An Agni-V Leap Forward

The launch of the Agni-V missile puts India on track to fulfilling a dream cherished by Indira Gandhi.

The successful launch of India’s Agni-V missile earlier today helped fulfill a cherished dream propelled by the vision of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1983. Gandhi wanted an Indian Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) to be made totally indigenously, from raw materials at home. The 20-minute flight of the new Agni-V, 80 percent of which was made indigenous parts, therefore heralds a new chapter in India’s strategic posture.

The Agni-V missile, although only an intermediate ballistic missile (IRBM), is in many ways similar to the United States’ Minuteman III. It can deliver a single 1.5 megaton weapon 5,000 kilometers and can carry a single thermonuclear warhead. It’s designed to potentially carry between 3 to 10 warheads at a time, once Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles are built for it. This missile is canisterised from inception, road-cum-rail mobile, and is totally solid fueled. This enables the missile to be launched from anywhere in Indian territory.

The present variant of the Agni-V will likely lead to spin-off Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) for India’s Ballistic Missile Submarines (SBBN). If this happens, India will have achieved a nuclear triad by the time the Agni-V is operational around 2014 to 2015. The Indian Army and Navy will be the operators of this missile class and its variants, through the Strategic Forces Command, headed by the prime minister. India’s ARIHANT class of SSBN’s, presently undergoing sea trials, will carry the first variant of this missile in its silos.    

The missile launched today was in a depressed trajectory with an apogee of 600 kilometers and reached a max velocity of 7,000 kilometers before landing in a predestined spot in the Indian Ocean. The Relaunch Vehicle (RV) endured temperatures of around 3,000 degrees Celsius before splashdown. Fitted with indigenous built ring-laser gyros inertial navigation, Electronic Counter Measures) and ECCM (Electronic Counter Measures) systems, this missile is impervious to jamming.

And, contrary to what some headlines might suggest, the government of India has stated that the Agni-V is not country specific, and is instead part of the ongoing program of providing strategic deterrence capabilities to India’s national posture in the 21st century.