Hemmed in by two nuclear power neighbours and constrained by its no first use nuclear strategy, India has no option but to ensure it has the desired deterrence wherewithal. Beyond a 2nd strike capability based on a triad, Indian missiles also must have the reach to hold out the threat of equitable retaliation to keep its neighbours from contemplating pressing their nuclear buttons. Undoubtedly, India’s neighbours are not expected to evaluate such an act as an option, however, that doesn’t mean Indians do not create the necessary deterrence required. With Agni V tested and proven by its flight as per programmed parameter from the island in Odisha, across the waters of IndianOcean. The fact of its long journey is adequate testimony for the entire world to gauge Indian capabilities.
The over 5000 km long journey of Agni V started decades back with the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. The project started in 1982-83 with Late Indian President APJ AbdulKalam leading it. Agni V is apart of the Agni series of missiles. Agni 1, 2 and 3 are already operational. While Agni I ranges up to 900 km, Agni II and III can engage targets over 2000 and 3000 km.
Agni IV underwent its road mobile configuration test firing on 20 January, 2014. It attained a vertical height of 850 km and its full range of 4000km. The last user trial firing was conducted on 2 January, 2017. The missile met all the objectives of DRDO. The focus thereafter shifted to Agni V, which was expected to range between 5000 to 8000 km. Though Agni IV provided the capability to strike China, Agni V with its extended range would allow for greater scope of deploying these assets well in depth in Central India while covering all of China.
The 17-metre AgniV was launched last Thursday, 18 January, 2018 in its first pre-induction trial with officers of the Strategic Forces Command in attendance.The launch was from its canister using a road-mobile launcher from the Dr Abdul Kalam Island, in close proximity of the Odisha coast at 9.53am.Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman twitted: We have successfully launched nuclear capable ballistic missile Agni-V today.
The three-stage solid fuel missile’s trajectory was 600 km at its zenith. The parabolic flight was completed with the missile zooming into the waters of Indian Ocean 4,900km away, towards Australia. The flight took barely 19 minutes to complete.
The approximately 50 ton Agni V incorporates the latest navigational and guidance technologies. It’s nuclear capable and can carry multiple warheads. It will form a part of the Strategic Forces Command. A regiment to take over these assets has already been raised.
With the induction of Agni V in its armoury, the Indian reach extends not just to all of China but also parts of Europe and Africa. It gains India an entry into an exclusive group of nations like the USA, China, Russia and France that have inter-continental missile capabilities.
The focus now will shift to Agni VI which is expected to range between 8000 and 12000 km and carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles as also manoeuvrable reentry vehicles.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retired)