which manages India’s nuclear arsenal. The 17.5 meter long, 50 ton missile can carry a nuclear warhead of more than one ton. It can be transported and swiftly launched from anywhere.
The surface to surface Agni V missile is the most advanced among the Agni series, having new technologies incorporated with it in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine. The Circular Error Probable (CEP) on board makes it one of the most accurate strategic ballistic missile of its range class in the world. This is important because a highly accurate ballistic missile increases the “kill efficiency” of the weapon. It will allow Indian weapons designers to use smaller yield nuclear warheads while increasing the lethality of the strike. In other words, Indian defence forces will be able to deploy a much larger nuclear force using less fissile material than other nuclear powers.
Incidentally, India has also started working on Agni-VI. It will be capable of being launched from submarines as well as from land, and will have a strike-range of 8,000–10,000 km.
Agni series of missiles was conceptualized by Indian defence planners in the 1980s keeping in view India’s threat perceptions particularly from its neighbours. The two-stage Agni technology demonstrator, with a solid-fuel first stage, was first tested at the Interim Test Range in Chandipur in 1989. It was capable of carrying a conventional payload of 1,000 kg or a nuclear warhead. This technology demonstrator evolved into the solid-fuel Agni-1 and Agni-2 missiles later. India then developed the single-stage Agni-1, which was first tested in January 2002.
The 700–1250 km range Agni I missiles are rail and road mobile and powered by solid propellants. Thereafter, India developed the 2,000–2,500 km range Agni – II missiles and 3000- 3500 km range Agni III missiles which were claimed to be a part of the credible deterrence against China and Pakistan. All these three missiles of Agni series have already been inducted into Indian Army. On 20 January 2014 India successfully test fired the 3,000–4,000 km Agni-IV missile. Equipped with state-of-the-art technologies that includes indigenously developed ring laser gyro and composite rocket motor, the two stage Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, IRBM, Agni IV can take a nuclear warhead of one ton. It is now undergoing field trials before induction in the armed forces.
With the test firing of the three stage Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, Agni V, India’s missile development program has now reached a new high. Under its range falls not only entire Pakistan but also the northern most parts of China. This would significantly add to our defence preparedness. While India being a peace loving nation which has never attacked any country, it was attacked thrice by Pakistan and once by China. The geopolitical situation in this part of the world compels India to remain prepared for any eventuality. The threat has increased in recent years because China is continuously arming Pakistan, the country which not only gives safe haven to terrorists but also gives them all logistic support. Recently, Beijing has decided to sell eight submarines to Islamabad on concessional rates and in all likelihood it will continue selling weapons to Islamabad.
One may recall what India’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha said at a high-level Indian armed forces seminar in New Delhi in April this year. Raha said China’s growing influence in the Indian subcontinent is a major security challenge for New Delhi. He pointed to tensions along the Indian-Chinese border in the Himalayas and China’s longstanding but fast-growing ties with India’s main regional rival, Pakistan, as key concerns. He said, China has increased its economic and military ties with all the India’s neighbours. Rapid infrastructure development is taking place in the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region). The world’s highest airfield at Daocheng Yading; the highest railway line from Xiniang to the TAR capital; the development of the Gwadar port in Pakistan and the Chinese economic corridor through Pakistani-held Kashmir and Pakistan; the development of roads in TAR up to the Indian border; and increasing economic and military ties with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar are all strategic moves by China to contain India.
Therefore, India has a genuine reason for concern because so far, China is much ahead of India in military power; it has a bigger armed force, more and better nuclear warheads and is modernizing its armed forces at a much faster pace than India, especially in cyber and space. According to the 2016 Fact Sheet issued by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China’s military budget was approximately USD 215 billion while India’s military budget was measly USD 51.3 billion, which is less than one fourth of China’s military budget.
Defence experts are of the view that with the successful test firing of Agni V, the country has sent a strong message on its strategic capabilities. As the Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, Information & Broadcasting M Venkaiah Naidu has said the successful test has propelled India’s security to the next level.
(The Author regularly writes on Science and Technology. The views expressed in the article are author’s own)
A PIB feature