Great leap forward
India has crossed a major technology threshold with the successful launch on Thursday, from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha, of Agni V, its first intercontinental nuclear-capable ballistic missile. The missile has a range of over 5,000 km and was indigenously developed. The perfect launch of the missile and the smooth working of all its health parameters show that all the research work and preparations in the last many years have come to fruition. The scientists and engineers of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and other agencies associated with the work on the missile deserve to be congratulated for their work. The nation can well be proud of the achievement which puts it in an exclusive club of ICBM capable countries. Only the US, Russia, France and China have this capability now.
Agni marks a major leap though it is the result of a natural progression in the development of missile technology. The first missile technology demonstrator based on SLV 3 rockets has now developed into an ICBM through various stages of the Agni series. Agni IV, which was successfully tested last year, has a range of 3,500 km. Agni V is bigger, longer and can carry multiple warheads. It is a solid fuel, three stage missile with better navigation facilities and greater accuracy than previous versions. It can be transported by road and launched from mobile platforms, making it difficult to locate it. The ability to carry several warheads is similar to putting many satellites into orbits which India has already demonstrated with the use of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in space missions. It also calls for the development of lighter nuclear warheads for deployment in the missile.
Agni V has enhanced the strength and credibility of India’s deterrence capabilities as never before. Among India’s neighbours China has its Dong Feng Intercontinental missiles with a range of over 7,000 km and Pakistan has Shaheen missiles with a range of over 1,200 km. Agni can now reach all parts of China. It is important that the country develops a nuclear and missile power which can adequately protect its interests that come with its increasing economic and political strengths. In the present circumstances India does not envisage the development of missiles with a longer range. So the next task is to refine the present technology, operationalise it fully and induct it into the armed forces. This might take about three years.