On 18 December 2021, India tested its new Agni-Prime (Agni-P) medium-range ballistic missile from its Integrated Test Range on Abdul Kalam Island. This was the second test of the missile, the first test having been conducted in June 2021.
Our friends at Planet Labs PBC managed to capture an image of the Agni-P launcher sitting on the launch pad the day before the test took place.
Following both launches of the Agni-P, the Indian Government referred to the missile as a “new generation” nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Back in 2016, when the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) first announced the development of the Agni-P (which was called the Agni-1P at the time), a senior DRDO official explained why this missile was so special:
“As our ballistic missiles grew in range, our technology grew in sophistication. Now the early, short-range missiles, which incorporate older technologies, will be replaced by missiles with more advanced technologies. Call it backward integration of technology.”
The Agni-P is India’s first shorter-range missile to incorporate technologies now found in the newer Agni-IV and -V ballistic missiles, including more advanced rocket motors, propellants, avionics, and navigation systems.
Most notably, the Agni-P also incorporates a new feature seen on India’s new Agni-V intermediate-range ballistic missiles that has the potential to impact strategic stability: cannisterization. And the launcher used in the Agni-P launch appears to have increased mobility. There are also unconfirmed rumours that the Agni-P and Agni-V might have the capability to launch multiple warheads.
“Canisterzing” refers to storing missiles inside a sealed, climate-controlled tube to protect them from the outside elements during transportation. In this configuration, the warhead can be permanently mated with the missile instead of having to be installed prior to launch, which would significantly reduce the amount of time needed to launch nuclear weapons in a crisis. This is a new feature of India’s Strategic Forces Command’s increased emphasis on readiness.
In recent years, former senior civilian and military officials have reportedly suggested in interviews that “some portion of India’s nuclear force, particularly those weapons and capabilities designed for use against Pakistan, are now kept at a high state of readiness, capable of being operationalized and released within seconds or minutes in a crisis—not hours, as had been assumed.”