India successfully test fires Agni-V, joins top missile club

Agni V
India today took a major leap in its strategic capability by successfully test firing its nuclear capable, 5000 km-range Agni-V missile, bringing China under its cover and achieving the capacity of building Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles.

With this, India joined an elite missile club of the US, Russia, France and China, which produce Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).

The surface-to-surface Agni-V is capable of striking a target more than 5,000 km away. It is about 17-metres-long and two-metres-wide with launch weight of around 50 tonnes. The sophisticated missile can carry a nuclear warhead of more than one tonne.

This is the first time India has produced a missile that has brought China within its range and it is being considered a big deterrent capability.

"We had a successful launch of Agni-V. The missile lifted off at 8.07 hours today," Defence Research and Development Organisation chief V K Saraswat said after the three-stage solid propellant missile was test fired from launch complex-4 of Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast.

Agni-V had a smooth and perfect vertical lift-off from the launcher and a thorough analysis was done to assess its health parameters after retrieval of data from the wide range of sophisticated communication network systems, Saraswat said.

"The sleek missile, within a few seconds of its blast-off from the Island launch pad roared majestically into the sky leaving behind its a trajectory a trail of thin orange and white smoke before disappearing," a defence official said.

ITR Director S P Dass said, "It was a perfect launch and the missile hit the pre-determined target and the mission met all its parameters.

"We can call it an ICBM as it has the capability to travel from one continent to another," Dass said.

The test-fire, which was originally scheduled to be held yesterday, had to be deferred at the last moment for safety reasons due to bad weather marked by rains and heavy lightning.

New Delhi's deterrence capability will now be further strengthened and it will push its case for having a greater say at multilateral fora.

India has at present in its armoury of Agni series, Agni 1 with 700 km range, Agni 2 with 2,000 km range, Agni 3 and Agni 4 with 2,500 km to more than 3,500 km range.

Hailing the successful launch of the indigenously developed missile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said it represents another milestone in India's quest to add to its security preparedness.

Defence Minister A K Antony described the maiden test flight of Agni-V as an "immaculate success" and a "major milestone".

"The nation stands tall today. We have joined the elite club of nations (to possess the ICBM capability)," Antony told Saraswat on phone after the test flight of the missile was declared successful.

"This launch has given a message to the entire world that India has the capability to design, develop, build and manufacture missiles of this class, and we are today a missile power," Saraswat said.

"We are going to conduct two more tests and that will be validation tests..., and then the production of this system will start. It is going to take an year maximum," he said. Saraswat said that he expected the missile to be inducted into the armed forces in the next two years.

"The missile achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve in this mission. This missile from the prime board to launch pad has happened in about three years," the missile's Programme Director Avinash Chandra said.

The test-firing of Agni-V demonstrated giant strides taken by India in its integrated missile development programme, he said.

Preparation for Agni-V test had gathered momentum after India achieved successful results from the first development trial of Agni IV, which has a strike range of more than 3,500 km, from the same launch pad on November 15, 2011.

Apart from Saraswat, who is also the scientific advisor to the Defence Minister, a host of top defence scientists, military officials and functionaries of concerned agencies were present at the site to monitor, supervise and witness the maiden test of the new generation missile.

Top scientists present at the test site said at least 20 laboratories of the DRDO were engaged for several months to prepare the state-of-the-art missile.

About 800 scientists, staff and support personnel had been engaged to make the first ever launch of the Agni-V a success, they said.

Unlike other missiles of indigenously built Agni series, the latest one -- Agni V -- is the most advanced version having several new technologies incorporated in it in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine, said a scientist associated with the project.

Satish Reddy, architect of the missile navigation systems, said, "The systems have worked with high accuracy... We don't require any more technology from anybody else."

Known as 'Agni Lady', an elated Katy Thomas, who has been involved with the Agni project, said, "Today we have done a great event for the country. The mission was perfect with all the events being recorded and we had a perfect separation. The stages of guidance system worked wonderfully.

"All the teamwork which has gone in for the last three years has given fruitful result today," she added.

The test came just days after North Korea's failed rocket launch, but sparked none of the same global condemnation aimed at Pyongyang, an internationally isolated regime that has been banned by the U.N. from testing missile technology.

China is far ahead of India in the missile race, with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in India. Currently, the longest-range Indian missile, the Agni-III, has a range of 3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles) and falls short of many major Chinese cities.

''At the moment there is a huge assymetry in China's favor,'' said C Uday Bhaskar, the former head of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses. After it adds the missile to its arsenal, however, ''India's deterrent profile in the region would be appropriately burnished.''

Defense analyst Rahul Bedi said much needed to be done, noting that a government that is notoriously slow with defense decisions now needs to push forward with more tests, work out strategic doctrines, define targets, figure out manufacturing issues and how many missiles to build among a host of other issues.

''We need to build on today's success... to build in a very capable dissuasive deterrence capability,'' he said. ''But going back to past records I don't know if we can sustain it.''

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