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Agni III Missile:PROPELS INDIA IN BIG LEAGUE, by Radhakrishna Rao, 19 May 2008 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 19 May 2008  

Agni III Missile


By Radhakrishna Rao

The smooth and flawless test firing of the long range nuclear-capable Agni-III missile capable of hitting targets at a distance of 3,500-km early this month from the Integrated Test range (ITR)on Wheeler Island on the east coast  has come as a shot in the arm for India’s credible nuclear deterrence capability. According to sources in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which designed, developed and tested Agni-III, this firing has cleared the decks for its production and induction.

However, Agni-III would need to be subjected to one more flight before it is declared operational. Significantly, the trade embargo imposed by the US in the wake of Pokhran II in 1998 had impeded the pace of development of these missiles. Washington exerted pressure on New Delhi to drop the project as it was a threat to the stability in South Asia region.

Clearly, Agni-III’s successful test flight has propelled India into the select group of countries such as Russia, US, France and China which have missiles similar to Agni-III in their arsenal.

Described as a “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 given the country for the first time a clear cut capability to strike deep into the Chinese territory. Defence observers say that Agni-III could easily reach cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

As it stands China’s latest submarine launched ballistic missile JL-2 and its land- based variant DF-31 have been causes of concern for India’s defence establishment. Besides, many short range Indian missiles could easily hit urban centres of Pakistan with ease.  Notwithstanding, that Pakistan’s long range Shaheen-II missile could easily hit many cities in the northern and western parts of India.

There is no gainsaying that Agni-III’s capability has gone down well with India’s of 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% indigenous all-composite Agni-III is an all solid fuel driven two-stage weapon system. Being rail mobile, it can be launched from any part of India. More than 70 Indian industrial units have contributed to its development vis-à-vis technology, systems and subsystems, components and raw materials.

As it is, Agni-III has  benefited from the technological elements developed for the short range Agni-I already inducted into the Indian army  and Agni-II which after completion of user trials is ready for induction into the services .While Agni-I has a range  of 700-kms, Agni-II has a range of 2000-km. The Agni-III is expected to be ready for test flight early next decade.

Spurred on by the unqualified success of Agni-III, the DRDO is now preparing the ground to launch a project aimed at developing longer range Agni-V missile capable of hitting targets at a distance of 5,000-km. “The development process has already begun and in the next two years the design should be ready” quipped a senior official of the DRDO.

The Agni-V would derive most of its sub-systems from Agni-II. But they would need sufficient scaling. Also on the anvil is a plan to develop Agni-IV as an intermediate step between Agni-III and Agni-V. Besides, the Agni-V would need to be thoroughly evaluated for severe thermal environment and other factors while on flight.

Significantly, the long term goal of the DRDO is to achieve Multiple Independently Retargettable Vehicle (MIRV) capability .But achieving MIRV capability could pose a serious technological challenge in terms of the size and weight of the warheads. The DRDO has also a plan to develop a hypersonic missile, the technology developed for which could have civilian spin offs in the form of a low cost satellite launch vehicle and an ultra fast civilian aircraft.

Asserted another DRDO official, “We have the capability to go in for even longer range missiles but it is for the political leadership to take a decision.” As things stand now, developing the ICBMs (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) capable of hitting targets beyond the range of 10,000-kms is well within the country’s capability.  India’s advances in launch vehicle technology as highlighted by the success in pulling off multiple launches and the ground covered in developing heavy lift-off vehicles could smoothen the country’s plan to develop a range of ICBMs in the near future.

Yet another feather in the cap of DRDO is the progress, though modest, achieved in giving a shape to India’s nuclear capable submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM). As envisaged, the Indian SLBM whose initial range would be around 750-km, is expected to be ready by early next decade when India’s own nuclear submarine would hit the blue oceans.

Meanwhile, the DRDO is hopeful of testing its EXO Interceptor which forms a part of its BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) system in July. This would be followed by another test involving both the EXO and ENDO interceptors in tandem in Sept-October. As it is, the Indian BMD system has gone through two successful test flights in Nov 2006 and Dec 2007.  In sum, as India’s missile programme progresses from strength to strength, an old adage needs to be recalled:  If you are strong in your defence, your adversary will think twice before any misadventure. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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