Agni-Prime is the latest missile to taste success in a test off the Integrated Test Range, strengthening India’s missile production capabilities. Designed for ease of handling and deployment at short notice, the test featured advance technologies integrated into the missile.

What Is The Agni-P Missile?

The Agni-P, or Prime, missile is described by the Defence Ministry as a “new generation nuclear capable ballistic Missile". Belonging to the Agni family that constitutes the mainstay of India’s stable of short- (SRBM), medium- (MRBM), intermediate range (IRBM), and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), the Agni-P is a two-stage cannisterised solid propellant missile.

Cannisterised means the missile is capable of launch at short notice through improvements in its storage and handling features. Reports said that Agni-P is the smallest and lightest of the Agni missiles and weighs less than half as much as the Agni-3 missile.

This is the second test this year of Agni-P with the earlier one having been conducted in June from the same Dr APJ Abdul Kalam island off the coast of Odisha. After the first test, the Defence Ministry had said that an “advanced variant of Agni class of missiles", Agni-P has a range of between 1,000-2,000 km.

The London, UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) classed Agni-P as a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) and said that its images suggest that the missile is wider in diameter compared with both the Agni-I and -II, “potentially allowing for a larger payload to be accommodated, thereby providing India with greater flexibility and targeting options".

IISS further notes that the Agni-P has “an overall more compact design" while also pointing to speculation that it “utilises some of the same technology from the Agni-IV and -V".

What Did The Test Achieve?

As with its June run, the Defence Ministry said following the test on December 18 that “the missile followed text book trajectory meeting all mission objectives with high level of accuracy".

The ministry said that the latest test of this missile, which comes with “dual redundant navigation and guidance system", proved the “reliable performance" of all the advanced technologies integrated into it. Redundancies involve the introduction of extra components on the principle that if one functionality suffers a failure then a backup feature would still enable the objective to be achieved.

The Defence Ministry statement said that the second development flight trial included many additional features, noting that “various telemetry, radar, electro-optical stations and down range ships positioned along the eastern coast tracked and monitored the missile trajectory and parameters".

What Does Agni-P For India’s Missile Capabilities?

Given its stated 1,000-2,000 km range, Agni-P sits between the Agni-I of 700-1,200 km reported range and the 2,000-3,500 km Agni-II. IISS says that Agni-P’s range means “it is likely that the system is being developed with Pakistan rather than China in mind due to the limited number of possible targets within this range threshold in China from northern India".

According to the Washington DC-based non-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the Prithvi-II, Agni I-IV are “India’s fully operational land-based ballistic missiles and form the foundation of the country’s ballistic missile arsenal".

“Agni-II, deployed in 2011, has a range of 2,000 km and can strike anywhere in Pakistan and most parts of south and south-eastern China. Agni-III, with a range of between 3,500 and 5,000km was deployed in 2014, NTI says, adding that India has also “developed but not yet deployed" Agni-IV and Agni-V missiles.

It was reported in 2018 that India had conducted a successful test — its seventh at the time — of its nuclear-capable Agni-IV missile with a range of 4,000km as part of a user trial by the Army. In October 2021, India also conducted a test of the Agni-V, which the Defence Ministry said is capable of hitting targets at a distance of 5,000 km, making it the country’s first ICBM.

The ministry had said at the time that the missile, which uses a three-stage solid fuel engine, had demonstrated a “very high degree of accuracy".

Washington DC-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) notes that the “foremost" purpose served by India’s missile arsenal is to support “New Delhi's nuclear deterrent posture against its main rivals Pakistan and China". NTI says India’s “strategic missile programmes have matured such that it currently has the capacity to deploy short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles".

Following the Agni-V test, the Defence Ministry had said that it was “in line with India’s stated policy to have ‘credible minimum deterrence’ that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’.