Agni-IV and Agni-V – closer to fielding

January 3, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By PIB
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


Agni V, a long-range surface-to-surface Nuclear Capable Ballistic missile successfully launched from a canister on a road mobile launcher at the Dr. Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha, on December 10, 2018.

On December 10, 2018, India successful tested Agni-V one more time, this being the seventh test since its development began past decade and third in 2018. The last test was conducted in June 2018. On December 10, the missile was launched at 1.30 pm from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) from Dr Abdul Kalam Island off Odisha coast. Agni-V surface-to-surface missile (SSM) is a three stage missile, 17 metre long, two metre wide, capable of carrying 1.5 tonne nuclear warheads up to ranges beyond 5000 km that can strike most major Chinese cities.

The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) conducted the trial in conjunction DRDO scientists. The missile is programmed in a manner that after reaching the peak of its trajectory, it turns towards the earth to continue its journey to the target with an increased speed, due to the earth's gravitational pull, and its path precisely directed by the advanced on-board computer and inertial navigation system. As the missile enters the earth's atmosphere, the atmospheric air rubbing its outer surface skin raises the temperature to beyond 4,000 degree Celsius, but the heat shield maintains the inside temperature at less than 50 degree Celsius. Commanded by the on-board computer supported by the laser gyro-based inertial navigation system, micro inertial navigation system (MINS), digital control system and advanced compact avionics, the missile finally hits the designated target.

Unlike other missiles of the series, Agni-V is the most advanced with new technologies in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine. The first two tests of Agni-V during 2012 and 2013 were in open configuration. However, the third, fourth and fifth launch were from canister integrated with a mobile launcher, which enables launch of the missile in a shorter time as compared to an open launch. Agni-V is armed with multiple warheads and multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) capability. China has equipped some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with MIRVs and Pakistan announced in January 2017 that it had test-launched a new Ababeel ICBM with MIRVs.

India is reportedly also developing the Agni-VI which is to have a range of 8000–12000 km, and capability of MIRV or manouverable reentry vehicle (MARV). China's longest range solid-fuelled road-mobile ICBM is the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41, CSS-X-10) with an operational range between 12,000 km to 15,000 km. Prior to 2016, India already had fielded or tested the Prithvi-I with a range of 150 to 600 km, Agni-II with a range of 700 km, Agni-III with a range of 3000 km, Agni-IV with a range of 3500 km and Agni-V with a range over 5000 km. In addition, the 5000-8000 km Agni-V has also been tested since April 2012, as mentioned earlier. The ground component of India's nuclear triad, consisting of land-based ballistic missiles is under the SFC, which in turn is under the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) established on January 4, 2003.

According to foreign estimates of mid-July 2017, India's land based nuclear warheads numbered 68. Agni-III is reportedly is under induction into service, however, induction of Agni-IV and Agni-V into service will take more time. On September 20, 2018, India successfully test-fired 'Prahar' short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) second time from a road-mobile launcher. Prahar, with a range of 150 km, is to replace the short-range Prithvi-I. Unlike Prithvi, it can engage multiple targets in different directions with greater manoeuvring capability and acceleration, and can carry a payload of 200 kg. Prahar will fill the gap between multi-barrel rocket Pinaka and medium-range ballistic missile Prithvi.

India has also developed the 'Pralay' missile, a derivative of Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) exo-atmospheric interceptor missile, capable of destroying enemy weapons at high altitudes. Pralay, which is much faster and accurate, has a strike range of 350 km to 500 km and weighs around five tons. With a payload of 1000 kg, it can travel a distance of 350 km. If the payload is halved, the missile will be able to hit a target as far as 500 km. Since India's most of the SRBMs are for strategic strike purposes, development of tactical Pralay was necessitated after the Army sought for a 500-km range SRBM that can carry a sizable payload. Some information on Pralay missile, sanctioned in March 2015, was unveiled at the Defence Expo 2018 held at Chennai in April this year. The maiden test of Pralay was expected on September 22-23 but apparently was postponed. Pralay was developed to counter deployment of China's Dongfeng 12 (DF-12) SRBM deployed against India. DF-12 is reportedly having a range of 100-250 with possible extended range of 400 km Prahar and Pralay, if armed with nuclear warhead, could provide the answer to Pakistan's tactical nuclear weapons. At the same time, once Agni-V is inducted into service, India will join the exclusive club of countries like the US, Russia, China, France and Britain which have ICBM capabilities.