In­dia joins ICBM 5,000+ league

SP's MAI - - MILITARY -

In­dia suc­cess­fully un­der­took the fourth and fi­nal test-fir­ing of the Agni-V on De­cem­ber 26 from Wheeler Is­land, off the coast of Odisha. This is a wholly indigenously de­vel­oped in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile (ICBM), which by it­self is a gi­gan­tic achieve­ment. Even the BrahMos mis­sile, which is a short-range ram­jet su­personic cruise mis­sile (not in ICBM cat­e­gory), has been de­vel­oped with Rus­sian col­lab­o­ra­tion. With Agni-V, In­dia joins the ex­clu­sive club of five coun­tries that al­ready pos­sess ICBMs with a range of over 5,000-5,500 km; the five coun­tries be­ing the United States, Rus­sia, China, France and the UK. The first test of the three-stage Agni-V was con­ducted in April 2012 in open con­fig­u­ra­tion, fol­lowed by the sec­ond test in Septem­ber 2013 in sim­i­lar con­fig­u­ra­tion. How­ever, the third test con­ducted in Jan­uary 2015 saw the ICBM be­ing fired from a her­met­i­cally sealed can­is­ter mounted on a Ta­tra truck launcher. This third launch on Jan­uary 30, 2016, suc­cess­fully proved op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­ity for the armed forces for swiftly trans­port­ing and fir­ing the ICBM from any­where they want.

This was a game changer from ear­lier fir­ings in open con­fig­u­ra­tion. The mis­sile had ver­ti­cally blasted off from the truck mounted launcher and splashed down in the In­dia Ocean 20 min­utes later. The mo­bile can­is­ter ver­sion en­sures the 50-tonne mis­sile can be fired from stop-to-launch in just few sec­onds, as also higher reli­a­bil­ity, longer shelflife and lesser main­te­nance. The re­ac­tion time re­quired to fire Agni-V is small, mak­ing it highly sur­viv­able and en­abling as­sured re­tal­ia­tory-strike ca­pa­bil­ity, in line with In­dia’s ‘no first use’ nu­clear pol­icy.

DRDO sources had then said that only one more test of Agni-V was re­quired, af­ter which the ob­jec­tive was to be­gin in­duc­tion by end of 2015 it­self. Un­der­stand­ably, In­dia had de­cided to de­lay the fi­nal test of Agni-V be­cause of the ne­go­ti­a­tions for In­dia to join the 48-coun­try Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG). Un­for­tu­nately China, smart­ing un­der the fact that In­dia was granted mem­ber­ship of the 34-na­tion Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime (MTCR) while the same was de­nied to China, de­cided to block In­dia join­ing the NSG. China has in­di­cated it will con­tinue to block In­dia join­ing NSG — act- ing global ‘watch­dog’ while her­self bla­tantly vi­o­lat­ing pro­vi­sions of the NSG through nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion. China’s stance that she does not be­lieve in waivers (NPT in case of NSG mem­ber­ship) is hol­low be­cause China her­self agreed to a waiver in favour of In­dia dur­ing the Indo-US Nu­clear Deal of 2008. How­ever, any sup­port from China on any is­sue, leave aside for NSG, would be utopian con­sid­er­ing China now is in­ex­orably cou­pled with Pak­istan in an anti-In­dia em­brace, even re­peat­edly pro­tect­ing ter­ror­ist mul­lahs of Pak­istan at the UN.

The Agni-V ICBM was tested to its full range. The Agni-V will bring whole of China within the range. The Agni-V has a range of 5,500 km and is nu­clear ca­pa­ble with a pay­load ca­pac­ity of 1,500 kg of high-ex­plo­sive war­head. In­ter­est­ingly, the Chi­nese me­dia went belly­ach­ing with the In­dian plans to de­ploy BrahMos mis­siles in our North East along the line of ac­tual con­trol (LAC) with China. In­dia’s Strate­gic Forces Com­mand (SFC) al­ready holds the shorter-range Prithvi and Dhanush mis­siles, and has in­ducted the Agni-I, Agni-II and Agni-III mis­siles as well — mainly geared to­wards Pak­istan. The Agni-IV and Agni-V are specif­i­cally meant for de­ter­rence against China. Fol­low­ing the fi­nal test of the Ag­niV, the SFC will be­gin user tri­als. It will per­haps take an­other two years for this ICBM to be fielded with the SFC. As per DRDO sources, they are ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing ICBMs with strike ranges of 10,000 km or more com­pa­ra­ble to China’s DF-31A mis­sile that can hit tar­gets at 12,200 km range. How­ever, this is a pol­icy de­ci­sion that the gov­ern­ment may not want to take for the time be­ing con­sid­er­ing that the Agni-V will cover whole of China.

As of now, the DRDO has also been work­ing upon ‘ma­noeu­vring war­heads or in­tel­li­gent reen­try ve­hi­cles’ to de­feat en­emy bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence sys­tems as well as mul­ti­ple in­de­pen­dently tar­getable re-en­try ve­hi­cles (MIRVs) for the Agni mis­siles; sin­gle mis­sile car­ry­ing sev­eral nu­clear war­heads, with each pro­grammed in­di­vid­u­ally to hit dif­fer­ent tar­gets. Ev­ery In­dian was look­ing for­ward to to­day’s launch of Agni-V and In­dia join­ing the ex­clu­sive ICBM 5,000+ league. This in­deed is a proud mo­ment and feather in the cap of the DRDO.

With Agni-V, In­dia joins the ex­clu­sive club of five coun­tries that al­ready pos­sess in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles with a range of over 5,000-5,500 km

LT GEN­ERAL

P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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