NEW DELHI: India will soon conduct another test of its most formidable strategic missile, the over 5,000-km Agni-V, even as work is still in progress to develop multiple-warhead capability for ballistic missiles.
The “user-trial in full operational configuration” of the Agni-V missile, which carries a single 1.5-tonne warhead, will be conducted by the tri-Service Strategic Forces Command (SFC) in October, said sources on Thursday.
It will be the first user-trial of the three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is now gradually being inducted into the SFC, since the military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh erupted in April-May last year.
The operational deployment of the over 50-tonne Agni-V will enhance the deterrence posture against China, which has missiles like the Dong Feng-41 (12,000-15,000-km) that can hit any Indian city. China has also recently gone in for a huge expansion in new missile silo fields for launching nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
Agni-V, which will bring even the northernmost part of China within its strike envelope, is operationally better than the earlier Agni variants because it is a canister-launch missile to ensure lesser maintenance as well as swifter transportation and firing.
The Agni-V test will come soon after a new-generation two-stage missile called Agni-Prime, with a strike range of 1,500-km, was tested on June 28. The Agni-Prime, also a canister-launch missile, will eventually replace the Agni-I (700-km) missiles in the arsenal of the SFC, which also has the Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) and Agni-III (3,000-km) missile units.
DRDO is simultaneously working to develop `multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles' (MIRVs) for the Agni missiles. An MIRV payload will have a single missile carrying four to six nuclear warheads, each programmed to hit a separate target.
“It will take another two years for a MIRVed missile to be flight-tested to prove the core technologies. With warheads meant to hit targets hundreds of kilometre apart with different trajectories, such a missile involves complex technologies. The test of the highly-miniaturised Agni-Prime in June included decoys, not an MIRV payload,” said a source.
India has also for long modified some Sukhoi-30MKI, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters to deliver nuclear gravity bombs. The new French-origin Rafale fighters being inducted by the IAF are also capable of doing it.
But the third leg of India’s nuclear triad is still far away from becoming robust, represented as it is by the solitary nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant armed with only 750-km range K-15 missiles as of now.
Countries like the US, Russia and China have SSBNs with well over 5,000-km range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). India has three more SSBNs under development, with INS Arighat now slated for commissioning next year after some delay. The K-4 missiles, with a strike range of 3,500-km, in turn, will take at least one more year to be ready for induction.