With a range of 5,000 km, the Agni 5 missile can cover most parts of China, and after some user trials, India's Strategic Command Forces would be ready to induct the lethal weapon.
Agni 5 is India’s answer to the emerging China threat and with today’s fourth successful test launch of the missile, the neighbouring country would think twice before flexing its muscles! With a range of 5,000 km, the Agni 5 missile can cover most parts of China, and after some user trials, India’s Strategic Command Forces would be ready to induct the lethal weapon. Developed by DRDO, Agni 5 is an intercontinental ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
The Agni 5 is approximately 17-metre long and weighs about 50 tonnes. It can carry a nuclear warhead of more than one tonne. The Agni 5 is said to have a very high accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS). Other new indigenous technologies includes accurate Micro Navigation System (MINS). This technology helps the missile strike the target within a few meters of accuracy, reports suggest. Apart from this the Agni 5 is said to have a longer shelf life, higher reliability, requires less maintenance and has enhanced mobility. The last attribute is also proven by the fact that the last year and today’s trials were both carried out on a truck through a canister-based system. Its enhanced mobility means that the missile can be deployed at a short notice.
Agni 5 adds to the Agni series of missiles which had ranges from 700 km to 3,500 km at present. While Agni-I comes with a 700 km range, Agni-II has 2,000 km range, Agni-III and Agni-IV have 2,500 km to over 3,500 km ranges respectively. Defence experts see the missile as a formidable addition to India’s strategic defence. But what makes the missile special? And, more importantly, how does it add to India’s overall missile programme?
Watch: File video of Agni 5 canister-based launch
Avinash Chander, Former DRDO chief and the architect of India’s Agni missiles believes that the Agni 5 is a game-changer for India. “It (Agni 5) can cover the longest possible distances and hence is fit to play a vital role in India’s defence preparedness,” he told FE Online. “Another important fact is that the Agni 5 missile development has created an environment where its technical inputs can be used to develop other missiles as well,” he adds.
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow and Head, Nuclear & Space Policy Initiative at ORF also sees the Agni 5 being a formidable weapon in India’s hands in the coming years. “Reports suggest that this will be the last test launch of the Agni 5. I personally feel that a few more are required before the missile can be handed over to the user. We are moving in the right direction with Agni 5 and it offers a huge deterrent capability to India,” she says. “The version that was tested today is more advanced in areas of navigation and guidance. Significant improvements have been made to the missile, but it will be a while before it goes to the forces. Agni 5 can hit most parts of China, particularly northern China. It is the strongest land-based missile system, and once it is inducted, India will have formidable power,” she told FE Online.
Countering China and India’s missile strategy
In comparison to China, Avinash Chander feels that India’s missile strike capability is almost at par. “In comparison to China, I would say that we are almost at par. In some areas, we are better and in others China is. The only major gap is by way of seekers. We need to get into a technology collaboration so that we can develop those too,” he advises.
Explaining India’s journey in the sphere of missile development, and the various functions that missiles serve, Chander says, “10 years back there was hardly any Indian missile. Now, India boasts of a wide segment of missiles, whether it is long range, medium or small. We have missiles that can fire from land, ships and the aircraft.”
“The primary aim of most missiles is to protect the vital assets. Then you have missiles like the Prithvi, BrahMos and Pinaka, which have been developed for battlefield roles. They have the capability to attack deep within the enemy territory and disrupt their communications and war-fighting capability. Agni series of missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and they are therefore strategic deterrents. Additionally, India has anti-tank missiles and cruise missiles. DRDO is working on the Nirbhay missile which is a cruise missile. The specialty of that missile is that it can fly very close to the ground and can, therefore, avoid being detected by the enemy’s radars,” he elaborates. “In total, there are around 20-25 types of missile systems that we have at varying levels of cost effectiveness. A lot of action has been taken to develop the missile capability and in the next 5 to 10 years we will be able to fill more gaps. There will be a focus on smart weapons and unmanned systems,” he says.
Watch: Old video of how the Agni 5 missile works
However, Rajeswari Rajagopalan is not so optimistic about India’s missile capability, especially when compared to China’s. While acknowledging that India’s missile development programme has been successful, she points to areas of urgent focus as well. “India’s missile systems have been fairly good, especially when it comes to the land-based missiles. From 700 km to over 5000 km, we have a huge range. In fact, missiles have been one of the success stories of the DRDO. It is one area where customer satisfaction has been high. I think where we lack still, and this is an area that needs priority attention is naval missile systems,” she says. “India needs long-range submarine-based missile systems. China is way ahead of us in this segment. The missile balance is tilted in favour of China and with emerging maritime threats and Indian Ocean region in focus, India needs to strongly develop missiles for the Indian Navy,” she concludes.
Call it lethal, potent or formidable, there is little doubt that the Agni 5 is just the missile needs to up its ante against China’s growing aggression. With its induction, India would also join the list of select countries that boast of an ICBM with a range of over 5,000 km. Currently, only US, France, China, Russia and the UK boast of such a missile system. India is already in the process of developing the Agni 6 nuclear-capable ballistic missile which experts suggest may have a range of over 6,000 km. India’s missile development capability and efforts are indeed praiseworthy, but we believe that the success needs to continue with focus on areas that experts pointed out above. In a world where China is fast emerging as a defence superpower, that’s the least India can do to maintain strong deterrence against any threats.