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February 24, 2012

Decks cleared for first test of 5000-km range Agni-V missile

India has begun final preparations for the first test of its most-ambitious strategic missile, the 5,000-km Agni-V, which will prove to be both a technical as well as logistical challenge.

The Agni-V, which will bring the whole of Asia, 70% of Europe and other regions under its strike envelope, will be tested from Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast towards end-March to early-April, top defence sources said.

"We are almost ready for the test. There are no technical glitches or problems. It's more of a scheduling and logistical issue now since the missile will travel halfway across the Indian Ocean," said a source.

"Countries like Indonesia and Australia as well as international air and maritime traffic in the test zone will have to be alerted a week or 10 days before the test. Moreover, our warships, with DRDO scientists, tracking and monitoring systems, will have to be positioned midway and near the impact point in southern Indian Ocean," he added.

The nuclear-capable Agni-V, about 50-tonne in weight and 17.5-metre tall, is bound to generate waves. Once the three-stage missile becomes operational by 2014-2015 after "four to five repeatable tests", as promised by DRDO, India will break into the exclusive ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) club that counts just US, Russia, China, France and UK as its members.

India could have gone for a higher strike range but believes the solid-fuelled Agni-V is "more than adequate" to meet current threat perceptions and security concerns. The missile can, after all, even hit the northernmost parts of China.

With a canister-launch system to impart higher road mobility, the missile will give the armed forces much greater operational flexibility than the earlier-generation of Agni missiles. "The accuracy levels of Agni-V and the 3,500-km Agni-IV (first tested in November 2011), with their better guidance and navigation systems, are far higher than Agni-I (700-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km)," said the source.

India, of course, cannot match China in terms of its vast nuclear and missile arsenals, with missiles like the 11,200-km range Dong Feng-31A even unnerving the US. But missiles like Agni-IV and Agni-V will certainly add teeth to its credible minimum nuclear deterrence posture.

The Agni missiles will get deadlier once MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) payloads for them are developed. An MIRV payload on a missile carries several nuclear warheads, which can be programmed to hit different targets. A flurry of such missiles can hence completely overwhelm BMD (ballistic missile defence) systems.


Times of India

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