October 29, 2021 11:39:45 am
The successful test of Agni-5, the long-range surface-to-surface Nuclear Capable Ballistic missile, on Wednesday is significant from two aspects — one, as strong strategic signalling to China amid ongoing stand-off in Eastern Ladakh sector and two, it was the first time that the missile was fired at night, thus proving the versatility of the already operational system. Here is a quick explainer.
The Test on Wednesday
The successful launch of Agni-5, which uses a three-stage solid-fuelled engine, was carried out on Wednesday at around 7.50 pm. The missile is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and can strike targets at ranges up to 5,000 km with a high degree of accuracy. After the test, the Ministry of Defence said, “The successful test of Agni-5 is in line with India’s stated policy to have ‘credible minimum deterrence’ that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’.”
Developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the missile is already inducted into services and is operated by the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). SFC is a key tri-services formation that manages and administers all the strategic forces and falls under the purview of the Nuclear Command Authority of India. The test on Wednesday was carried out and monitored by the SFC.
In December 2018, a successful test of Agni-5 was carried out by the SFC. Earlier that year, two more tests of Agni-5 were conducted in January and June.
A senior DRDO scientist said, “Every test of such complex system is an opportunity for the user — the SFC in this case and the developer — the DRDO, to study and track the performance of the system in different settings and with different parameters. The test on Wednesday was conducted at night, thus proving the versatility of this complex system. It is yet another proof of its all-weather capabilities.”
Like all other tests, the flight performance of the missile was tracked and monitored by radars, range stations and tracking systems all through the mission.
The strategic signalling
Test conducted on Wednesday is being looked at strong strategic posturing towards China in the context of a 17-month long stand-off that started from April last year. In a similar strategic messaging effort in September and October last year, India had conducted a flurry of missile tests, in one of the most action-packed months of the DRDO’s history. The missiles tested during this period were crucial for the capabilities of land attack, air defence and maritime warfare.
The test also needs to be looked at in the context of a test of nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle conducted by China in August this year that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, as first reported by the Financial Times earlier this month. The report stated that the Chinese military had launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle, which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target.
“India has been working towards strengthening its nuclear triad and such tests are a strong reminder to the adversaries about our capabilities,” said a senior Army officer.
The Agni Missile Family
The name Agni originates from the Sanskrit word for fire and is taken in the context of Agni being one of the five primary elements of Panch Mahabhutas. Others are Prithvi (Earth), Aapa (Water), Vayu (Air), Akash (Space). Of these names, Prithvi and Akash have been given to missiles developed by the DRDO.
The development of Agni missiles started in early 1980 under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme spearheaded by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the central figure in India’s missile and space programmes, who also served as the 11th President of India.
Medium to Intercontinental versions of Agni missiles systems 1 to 5 have varying ranges, starting from 700 km from Agni-1 to 5,000 km and above for Agni-5. In June this year, the DRDO, successfully tested the new generation nuclear-capable ballistic missile Agni P, which is an advanced variant of the Agni class of missiles. Agni P is a canisterised missile with a range capability between 1,000 and 2,000 km.
While the DRDO has not officially declared, Agni-6 is also said to be under development with a much longer range starting 8,000 km and has multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) carrying capabilities.
No First Use posture and India’s nuclear doctrine
After the Wednesday’s test, the MoD highlighted the posture of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ and ‘No First Use’ which are pivotal points of India’s nuclear doctrine, first published in 2003.
The pointers from the doctrine are: Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent. The posture of ‘No First Use’, meaning nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or Indian forces anywhere. The nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to ‘inflict unacceptable damage.’
The doctrine also states that nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority. While India maintains the ‘Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states’, the doctrine states that ‘in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.’