Sunday, June 30, 2013

Agni-V to be tested twice this year, could be inducted by 2015

India's most formidable strategic missile, the over 5,000-km Agni-V, will be tested twice before this year ends to ensure it is ready for full-scale induction in the armed forces towards end-2015.

Interestingly, the latter of the two tests will see the 50-tonne Agni-V being fired from a hermetically-sealed canister mounted on a launcher truck. A canister-launch system will give the forces the requisite operational flexibility to swiftly transport the ballistic missile and launch it from a place of their choosing. Consequently, the highly road-mobile Agni-V will be able to hit even the northernmost part of China if fired from close to the Line of Actual Control.

"We are getting ready for two more tests of the three-stage Agni-V this year, which will include the canister-launch trial. Our aim is to make the missile ready for induction in two years," said new DRDO chief Avinash Chander, talking exclusively to TOI.

Similar plans are underway to make the two-stage Agni-IV, with a 3,500-km strike range, ready for induction by end-2014. The armed forces have already inducted the Pakistan-specific Agni-I (700-km) and Agni-II (over 2,000-km) as well as the 3,000-km Agni-III.

The Agni-IV and Agni-V missiles, however, are in a different class with "much higher accuracy and kill efficiencies" to give teeth to the minimum credible deterrence posture against China. With a massive nuclear arsenal and missiles like the 11,200-km Dong Feng-31A capable of hitting any Indian city, Beijing is leagues ahead of New Delhi.

DRDO, however, remains unfazed. Work is in progress to make the solid-fuelled Agni-IV and Agni-V, the latter virtually an intercontinental ballistic missile, even more lethal.

"After these two missiles are inducted, the two major focus areas will be maneuvering warheads or re-entry vehicles to defeat enemy ballistic missile defence systems and MIRVs (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles)," Chander said.

An MIRV payload implies a single missile carrying several nuclear warheads, each programmed to hit different targets. "But there is no Agni-VI programme as of now. We are working on enabling technologies and capabilities... we will come to the Agni-VI programme, if required, later," he said.

But is DRDO being too optimistic about the Agni-IV and Agni-V induction schedules, given that both have been tested only once till now? "No, we require just six to seven trials. We are no longer in the age when a large number of trials are required," said Chander, a missile scientist who was the overall head of the expansive Agni programme earlier.

"These surface-to-surface missiles have well-defined (parabolic) trajectories, unlike say air-to-air missiles. We conduct thousands of tests through modeling and simulation in our labs under different conditions. The actual flight trials are to validate what is predicted in simulation tests, match the algorithms," he added.

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