I spent a few minutes interviewing Dr Avinash Chander, director of India's Agni missile programme (and Director, Advanced Systems Laboratory) on Wednesday evening. He is the country's most valuable rocket scientist today, but you wouldn't know it. Unassuming, quiet and supremely focused on his task, he's a man who has spent the last three years giving the Indian government options that it has never had before. And with the Agni-III strategic missile completing its testing stage and now ready for operational induction with India's Strategic Forces Command, it's time for the next big thing.
At this time next year, India will begin testing its longest range weapon yet, the newest in its Agni family of strategic ballistic missiles, named the Agni-V. According to DRDO chief Dr VK Saraswat, the country's seniormost weapon scientist, "The Agni-V has moved out of the drawing board. We have crossed the metal cutting stage. We are now testing and evaluating subsystems and plan to conduct a first flight trial within a year."
According to Dr Chander, the Agni-V will be 22-metres long and approximately 1-ton heavier than the Agni-III. The Agni-V's navigation system and warhead will be identical to the Agni-III, as will a great deal of subsystems, aggregates and electronics. The team has stated that 60 per cent of the first missile system is complete, while the remainder involves the crucial third stage of the missile. Dr Chander revealed today that the challenges that lie ahead include changes in the payload structure, introduction of extra heating and slight changes to the re-entry mechanism. The Agni-V will also be the first Indian missile with a composite rocket motor as opposed to a metallic one.
"The problems we had with previous tests of the Agni-2 and Agni-III were not design defects but problems with quality assurance. We have rectified those problems and don't foresee any such hurdles on the Agni-V," Dr Chander said.
Clarifying that India did NOT have an independent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programme, DRDO chief Dr Saraswat said, "The country's requirement right now is a missile with a range in the region of 5,000-km-plus. A missile with a range beyond this has not been identified as necessary for our strategic programme. However, we have the capability to build longer range missiles if the country calls upon us to do so. The building blocks are already in place."
Cocking a snook at the Chinese ballistic missile programme, Dr Chander told me, "I can say that our technology is maturer than theirs. And of course, there is no comparison at all with Pakistan. We are technologically way ahead of them. Of course, the Agni is our very own missile, not borrowed technology."
Agni-V Photo-impression by Shiv Aroor