How can India handle the international pressure as missile’s range is expected to be 10k+? Though a dated piece it makes very interesting reading

Until April 2012, the existence of an ICBM program was unclear and was never officially acknowledged by the DRDO. However, in the DRDO newsletter of May 2011, while describing the achievements of a recently promoted scientist, it revealed that he headed a program code named A6, which will be an ICBM with a range in between 6,000-10,000 km and like some versions of its precursor Agni V, it will be capable of underwater launch with MIRV.

While debut launch of the missile likely will happen in 2017-18 time-frame according to DRDO. There will be Intense International pressure on India to go slow or stop further development of long-range missiles which will be hard to be dubbed as ” China Centric ” due to increasing range of this missile.

The important AGNI-VI, MIRV capabilities has not been approved by the government. Despite this impediment DRDO has decided on the missile specifications and enhanced capabilities and proceeding as per plan, once the ongoing Agni-V program concludes DRDO is confident that the present dispensation will sanction the program and allocate funds. In addition, there has been considerable speculation worldwide about this futuristic cutting-edge missile development program after the clinical success of the AGNI-V.

What is The Agni-VI

  • DRDO is working on new Agni-VI which will be a three-stage, solid fuel ICBM missile which will be heavier and thicker than the Agni-V.
  • Agni-VI officially will have a range of 6000 km but with the lighter payload will have a strike range of 8,000 km to 10,000 km.
  • Agni-VI will be able to carry 3 tonne warheads thrice that of Agni-V which can carry only 1.1 Tonne warheads. Agni-VI will be the first missile to have the capability to carry 4 or 6 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles [MIRV] payloads.
  • This will enable the missile to launch multiple nuclear warheads with each warhead striking a different target alternatively, separated by hundreds of kilometers, two or more warheads can be assigned to one target and can perform evasive maneuvers while hurtling down towards its target, confusing enemy air defense systems that will try to intercept them mid-air.
  • The important AGNI-VI ICBM is expected to feature Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) capabilities. MIRVs ensure a credible second strike capability even with few missiles.
  • India quietly also tested K-4 missile which is an intermediate-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) with range of 3500 km last year.
  • DRDO is also working on new K-5 SLBM which will be bigger and heavier but of the same length of K-4 but also will be capable to carry MIRV payloads up to 6000 km which will enter into service with Follow-up Arihant class submarines which India will be working on in near future.

  • Multiple Warhead Technology: DRDO is at an advanced stage of integrating warhead technologies, but one notable challenge is building a booster rocket that can propel a three-tonne payload to targets more than 6,000 kilometres away. The payload weight is comparably more than what a GSLV can launch. The missile should also be able to deploy decoys and chaffs to evade air defence systems.

  • Weapons Delivery: Analysing a ballistic trajectory is a simple physics problem, but there is big difference between analysis and implementation. Recording the necessary data, rapidly analysing it, combined with ever changing variables, to determine the precise moment to release a warhead so that it hits a specific target 6-7 thousand kilometres away, is not a simple task. Therefore, dispersing nuclear warheads is another major technological challenge.

  • Miniaturisation:Miniaturisation of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons as has been obtained to fit the nose cone spatial shape of Agni-VI missile.

  • Support Structures: The building blocks from boosters to radars, seekers and sophisticated mission control centres are currently available. DRDO had been able to develop key Radio Frequency seeker technologies for missiles, it has since indigenously perfected this technology, and digital processing during the missile’s boost, mid-course and terminal phase is based on DRDO’s own software.

  • Mobility: Agni-VI must be compact and road mobile, this can be achieved by building the first stage with composites , which is expected to weigh around 40-tons. This is a technical challenge but DRDO has the capability in lightweight composites. The road mobile Agni-VI would also have stringent limits on its length since it must be carried on a standard size trailer that can move from one part of the country to another, turn on narrow roads, cross bridges and climb heights. As the payload weight increases, it will require more advanced technologies to keep the missile’s length to technically acceptable limits.

  • Weight & Dimension: Harnessing maximum performance from smaller rockets also becomes especially important in submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) version, which cannot be no longer than 13 metres so as to fit into the cramped confines of a submarine. This holds true to even the K-4 “Sagarika” SLBM for the country’s Arihant-Class, Chakra-Class Nuclear-Propelled ballistic missile attack submarines (SSBNs).

It is evident from history that there exists a close concurrence between a space and a missile program as was the case with both Soviet Union and America, China and India have also pursued the same path. The interchangeability of several technologies between the two entities suit there sustained development, but the more pronounced beneficiary is undeniably the missile programs.

The real question is:

Does India Need The Surya ICBM?

Development of strategic weapons comes with necessity. India kick started the IGMDP to develop ballistic missiles because it faced a grave threat from Pakistani military. Also, Indian leaders envisaged that having sophisticated weapons would let India have the respect of the world that it deserved. However, after first testing of Agni missile, the Western nations slapped sanctions and created hurdles to contain the missile development of India, one such hurdle being the MTCR (of which India is a proud member today).

Range comparison of Agni missiles - Agni II was enough to hit entire Pakistan, so what forced India to develop Agni V?

India is a firm believer of what's called minimum credible deterrence, which means India would only develop weapons that would scare the enemies into not attacking India. With India growing stronger, China has taken over the role of India's prime rival, replacing Pakistan, which has grown too weak to be even called a rival. So India desperately needed weapons to counter China. A growing Chinese threat has forced India to modernise it's military in general, and nuclear weapons in particular, giving birth to Agni V.

Does India Really Need Surya ICBM Or Agni-6?

A 10,000 km range missile would effectively put most of the Western nations at threat, something which India cannot afford right now. India needs the West, be it for it's economy, for steady supply of weapons or countering China. India is unlikely to do something that would upset those rich industralized countries. Under Modi administration, India's relations with the West have substantially improved, so why would India want to take it back to stone age?

What Can We Expect Now?

Indian government is very unlikely to unveil, or even acknowledge the existence of Surya ICBM, for the time being. So we should expect only some improvement in the existing missile fleet of India, in form of MIRV or MARV variants of Agni V. A Surya ICBM isn't probably coming anytime soon, even if the design and development work is fully finished.

The report of Surya ICBM has not been confirmed by officials of the Indian government and have repeatedly denied the existence of the project. The Surya ICBM is an ICBM program that has been mentioned repeatedly in the Indian press. Surya is the code name for the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that India is reported to be developing.

The DRDO is believed to have begun the project in 1994.

But the successfully tested Agni-V has a range of over 5,000 km and can carry about a 1,000-kg warhead. It can target almost all of Asia including Pakistan and China and Europe.