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Agni V to Bolster India’s Missile Pack


Dr Monika Chansoria Published: June 2011

New Delhi. India is well on its way of testing what can be described as its most ambitiously zealous strategic missile system—the Agni V, by the end of 2011.


India’s Defence Minister, AK Antony, recently stressed upon the need for acquiring a missile with a reach of 5,000 kms. Asking the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to demonstrate its capability to reach the range of 5000 kms at the earliest, Antony stated, “The interceptor missile development programme has taken India to an elite club of nations that possess the capability to demonstrate and deploy missile defence.” It can also be added here that the DRDO is already focused upon futuristic technology development as it frames a roadmap “Defence Technology Vision 2050.”

Reacting to Defence Minister’s statement, the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and Director General of the DRDO, Dr VK Saraswat provided assurance with a statement, “We have tested the three (solid-propellant composite rocket motor) stages of Agni V independently...all ground tests are now over… The integration process is now in progress… We want to test the missile in December, not let it spill over to 2012.”

DRDO is India's state-run defence research body, involved in five major missile programmes, some of which have already been tested and inducted by the Armed Forces.

India search and longing for an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) has been on for long, more so since ICBMs have been in the exclusive possession of the prominent five nations till now, particularly China. The Agni V with a development cost of over Rs 2,500 crores, is likely to cover China's northernmost regions within its nuclear strike envelope, owing primarily to its high road mobility, fast-reaction ability and a strike range over 5,000 kms. The Agni V will provide for the must-needed credible deterrence especially against China, which already showcases a Dong Feng-31A ICBM that can likely hit across the length and breadth of India.

Technologically innovative while displaying ring laser gyroscope and accelerator for navigation and guidance, the Agni V is reportedly easy to store and swift in so far as its transportation is concerned. It is a canister-launch missile system, which in case fired from India’s Northeast region would be capable of targeting China’s northernmost city of Habin.

India’s security concerns seem to find validation with recent reports pointing at China reportedly placing advanced Dong Feng-21 (DF-21/CSS-5) medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) along the borders it shares with India. China appears to be strengthening its deterrent capabilities in the region by replacing the earlier liquid-fuelled, nuclear capable CSS-3 intermediate range ballistic missiles with the upgraded CSS-5 missiles—a road mobile, solid-propellant, tactical missile system with payload and accuracy sufficient enough to target key civilian population centres and thus can, in effect, be effectively used as a deterrent against India. The basic variant of the DF-21 (CSS-5 Mod-1) is capable of delivering a 500 kiloton nuclear warhead over a maximum range of 1,800 kms. According to various sources, over 100 DF-21 missiles have been built with some of them being reconfigured with conventional warheads that can be put to use along China’s southern and north-western borders—thereby targeting areas throughout northern India.

India’s Missile Pack

The missile capability of Indian Armed Forces received a major fillip from the DRDO following the launching of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) in 1983. The aim was to develop a family of strategic and tactical guided missiles based on local design and development. Since then, the IGMDP has tasted significant success as far as two of its most significant constituents i.e., the Agni and Prithvi missile systems are concerned. Besides, two other programmes, the Akash SAM and the anti-tank Nag Missile are still in the development stage. The Indian missile arsenal boasts a range of systems and the current thrust areas of the DRDO include Integral Ram Rocket Engines, multi-target tracking capability, homing guidance using Seeker and networking of radars. Concurrently, the DRDO has consistently worked towards enhancing and upgrading the following missile systems further:

Agni I

Agni I is a single stage, solid fuel, road and rail mobile, medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) using solid propulsion booster and a liquid propulsion upper stage, derived from Prithvi, essentially to prove the re-entry structure, control and guidance. The strap-down inertial navigation system adopts explicit guidance—attempted for the first time globally. Using carbon composite structure for protecting payload during its re-entry phase, the first flight was conducted in May 1989, thus establishing the re-entry technology and precise guidance to reach the specific targets. This shorter ranger missile is specially designed to strike targets in Pakistan within a range of 700-800 kms.

Agni II

Agni II is an operational version of Agni I and is an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) with two solid fuel stages and a Post Boost Vehicle (PBV) integrated into the missile’s Re-entry Vehicle (RV) with mobile launch capability test-fired in April 1999. The range for Agni II is more than 2000 kms. Quick deployment of the Agni II was possible, by building on the earlier Agni-TD programme that provided proven critical technologies and designs required for long range ballistic missiles. The Agni II missile was last test fired in May 2009. A new variant of the Agni II called the Agni IIIA is presently under development.

Agni III

Additionally, Agni III, an intermediate-range ballistic missile was developed by India as the successor to Agni II. Intended to be a two-stage ballistic missile capable of nuclear weapons delivery, it is touted as India’s nuclear deterrent against China. The missile is likely to support a wide range of warhead configurations, with a 3,500 kms range and a total payload weight of 2490 kg. The two-stage solid fuel missile is compact and small enough for easy mobility and flexible deployment on various surface/sub-surface platforms. In February 2010, India successfully conducted the fourth flight test of the nuclear-capable Agni III missile, thus establishing the repeatability of the missile's performance.


The Trishul (Trident) is a short range, quick reaction, all weather surface-to-air missile designed to counter a low-level attack. In fact, Trishul was one of the longest-running DRDO missile development programme. It can also be used as an anti-sea skimmer from a ship against low flying attacking missiles. The missile can engage targets like aircraft and helicopters, flying between 300 m/s and 500 m/s by using its radar command-to-line-of-sight guidance. Powered by a two-stage solid propellant system, with a highly powered HTBP-type propellant similar to the ones used in the Patriot, the Trishul has necessary electronic counter-counter measures against all known aircraft jammers. Trishul, with its quickest reaction time, high frequency operation, high manoeuverability, high lethal capability and multi-roles for three services, is state-of-the-art system providing considerable advantage to the Indian armed forces.


The Akash system is a medium range surface-to-air missile with multi-target engagement capability. It can carry a 55-kg multiple warhead capable of targeting five aircraft simultaneously up to 25 kms and is said to be comparable to the US Patriot as an air defence missile. It uses high-energy solid propellant for the booster and ram-rocket propulsion for the sustainer phase. The propulsion system provides higher level of energy with minimum mass, compared to conventional solid/liquid rocket motor, which has better performance with minimum weight of the missile. It has a dual mode guidance, initially on command mode from phased array radar and later radar homing guidance with unique software developed for high accuracy. The phased array radar provides capability for multiple target tracking and simultaneous deployment of missiles to attack four targets at the same time, in each battery. It was reported in March 2011, that the improved Mark II version of the Akash SAM missile will have its first flight test by end of 2012. The Air Force and Army are likely to order more of Akash MK-1 and MK-2 SAM batteries to cover lot of non covered area in its Northeast and western borders.


Another missile under IGMDP development is the Nag, an anti-armor weapon employing sensor fusion technologies for flight guidance first tested in November 1990. The Nag is a third generation ‘fire-and-forget’ anti-tank missile developed in India with a range of 4 to 8 kms. Nag uses Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) guidance with day and night capability. Mode of launch for the IIR seeker is LOBL (Lock on before Launch). Nag was successfully test fired in August 2008 marking the completion of the developmental tests. Nag is expected to be the first weapon of its kind to be inducted into the army by December 2009. The Army urgently needs the more advanced Nag to improve kill probability as the missile using a high explosive warhead to penetrate the armor in modern tanks. However, it was reported in April 2011 that induction of third generation Nag missile is likely to be delayed by more than a year with the Army seeking improvements to the specially-made missile carrier, Namica. In addition, HELINA (HELIcopter launched NAG) the air-to-ground version of the NAG anti-Tank missile is scheduled to be integrated into the HAL built Dhruv Helicopters. The weaponised version of the ALH Dhruv helicopter will be able to fire HELINAs by 2013. Upgraded propulsion will enable HELINA to strike enemy armor at a distance of 7-8 kms.


The Prithvi is a surface-to-surface battle field missile using a single state, twin-engine liquid propulsion system and strap-down inertial guidance with real-time software incorporated in the onboard computer to achieve the desired accuracy during impact. Prithvi demonstrates higher lethal effects as compared to any equivalent class of missiles in the world. Prithvi could well be termed as a unique missile since it displays manoeuverable trajectory and high level capability with field interchangeable warheads. Its accuracy has been demonstrated in the development flight trials. Flight trails for the air force has been completed and the system is now being configured for launching from ship, thereby increasing its capability as a sea mobile system.


Significant additions also include the Multi-Barrel Rocket System PINAKA, an area weapon system to supplement the existing artillery gun at ranges beyond 30 kms, having quick reaction time and high rate of fire has been accepted by the user after extensive trials.


The increasing realisation towards the need for indigenous cruise missile technology consequently resulted in India choosing the supersonic cruise missile, BrahMos, being jointly developed with Russia, which can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land. The BrahMos developers have come up with successful development of an anti-ship and land attack capability. The survivability of a cruise missile after it is launched is crucially dependent on stealth in navigation and minimising the interval between the time that enemy air defence systems detect its presence and the time it takes for the cruise missile to arrive at its designated target. This interval is a function of the speed of the cruise missile and the distance at which it is detected. A significant increase in the speed of a cruise missile always adds to its lethality. BrahMos is among the fastest supersonic cruise missiles in the world, at speeds ranging between Mach 2.5 to 2.8, being about three and a half times faster than the American subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile. An important exception, however, is the Russian Alfa cruise missile, capable of speeds in excess of Mach 4 (four times the speed of sound). BrahMos has emerged as the perfect strike weapon with a fine combination of speed, precision, power, kinetic energy and reaction time attributes. In fact, India is the only country in the world to have inducted the supersonic land-attack cruise missile in its army.

The high speed of the BrahMos gives it better target-penetration characteristics as compared to slower subsonic cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk. BrahMos is a multi-platform cruise missile enabling it to strike from various types of land, sea and air-based platforms, including mobile and fixed ones. Possession of such weapon systems in the Indian arsenal would successfully prevent any hostile ship close within an operational range of 290 kms at sea when used with prior planning. Although BrahMos is primarily an anti-ship missile, it is also capable of engaging land-based targets. Between late 2004 and early 2008, the missile has undergone several tests from variety of platforms including a land-based test from the Pokhran desert in western India, in which the S maneuver at Mach 2.8 was demonstrated for the Indian Army and a launch in which the land attack capability from sea was also verified. Presently, the Indian Army has one regiment armed with the Block I version of the BrahMos missile with the first battery entering service in June 2007. Each battery is equipped with four mobile launchers mounted on heavy 12x12 Tatra transporters. It is reported that the Army plans to induct three more such batteries.

Due to an on board inertial navigation system with three gyroscopes and three accelerometers, BrahMos is a ‘fire and forget’ weapon, requiring no further guidance from the control centre once the target has been assigned and it is launched. Upon completion of assembly, it has a 10-year shelf life, requiring a routine preventive maintenance check once every three years. With decline in the cost of modern technologies, the overall cost effectiveness of cruise missiles has increased. The cost-effectiveness of cruise missiles may alter the fundamental role of airpower.


Another cruise missile, the Nirbhay was announced in 2007—a subsonic missile with a range of 1000 kms. Capable of being launched from multiple platforms on land, sea and air, the missile is being developed to be tested in 2009. Nirbhay will be a terrain hugging, stealth missile capable of delivering 24 different types of warheads depending on mission requirements and will use inertial navigation system for guidance. In fact, Nirbhay will supplement BrahMos in the sense that it would enable delivery of warheads farther than the 300 km range of BrahMos, according to reports.

Sagarika, Shaurya and Dhanush

In 2008, New Delhi announced the end of the IGMDP with the focus now shifting towards serial production of missiles developed under this programme. New Delhi has also taken steps toward achieving submarine launched ballistic missile capability, with the first test of the K-15 (Sagarika) taking place in February 2008 from a submerged barge with a range of 750 kms. Moreover, a land-based variant of the K-15 Sagarika named Shaurya, which can be stored in underground silos for longer time and can be launched using gas canisters as booster was successfully test-fired in November 2008. This nuclear-capable missile aims to enhance India’s second-strike capability. The Shaurya missile can carry a one-tonne nuclear warhead over 750 kilometers, specially designed to be fired from Indian submarines and could form the crucial third leg of India’s nuclear deterrent. India’s undersea deterrent had so far revolved around the K-15 ballistic missile, built with significant help from Russia. The Shaurya is likely to strike within 20-30 metres of its target after travelling 750 kms.

Sagarika missile is being integrated with India’s nuclear-powered Arihant class submarine that began sea trials in July 2009. Also under development is the sea-based Dhanush, which has been tested several times in recent years believed to be a short-range, sea-based, liquid-propellant ballistic missile—perhaps a naval variant of the Prithvi series. According to reports, the possibility of a two stage version, the first being solid fueled and the second liquid fueled is expected—thus providing the missile with a maximum range of approximately 300 kms. It was reported in March 2011 that Dhanush was successfully test-fired from a warship.

Besides, 2011 also saw the testing of India’s indigenously-developed advanced air defence (AAD) interceptor missile—a single-stage supersonic missile having its own mobile launcher, secure data link, independent tracking and homing capabilities and sophisticated radars. The In addition, the first test flight of the Indo-Israeli long-range, surface-to-air missile (LR-SAM), called Barak 2, is scheduled for 2011. The missile is designed to be used as a point-defence system on warships, defending against aircraft, anti-ship missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. The missile can hit targets at a range of 70-100 kms.


India’s missile programme represents sovereignty and self-reliance in so far as its technological prowess is concerned. New Delhi’s quest for a credible minimal deterrent requires for it to concentrate on building comprehensive national development especially in terms of military capability. The need for a systematically planned long-term doctrine notwithstanding, the fact that conflicts in the future would be autonomous and highly network centric, make it imperative for India to build a viable deterrent.

India’s credence in the field, therefore, will surely get the boost that has been longed for, with the Agni V missile system, which shall enable New Delhi to upgrade its present strategic posture of ‘dissuasion’ to that of credible ‘deterrence.’

(The author is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)

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