Agni-5, a nuclear capable missile with the longest range so far, of 5,500 kms and described by India as a “weapon of peace”, was successfully test fired from Kalam Island off the Odisha coast, on 26 December 2016, by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The latest in India’s “Agni” family of medium to intercontinental range missiles, capable of carrying an approximately 1000 kilograms warhead, with new technology for navigation and guidance, it provides India the strategic depth needed to contain Pakistan and China. It is also a fire-and-forget system that cannot be easily detected as it follows a ballistic trajectory.
This was the first test launch of Agni-5 missile after India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a 35-nation group to check the spread of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons. Congratulating the team of scientists behind the successful launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Successful test firing of Agni V makes every Indian very proud. It will add tremendous strength to our strategic defence.”
With the Agni 1, 2, 3 and 4 missile systems, supersonic cruise missiles like BrahMos and some other missiles already in India’s arsenal, it is relevant to take a look back at India’s missile programme.
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The first missile of the series, Agni-I was developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program and tested in 1989. The ranges of missiles in the series are Agni1- up to1250km, Agni 2- 2,000 kms, Agni 3- 3500 kms and Agni 4- 4,000 kms.
The launch of Agni 4 on November 11, 2011, placed India on a trail of new generation missiles. The comparatively light in weight Agni 4 with two stages of solid propulsion and a payload with re-entry heat shield, was the first to be used with composite rocket motor technology, which greatly enhanced its performance. Equipped with modern and compact avionics with redundancy to provide high level of reliability, the indigenous ring laser gyros-based high-accuracy INS (Rins) and micro navigation system (Mings) complementing each other in redundant mode, were successfully flown in guidance mode also for the first time.
The use of rockets and missiles in India dates back to the 18th century, during the period of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. They used rocket artillery brigades against infantry formations for mass attacks. Men were trained to launch rockets from a launch angle which was calculated from the diameter of the cylinder and the distance of the target. The launchers could launch 5-10 rockets in salvo mode.
Each of Tipu Sultan’s 27 brigades had a company of rocket specialists. With such a huge force, he defended the Mysore kingdom against the British until his death in Srirangapatnam in 1799. Two of the rockets, captured by the British at Srirangapatnam, are displayed in London’s Royal Artillery Museum. Even Marathas used rockets in the 1761 Battle of Panipat.
Indian rocketry, which ended after Tipu Sultan’s death, was revived in the 1970s by Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, among others. Defence Science Organisation, formed in 1956 for initiating studies and development of futuristic weapon systems, was headed by Dr BN Singh who formed the special weapon development team (SWDT) for study and development of guided missiles at Metcalfe House, Delhi.
He worked on the first generation of anti-tank missiles for gaining developmental experience. SWDT later became the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) at old Ahmed Manzil, Hyderabad in June 1962 under Gp Capt V Ganesan as its director.
A project formulated at DRDL in 1964 was supported by the Army after the 1965 Indo-Pak war and was later converted to a “staff project”, which tested an indigenously developed anti-tank missile in 1970. It was considered as a major achievement by the DRDL, which later moved to the Defence Research Complex at Kanchanbagh, on the periphery of Hyderabad’s Old City. Later, some scientists in collaboration with the Army, Navy and the Air Force officers developed the Devil missile.
All the preliminary understanding and development of electronics sub-systems of the Devil missile, including its airframe and aerodynamics were carried out at Ahmed Manzil laboratory. Leading scientists like Burman, JC Bhattacharya, Admiral Mohan and Surya Kantha Rao gave thrust to electronics, navigation, guidance and control as well as telemetry and instrumentation areas. Dr Ranga Rao, Dr Rama Rao, Dr Bala Krishnan, Krishnan and Dr Achyuthan gave priority to airframe, structures, aerodynamics and system-related areas.
This was further strengthened by the techno-managerial leadership of Lt Gen Dr VJ Sundaram (Retd), Lt Gen R Swaminathan and Sqn Ldr Shah in the area of airframe controls and integration.
Rocket Test House (RTH), near Kanchanbagh, was used for carrying out propulsion-related design and tests. The liquid and solid propulsion areas were continuing with vibrant leadership of Dr Gopal Swamy and Wg Cdr Sen. Re-entry technology and ballistic missile programmes were spearheaded by RN Agarwal. The state-of-the-gyro test facility was initiated by P. Banerjee within the campus. However, the whole facility of Ahmed Manzil was shifted near Kanchanbagh in 1975. Full-scale missile laboratory (DRDL) was built from then onwards.
The Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) under India’s defence ministry, began in early 1980s for the development of a comprehensive range of missiles, including the intermediate range Agni missile (surface-to-surface), and short-range missiles such as the Prithvi ballistic missile (surface-to-surface), Sagarika, the naval version of the Prithvi, Akash missile (surface-to-air), Astra missile (air-to-air), Trishul missile (surface-to-air), Nag missile (anti-tank) and also an inter-continental-ballistic-missile named Surya, with a range of 8,000-12,000 km. Managed by DRDO in partnership with other Indian government laboratories and research centres, one of the most prominent chief engineers on the project, Dr Abdul Kalam went on to become the President of India.
The last major missile developed under the programme was Agni-III intermediate-range ballistic missile which was successfully tested on July 9, 2007. After the third test of Agni-3 on May 7, 2008, the DRDO announced the closure of the IGMDP since most of the missiles in the programme have been developed and inducted into Indian armed forces.
These were the Akash, Nag, Prithvi, Trishul and Agni (as re-entry technology demonstrator). According to General Knowledge Today the following missiles were developed under IGMDP: Trishul, Akash, Nag, Prithvi Missile Series, Agni missile series, K Missile Series, Shaurya, BrahMos, BrahMos II, Nirbhay, Prahaar, Astra, Barak-8, Anti-Radiation Missile, Anti-Satellite Missile, Indian Ballistic Missile Defense Program, Prithvi Air Defence and Advanced Air Defence.
According to a statement to the media by Dr S. Prahlada, former director DRDL and CC, R&D (services interaction and aeronautics) and later vice-chancellor Defence Institute of Advanced Technology, Pune, new missile and weapon systems would be developed in new five-year programmes and to involve both Indian private industries as well as foreign partners to reduce costs. Independently continuing further development of Nag missile, the DRDO is also developing a laser-based weapon system as part of its ballistic missile defence programme to intercept and destroy missiles soon after they are launched towards the Indian Territory.
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In 1998, the government of India signed an agreement with Russia to design, develop, manufacture and market BrahMos (Brahmaputra-Moscow rivers), a supersonic cruise missile system that can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land. The mission was successfully accomplished by 2006.
At speeds of Mach 2.5 to 2.8, it is the world’s fastest cruise missile, about three-and-a-half times faster than the American subsonic Harpoon cruise missile.
BrahMos has been reportedly attempting a hypersonic Mach 8 version of the missile, BrahMos II, the first ever hypersonic cruise missile. According to DEFENCEUPDATE, 19 March 2016, the Russians successfully carried out the first test firing of a hyper sonic version of Brahmos missile in Russia on last Thursday. Russian sources indicated that the test was successful and the missile flew at the speed of Mach 6.
However, they didn’t mention about the range and the mode of flight. While one version is that the Zircon will be used to develop the Brahmos II missile, another version is that the Zircon missile itself is the Brahmos II. DEFENCEUPDATE further informed that Russia planned to replace its existing P 800 and Kalibr missiles from Russian naval ships and submarines with Zicron missiles and that Brahmos is also developing mini hypersonic versions of Brahmos II for offshore patrol vehicles and fighter aircraft.
Undoubtedly, Brahmos has emerged as an accomplished joint venture under the Make in India category and with countries lining up to purchase its products. Reportedly, three BrahMos missile regiments raised so far have been deployed in the western sector to counter threat from Pakistan and in the second phase of military expansion along the China front, the government reportedly gave the go-ahead for deployment of BrahMos cruise missiles in Arunachal Pradesh. The fourth regiment of cruise missiles, with a 290-km range, will improve India’s military reach into the Tibet Autonomous Region and counter China’s elaborate missile deployment along the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control.
The Agni-6 is reported to be in early stages of development and the latest and most advanced version, is expected to be capable of being launched from submarines as well as from land, with a strike-range of 8,000-10,000 km.
Considering the problems India faced for decades in modernizing/replenishing its conventional weapons arsenal, thanks to politico-bureaucratic apathy and the sanctions/obstacles faced in reaching the MTCR status, its achievements in the field of missile and satellite technology are commendable. However, that must not make the national security decision makers complacent. They have to ensure that production levels are maintained, as achievement of such technology is meaningless without sufficiency in numbers.