New Delhi: India is getting ready to test its Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its final operational configuration from Wheeler Island off Odisha after two years.
Defence sources said preparations were on in full swing to launch the nuclear-capable Agni-V from its canister on a launcher truck towards December-end or early January . “There were some minor technical snags in Agni-V, which required tweaking of its internal battery and electronic configurations after its last test in January 2015,” a source said.
But India also conceivably wanted to exercise some strategic restraint while making a bid to join the 48-country Nuclear Suppliers Group , which China thwarted earlier this year. India, however, did manage to join the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime ( MTCR ), as also ink a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan recently .
The impending fourth test of Agni-V, capable of striking even the northernmost parts of China, is in itself significant. “This will be the final test of the three-stage Agni-V, which will be tested for its full range, before the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) begins its user trials,” the source said. The tri-Service SFC, established in 2003 to manage India’s nuclear arsenal, will conduct at least two tests before the missile is produced in adequate numbers for induction.
While Agni-V was tested in an “open configuration” in April 2012 and for the second time in 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 50-tonne missile from anywhere they want.
Once the Agni-V is inducted, India will join the superexclusive 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.