by Nitin A Ghokale

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), its Missiles and Strategic Systems cluster in particular, seems determined to turn a new leaf. Monday’s successful trial of Agni V nuclear-capable missile tops a very successful year for India’s missile programme coming as it does in the wake of nearly two dozen tests of different types of tactical and strategic missiles since January this year.

Monday’s successful launch of Agni V—seventh test overall since India began developing the missile a decade ago and third this year alone—now makes it ready for induction in India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) soon, DRDO sources said. With a range beyond 5,000 km, Agni V is considered a major deterrent against China since it can cover major cities and targets in India’s northern neighbour and adversary.

Agni-5, a three stage, solid fuel missile can carry a nuclear payload of 1.5 tonnes over a distance beyond 5000 km. It is the longest and heaviest of strategic missiles Indian scientists have developed in the Agni series. They comprise Agni I (range 700-900 km), Agni II (2,000 km), Agni III (3,500 km) Agni IV (4,000 km) and Agni V (over 5,000 km). Of these Agni I, II and III have already been inducted in the SFC while Agni IV and V are close to completing their development trials.

The previous trials of Agni V conducted in January and June this year were deemed successful. The inter-continental ballistic missile takes India into a select club of six countries capable of making missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

While the world’s attention is naturally focused on the Agni V tests and its planned induction in coming months, the Missile and Strategic System cluster has been busy with many more trials and inductions in 2018. Consider this: In August and September this year, DRDO scientists successfully tested a two-stage ballistic missile defence system. First, the Advanced Air Defence missile was tested in the Endo-atmosphere, capable of destroying any incoming hostile ballistic missile. The second test—Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV)—was for engaging targets 50 km above the earth’s atmosphere and therefore called Exo-atmosphere test. More tests are required to validate the concept of two-tier air defence system but DRDO scientists are confident that India will soon have a reliable anti-ballistic missile defence system.

Clearly, the indigenous missile development program is on a roll and fulfilling its mission to create a phalanx of missiles that can protect India.