From the start, Agni was appreciated as a distinct product and, sensing its strategic importance, separated from India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. Agni-I, with a range of 700 kilometres, was first test-fired in 1989. Agni-II, an intermediate range ballistic missile, was tested in 1999. It has a range of 2,000-2,500 km and can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. Agni-III, with a range of 3,500-5,000 km, was inducted in 2011, allowing strike capability deep inside neighbouring countries. Agni-IV was developed within a similar range but shorter flight time. It can carry a 1,000 kg payload. Agni-V, with a range of over 5,000 km, was a formidable addition to India’s strategic defence. Agni’s pioneer, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, would always turn poetic when talking about it. “Friends, you now have the fire to touch the Agni,” he once wrote in his notebook.
In future, Agni-V is expected to feature the Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle concept, with each missile capable of carrying 2 to 10 separate nuclear warheads. Each warhead can be assigned a different target. Alternatively, two or more warheads can be assigned one target. India is also developing Agni-VI, with a range of 8,000-10,000 km.
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Hours before the first test, Kalam got a call from a top government official about US-NATO pressure to delay the launch.
MISSILE MISSIVE The late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam speaks about the Agni missile