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DRDO plans early entry of Agni-4 into arsenal

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A day after the successful launch of the Defence R&D Organisation’s all-new ballistic missile, a triumphant chief proclaimed it as good as America’s Pershing-II missiles; and declared that India’s missile arsenal could no longer be constrained by technology denial sanctions

Highlighting the capability of the Agni-4, V K Saraswat, DRDO head, told the media here that this 20-tonne missile could deliver a one-tonne warhead to a distance of 3,500 km, significantly further than the 3,000 kilometres range of the much heavier, 48-tonne Agni-3 missile. Saraswat listed the multiple technological breakthroughs that had permitted this feat — composite rocket motors; a state-of-the-art navigation system and control systems that were both lighter and better.

Asked by Business Standard whether the Agni-4 was qualitatively in the class of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles (the Shaheen and the Ghauri), Saraswat responded, “Agni-4 compares with what is available (globally) in its class of missiles like the Pershing (US missile)… I am talking in terms of technology, not in terms of range, as Pershing missiles have a higher range… they meet global standards.”

Saraswat may have mixed his facts, since Pershing II, the US ballistic missile he likened the Agni-4 to, is a decommissioned 1980s missile with a range of just 1,800 kilometres. But his claim, as evident from his other remarks, was that the Agni-4 met global benchmarks.

Saraswat also explained that the Agni-4 represented the final defeat of the technology denial regime that the West imposed on India from 1974 onwards. India, he said, could no longer be blocked from developing a world-class nuclear deterrent.

“No technology control regimes can stop us from making missiles in this class. We need to thank the technology sanctions for enforcing upon us a degree of self-reliance where we no longer need imports,” said Saraswat.

The DRDO chief praised a range of Indian entities for defeating western sanctions. Defence PSU, MIDHANI developed “maraging steel” for missile components; Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) produces 500 tonnes per year of badly needed titanium; the blockage on Indian imports of composite carbon fibre — essential for the Agni’s heat-resistant nose cone — was defeated. “We have made our own carbon fibre which is better than anything that is available from those foreign countries”, said Saraswat.

The DRDO plans to quickly bring the Agni-4 into military service. “We hope to complete the test phase (two launches) in 2012; the user phase (two launches) in 2013; and in 2014 we would offer it for service. We have dramatically shortened the time from development to service,” said the DRDO’s missile controller, Avinash Chander.

Indian nuclear specialists worry that, although advanced simulation capabilities have reduced the requirement of actual test launches, there is a haste to introduce inadequately tested missiles into the Indian arsenal.

“In earlier times, missiles like the Pershing were fired dozens of times before being brought into service. Even on Wednesday, at least three to five launches are needed to verify that Agni-4’s performance can be replicated in various conditions. Only then should user trials commence,” says deterrence expert, Brigadier (retired) V K Nair.

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