India’s Agni-V ICBM to Carry Multiple Nuclear Warheads
Image Credit: Wikicommons

India’s Agni-V ICBM to Carry Multiple Nuclear Warheads


India is reconfiguring its longest-range missile to enable it to carry multiple nuclear warheads, Chennai-based The Hindu reported on Wednesday, citing a senior Indian official.

V.K. Saraswat, Director-General of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, told the newspaper that a team is modifying the Agni-V to give it the ability to carry Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs).

“Work on that is going on and it is at design stage,” Saraswat told The Hindu.

The Agni-V is a nuclear-capable three-stage, solid-fuel missile with an initial range of 5,000 kilometers that will likely be extended to over 5,5000 kms, making it an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). India first tested the Agni-V last April, and the launch was a success.

The test was widely celebrated among official India and the Indian press where some referred to as the “China killer” owing to the fact that missile puts in range all of China’s major cities for the first time. Saraswat himself called the missile a “game-changer.”

MIRVs enable ICBMs to carry multiple nuclear warheads on a single missile, and strike multiple targets or a single target with greater efficiency. After the last stage of the ICBM boosts off, a MIRVed ICBM will dispense the warheads to their separate or singular targets. Both the Soviet Union and the United States MIRVed their ICBM forces during the 1970s, which complicated arms control agreements moving forward.

It has long been suspected that India would at some point seek to modify the Agni-V and the Agni-III— an intermediate range ballistic missile which has the same build as the Agni-V— with MIRVs. This is primarily because China is believed to be in the process of testing MIRVed versions of its DF-31 ICBM and DF-41 road-mobile ICBM.

MIRVing ICBMs has the potential to destabilize a mutually assured destruction situation primarily because they could give nations greater confidence in being able to destroy an adversary’s hardened missile silo sites in a first strike by launching multiple, lower yield warheads at the sites. This fear, in turn, increases the strategic logic of offensive action as nations could come to believe that they have to be the first side to launch nuclear strikes or risk having a large portion of their nuclear forces wiped out by an adversary.

There were strong fears throughout the second half of the Cold War about the destabilizing effects of MIRVed missiles. As one source recounts:

“MIRVed land-based ICBMs were considered destabilizing because they tended to put a premium on striking first. MIRVs threatened to rapidly increase the U.S.'s deployable nuclear arsenal and thus the possibility that it would have enough bombs to destroy virtually all of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons and negate any significant retaliation. Later on the U.S. feared the Soviet's MIRVs because Soviet missiles had a greater throw-weight and could thus put more warheads on each missile than the U.S. could.” 

The smaller size of the Chinese and Indian nuclear and missile forces could enhance the destabilizing nature of introducing MIRV technology into the relationship. It should be noted, however, that both China and India have no-first use nuclear doctrines, which should theoretically reduce the danger and anxiety created by MIRVed nuclear forces. Additionally both India and China are in the process of acquiring Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) that, once reliable forces are operating, virtually ensure that some second strike capability would survive a first strike by the other side.

Still, at the very least the introduction of MIRVed technology into the Sino-Indo strategic balance could convince both sides that they need to significantly expand the size of their nuclear forces. This would inevitably complicate global efforts to reduce the size of nuclear arsenals. Indeed, Russia recently stated that it is no longer interested in bilateral nuclear arms reductions with the United States, and will only pursue arms control agreements on a multilateral basis.

mohit yogi
February 23, 2014 at 00:15

disadvantages of these missiles only thee are not useful to eridacate the violence

September 24, 2013 at 13:59

please do not have that outlook. ever since the DF-31a came out, india has always lived an insecure life in its shadow. as both countries are no first nuclear use policy signatories, i highly doubt that india or china will be using their weapons against eachother. thus, the agni 5 is not a missile of violence but rather a missile of confidence, and it was just made so that every indian person can sleep better and safer. it is to show to the indian people that they have nothing to worry about and that india will protect them. it is not really meant to target china or any country in particular. after all, india is not stupid enough to risk nuclear war.

September 15, 2013 at 21:14

"China has good wrapper with the countries surrounding India"… .."India.searches for support in far off land that are not near to it Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Vietnam…might take weeks/months to reach India to help"

And, how many weeks will it take China to reach the countries surrounding India? (For which more importantly, it has to first pass through the coastal waters of all those China-hating countries surrounding China such as Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, etc? Ironical, isn't it? Here you have the Chinese Govt media (btw, all Chinese media are govt anyway) lampooning India for supporting anti-China nations surrounding China and claiming that India will take “several weeks” to reach them if China attacks, yet threatening India with dire consequences from the “anti-India” gang surrounding India and lead by China, to which China will take probably months to reach (if it ever does), given that it has to pass through the coastal waters of these anti-China nations surrounding China anyway!

Dr. H.S. Rathore
August 24, 2013 at 05:44

The missile shown is not AGNI-5. This missile AGNI-5  (actual range from 5.500 to 8000 KM) has long since been deployed and was shown on the Republic Day. The AGNI-6 MRV is ready.

July 27, 2013 at 22:50

The Agni 5 is actually a giant squishee machine.  

June 1, 2013 at 16:09

We are witnessing this so called 'peaceful rise', China doesn't want peace, if it did it wouldn't have problems with most of its neighbours.

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