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Agni-V By 2010:REACHING NEW MILITARY HEIGHTS,Radhakrishna Rao,17 March 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 17 March 2009

Agni-V By 2010


By Radhakrishna Rao

The successful launch and operationalisation of India’s first mission to moon Chandrayaan-1 has convincingly demonstrated the country’s emergence as a “super space power” in the making. Indeed, as far as space is concerned, India could be categorized as a developed country. Thus, Indian defence scientists have now taken up an ambitious project to realize inter-continental ballistic missile that could catapult the country into the ranks of the elite league of global military powers.

In keeping with India’s growing need to defend the security of the country against any misadventure from across the border, the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has taken up the development of Agni-V missile capable of reaching of target of around 5,000-kms. The first flight trial of this intercontinental version of Agni-V is planned for 2010. Efforts are on to test the missile and the defence ministry will be working towards capitalizing on the work done on the first and second stages of Agni.

The three-stage Agni-V, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead will have an upper liquid fuel stage attached to the two solid propellant driven stages. According to M Natrajan, scientific advisor to the defence minister: “We are repackaging both the earlier stages to reduce the inter stage distance so that we have space for fixing the third one.” Clearly, successful flight trials of Agni-III have provided the DRDO researchers a solid ground to work on the realization of Agni-V.  Both DRDO and ISRO have a sound track record in developing both the solid fuel and liquid fuel driven vehicle stages.

Incidentally, Agni-III was the first Indian missile to cross the equator. Of course, in comparison to Agni-III, Agni-V would feature improved electronics, avionics as well as guidance and navigation. However, in the neighbourhood, worried Pakistan-based defence analysts have repeatedly been alleging that the Agni range of missiles, deployed by India is primarily aimed at Islamabad and China.

The Agni (meaning fire in Sanskrit) series of nuclear-tipped missiles, forming part of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) were launched way back in 1983 under the stewardship of former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and the then head of DRDO. The missiles are solid fuel systems that have benefited heavily from the expertise developed for the solid fuel stages of the four-stage Indian civilian launcher SLV-3, which had its first successful debut flight in 1981. Significantly, it was none other than Dr Kalam who during his stint with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had provided the leadership for the design and development of SLV-3.

The short-range Agni-1 with a range of 700-km and intermediate-range Agni-11 with a range of 2,000-km have already been inducted into the Army. The 3,500-km range Agni-II capable of carrying 1.5-tonne class warhead is also to be inducted soon. The nuclear capable Agni series of missiles can easily reach most parts of China and Pakistan and as such form the mainstay of India’s “credible nuclear deterrence” strategy. Agni-1 fills a vital gap in the Indian defence matrix between 300-km Prithvi surface-to-surface missile and Agni-II.

Significantly, in the second half of 1990s, the US Administration had exerted pressure on New Delhi to drop the Agni programme for its alleged contribution to nuclear “proliferation.”  Interestingly, technology embargo that came with the US sanctions following the Pokhran nuclear blasts carried out in 1998 did slow down the pace of development of the Agni range of missiles. However, DRDO scientists successfully met the challenges by developing the technologies and components that were denied under the US sanction.

The US had also tried to stymie India’s space programme through sanctions and the application of the so-called MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime). Way back in the early 90s, America had prevented an economically emaciated and politically turbulent Russia from transferring the critical cryogenic engine technology to ISRO on the grounds that the technology could be misused for building weapons of destruction. However, ISRO has now successfully developed an indigenous cryogenic engine and the first flight of India’s three-stage Geosynchronous Satellite launch vehicle fitted with the home-grown cryogenic engine will be carried out this July.

Described as the “fire and forget” missile, the Agni-III is capable of computing its own trajectory and is immune to all the extraneous forces once it is launched. Perhaps the biggest advantage that India could derive from Agni-III is that this missile has for the first time given the country a clear-cut capability to strike deep into the Chinese territory.

Defence observers say that Agni-III could easily hit many cities in China like Shanghai and Beijing. There is no gainsaying the fact that Agni-III’s capability has gone down well with India’s no-first use nuclear policy, which holds that “nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage”. The 50-tonne heavy, 1.7-metre tall, 100 per cent indigenous all-composite Agni-III is a solid fuel-driven two-stag weapon system. Being rail mobile it can easily be shifted to any parts of the country.

Meanwhile, DRDO scientists have hinted that the work on the creation of the Ballistic Missile Shield (BMD) with the air-launched version of Prithvi missile at its heart is being speeded up. This multi-layered missile shield is designed to protect the country against nuclear missiles from Pakistan and China.  To make this defence shield really effective, India may need to put in place an early warning satellite system.  

Of course, Indian defence forces are planning to make use of the satellite capabilities in a big way with a view to sharpen their combat capabilities. As pointed out by Taylor Dinerman, a columnist for The Space Review: “Pakistan lacks the resources to build up a very large and diverse force of reliable, sophisticated nuclear-tipped missiles that could overwhelm an effective Indian defence system. If Pakistan tries to build such a force, it would have to weaken its already limited conventional defence forces or spend into economic oblivion. India’s robust and growing economy is a strategic asset that is slowly but surely making itself felt in the military balance between the two sub-continental rivals”.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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