NEW DELHI: India tested its Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its final operational configuration from Wheeler Island off Odisha on Monday, paving the way for its eventual induction into the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) after user-trials.
The nuclear-capable Agni-V, which can even reach the northernmost parts of China with its strike range of over 5,000-km, was test-fired from its canister on a launcher truck just after 11 am. “The test parameters of the missile, which was tested for its full range, are being evaluated. It will take some time to say whether it was a full success or not,” said an official.
As earlier reported by TOI, this fourth and final experimental test of the three-stage Agni-V — if it is fully successful– comes after a gap of two years due to minor technical tweaking required in the ballistic missile as well as the need for India to exercise some strategic restraint when it was seeking entry into the 48-country Nuclear Suppliers Group (which was thwarted by China) and the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (which India joined earlier this year).
The tri-Service SFC, established in 2003 to manage India’s nuclear arsenal, will have to conduct at least two user-trials before the 50-tonne missile is produced in adequate numbers for induction.
While the 17-metre tall Agni-V was tested in an “open configuration” in April 2012 and September 2013, the third test in January 2015 saw it being fired from a hermetically sealed canister mounted on a Tatra launcher truck. The missile’s canister-launch version makes it even deadlier since it gives the armed forces requisite flexibility to swiftly transport and fire the missile from anywhere they want.
Once the Agni-V is inducted, India will join the super exclusive club of countries with ICBMs (missiles with a range of over 5,000-5,500km) alongside the US, Russia, China, France and the UK.
Apart from the shorter-range Prithvi and Dhanush missiles, the SFC has inducted the Agni-I, Agni-II and Agni-III missiles. While these missiles are mainly geared towards Pakistan, the Agni-IV and Agni-V are specifically meant for deterrence against China. Beijing, of course, is leagues ahead in terms of its missile and nuclear arsenals.
But the Indian defence establishment believes the Agni-V is sufficient to take care of existing threat perceptions. As earlier reported by TOI, DRDO has also done some work on developing “manoeuvring warheads or intelligent re-entry vehicles”+ to defeat enemy ballistic missile defence systems, as well as MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) for the Agni missiles. An MIRV payload basically means a single missile is capable of carrying several nuclear warheads, each programmed to hit different targets.