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Agni 5 and India's growth in Missile Technology

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Agni-5 is the most advanced missile in the country. It is a nuclear capable long-range ballistic missile with a strike range of 5,000 kilometres. The surface-to-surface missile was launched with the help of a mobile launcher from launch pad-4 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Dr Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal at 9.48 am. This was the sixth trial of the state-of-the-art Agni-5. It has incorporated advanced technologies involving ring laser gyroscope and accelerometer for navigation and guidance. With the big success of Agni, India has established its strong presence in the elite group of nations having long range ballistic missiles.

Agni programme and its early struggles

The Agni series of ballistic missiles was developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India. It consists of five deployed variants. The Agni-I, Agni-II, Agni-III, Agni –IV are already in service with the Indian Army. Agni V, the fifth in the Agni series of missiles, has completed all trials. Though India is successful in the Agni programme, it faced many struggles. In 1988, when India test-fired the first Prithvi missile, and the Agni missile in 1989, new restrictions were placed by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) (then an informal group consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) to stop access to any technology that would help India develop its missile development program. To counter the MTCR, the IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme) team formed a new team consisting of DRDO laboratories, industries and academic institutions. The new combination was formed to create sub-systems, components and materials for the new missile programme. Despite being slow in their progress, India successfully developed indigenously all the restricted components denied to it by the group.

What are the variants of Agni missile ?

Agni-I : It is a short or intermediate-range ballistic missile. It was first tested at the interim test range in Chandipur off the coast of Orissa, India, in May 1989. The missile consists of a single engine. In March 2010, a nuclear-capable Agni-I was test fired from the integrated test range at Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast. The missile can carry a conventional payload of 1,000kg or a nuclear warhead and has a range between 700km and 800km.

Agni-II : It is a medium-range ballistic missile equipped with two solid fuel stages. It was test fired in April 1999 from the IC-4 pad. The nuclear-capable Agni-II was tested by a special strategic command force in May 2010. The missile has a range of more than 2,000km. A tank missile with top-attack, fire and forget capability was also inducted into service.

Agni-III : It is an intermediate range ballistic missile. The Agni-III was test fired in July 2006 from Wheeler Island, but failed to reach its target. It was successfully test fired in April 2007. The two-stage ballistic missile has a diameter of 2m. The first-stage booster weighs around 32t and is made using advanced carbon composite materials, while the second-stage booster weighs 11t and is made of iron-based steel alloy. The missile can support a series of warhead configurations and a total payload of 2,490kg for a range of 4,500km.

Agni-IV: It is a two-stage nuclear-capable intermediate range ballistic missile. The missile was first tested in November 2011 from Wheeler Island. It rose to an altitude of 900km during the test. It was successfully test-fired again in September 2012. It reached an altitude of 850km during its third test in January 2014. The missile was also successfully test-fired in January 2017. The Agni-IV has a length of 20m and weight of 17t. It can carry a payload of 800kg. The maximum range of the missile is 4,000km.

Special features of Agni missiles:

Some of the important features of the Agni missile include manoeuvring re-entry vehicle, extra ordinary navigation and control etc. The Agni’s manoeuvring re-entry vehicle features an attitude control system and aerodynamic fins. The Agni series utilises a strap-down inertial navigation system (INS) for flight control and navigation. These missiles incorporate indigenously developed inertial sensors. The Agni-II’s missile control system uses an MIL-STD-1553 data bus for all on-board communication and control device interconnection. The system integrates the INS, flight control computer, actuators and sensors. Navigation and guidance is provided by an advanced ground-based beacon system that uses the time delay of arrival (TDOA) concept. The TDOA continuously provides updates on missile flight position and speed. The Agni-IV is guided by a Ring Laser Gyro based INS, Micro Navigation System and Digital Controller System.

Other missile technologies

Russia is the frontrunner in long range ballistic missiles. It is R-36M (SS-18 Satan) missile is the world's longest range of ICBMs. It plans to replace the R-36 with a new heavy ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. Its throw-weight is 8,800 kg, making the Soviet R-36 the world's heaviest ICBM in comparison. The missile, has a strike range of 16,000 kilometers.

United States: It has LGM-30G Minuteman-III, which is the only land-based ICBM in service in the United States. It has an operational range of 13,000 kilometres. It is the first missile in the world that employed multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV). The currently there are 450 Minuteman-III missiles.

China: It has the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41), which is a nuclear solid-fueled road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. It has an operational range of 12,000 - 15,000 kilometres. But China is yet to show the ICBM to the general public during any public events or military parade or any similar event. Most information of the advanced weapon remains classified.

France: It has M51, which was inducted into service aboard the French Navy's Triomphant class submarines. It has an operational range between 8,000 kilometers to 10,000 kilometers. It is a three-stage missile weighs 50 tonnes and can carry six independently targetable re-entry vehicles with a yield of 100kt-150 kilo tonnes each.


Agni V is one of the most strategic assets in India’s arsenal. But, according to a report in the Global Times claiming that the missile has a range of around 8,000 kilometres (5,000 mi). A report from China’s Strategic Planning groups, claims that India has purposefully undermined the range of Agni V, for its strategic benefits. With the success of Agni-5, India will be confident in developing more long range missile with range of 8,000 kilometres and above.