Next generation, nuclear-capable ballistic missile Agni P, and what it means for India. DRDO successfully flight-tested nuclear capable ballistic missile Agni P from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam island off the coast of Odisha, Balasore

New Delhi: India successfully test-fired Agni-P, also known as Agni Prime, the next generation nuclear-capable ballistic missile in India’s nuclear arsenal, from Odisha’s Balasore earlier this week.

The missile comes with its own unique technology giving it more accuracy while making it difficult to intercept.

With a range of 1,000-2,000 kilometres, the deadly missile is capable of covering vital targets all across Pakistan. While it is popularly believed that the new missile will replace Prithvi, Agni-1 and Agni-2 series of ballistic nuclear missiles, government sources said it will not.

“It is not a replacement for any of the existing missiles. Agni P is part of the Agni series of missiles with new modern features which makes it very manoeuvrable and increases the accuracy,” a source said.

Sources also said the missile was made using the same technology used in the longer-range Agni 4 and Agni 5 missiles.

Here is a look at the technology behind the latest ballistic missile, why it is difficult to intercept, and why it is a boost for the Indian armed forces.

Lighter And More Agile

The Agni P, initially named Agni-1P, is said to weigh 50 per cent less than Agni 3 and is the lightest and smallest of the Agni series because of technological advancements, sources said.

The missile comes with new composites, propulsion systems, innovative guidance and control mechanisms, besides the latest navigation systems.

Adding to the usefulness of the missile is that it is a cannisterised system. This means that the movement and launch options increase for the Strategic Forces Command, which oversees India’s nuclear arsenal.

The missile can be launched from rail or road and can be transported to various parts of the country.

The two-stage and solid-fuelled weapon system comes with new propulsion systems, composite motor casings, and inertial navigation systems based on advanced ring-laser gyroscopes. Gyroscopes show the location of the missile and the trajectory it is taking.

Sources said that the ring-laser gyroscopes are more accurate.

“The missile can even be manoeuvred at one point if need be,” a source said. This feature, which is usually not available in a ballistic missile, makes it more difficult to intercept.

India’s ‘No First Use’ Policy

Experts explained that usually, upon launch, the target and the trajectory that the ballistic missile will take can be fairly understood, which makes interception possible.

However, the stress on accuracy has led some, including nuclear policy expert Vipin Narang, to see Agni P as a counterforce weapon.

Counterforce doctrine, in nuclear strategy, is the targeting of an opponent’s nuclear weapons infrastructure with a nuclear strike. The counterforce doctrine is differentiated from the counter value doctrine, which targets the enemy’s cities, destroying its civilian population and economic base.

However, government sources insisted that India has a strong ‘No first use’ (NFU) policy. They added that nuclear weapons are for deterrence, something which Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted too.

During his Prime Ministerial campaign in 2014, Narendra Modi had said, “No first use was a great initiative of Atal Bihari Vajpayee — there is no compromise on that. We are very clear. No first use is a reflection of our cultural inheritance.”

But in 2016, the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had spoken about the nuclear policy saying, “Why should I bind myself? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my (personal) thinking.”

As his comments gathered a storm, the defence ministry issued a clarification stating that it was Parrikar’s personal opinion.

“What he said was that India, being a responsible power, should not get into first-use debate. But once again, it is clarified that this was his personal opinion,” a ministry spokesperson had said.

In August 2019, Singh had said that while India has strictly adhered to the NFU doctrine, “what happens in future depends on the circumstances”.