After the near-perfect debut of the Agni-5 long-range ballistic missile, which yesterday travelled 5,000 kilometres to accurately strike a target in the southern Indian Ocean, V K Saraswat, the Defence Research and Development Organisation chief, declared that the Agni programme would continue and there was no question of capping India’s missile programme.
Addressing a press conference here, Saraswat said, “Our development needs are based upon today’s threats, and also evolving threats…. So, there is no question of capping any programme…. Today, in a short time, we have gone from Agni-4 (launched in November 2011) to Agni-5. We have a threat profile which is evolving and I am not sure it will ever remain static. So we are going to continue to develop missiles to meet our future threats.”
The first big enhancement to the successful Agni-5 will involve creating the capability of hitting several different enemy targets with multiple warheads on a single missile. This technology, called multiple, independently targetable, re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) is already being developed by the DRDO.
Avinash Chander, DRDO’s chief controller of missiles, explained such a missile would be “all-composite”. The Agni-5 has three stages, with the second and third stage built of composite materials. The next missile will have a composite first stage as well, making it lighter and, therefore, able to carry a heavier payload than the 1.5-tonne payload of the current Agni-5. According to DRDO sources, an MIRV payload would be significantly heavier since it would consist of several nuclear warheads, each weighing about 400 kg. A five-warhead MIRV, therefore, would weigh two tonnes.
“The primary modules of MIRV are in an advanced stage of development. Realisation and integration of them into a weapon is just a question of threat perceptions and the need as it arises,” said Chander. Saraswat laid down a two-year time line for the Agni-5 to enter operational service. “We will do two more validation tests, which should take about one and a half years. After that, we will begin production (of the Agni-5) and we will start handing it over to the military. Once they have it, they will do some launches for their training as well. This will take about two years.”
The DRDO chief revealed the missile was 80 per cent indigenous, with just 20 per cent consisting of “those components which are easily available as part of the electronics components industry.” He stated the missile does not contain a single critical component under embargo.