NEW DELHI: In a strong strategic signal to China amidst the continuing 17-month military confrontation in eastern Ladakh, India tested its most formidable missile, the over 5,000-km range Agni-V, on Wednesday evening.
The “successful test” of the Agni-V, which brings even the northernmost part of China within its strike envelope, is in line with India’s stated policy to have “credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to no first-use (NFU)”, said the defence ministry.
“The missile, which uses a three-stage solid fuelled engine, is capable of striking targets at ranges up to 5,000 km with a very high degree of accuracy. It was tested for its entire range. The launch went off very well,” said an official.
The test was significant on two counts. One, it was the first “user-launch” of the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by the tri-Services Strategic Forces Command (SFC) after its induction into the armed forces. Two, this is the first time the missile, which has been tested seven times earlier, was launched during night.
TOI was the first to report last month that the over 50-tonne Agni-V would be test-fired in its “full operational configuration” by the SFC in October, in the first such launch since the military stand-off with China erupted in April-May last year.
On Wednesday, the missile with a 1.5-tonne warhead was launched from the APJ Abdul Kalam Island, off the Odisha coast, at about 7.50 pm. Flying at 24 times the speed of sound, the missile’s trajectory and flight parameters were constantly monitored by radars, electro-optical tracking systems, telemetry stations and ships before it splashed down in the Bay of Bengal, said the official.
As was earlier reported by TOI, DRDO is also working to develop `multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles’ (MIRVs) for the Agnimissiles but it will take at least another two years for the multiple-warhead capability to be tested. An MIRV payload basically involves a single missile carrying four to six nuclear warheads, each programmed to hit a separate target.
The existing single-warhead Agni-V in itself adds teeth to the deterrence posture against China, which has missiles like the Dong Feng-41 (12,000-15,000-km) that can hit any Indian city.
China has also recently gone in for a huge expansion in new missile silo fields for launching nuclear-tipped ICBMs.As per the latest assessment of the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI), China now possesses 350 nuclear warheads and Pakistan 165, as compared to 156 of India.But India remains confident of its credible minimum deterrence.
The Agni-V is operationally better than the earlier Agni variants because it is a canister-launch missile to ensure lesser maintenance as well as swifter transportation and firing.
The test of the 17-metre tall Agni-V test comes after a new-generation two-stage missile called Agni-Prime, with a strike range of 1,500-km, was tested on June 28. The Agni-Prime, also a canister-launch missile, will eventually replace the Agni-I (700-km) missiles in the arsenal of the SFC, which also has the Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km) missile units.
India has also for long modified some Sukhoi-30MKI, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters to deliver nuclear gravity bombs. The new French-origin Rafale fighters inducted by the IAF are also capable of doing it.
But the third leg of India’s nuclear triad is still far away from becoming robust, represented as it is by the solitary nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant armed with only 750-km range K-15 missiles as of now.Countries like the US, Russia and China have SSBNs with well over 5,000-km range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). India has three more SSBNs under development, with INS Arighat now slated for commissioning next year after some delay. The K-4 missiles, with a strike range of 3,500-km, in turn, will take at least one more year to be ready for induction.