When India test-fired its Agni V missile for the second time on Sunday,the buzz,predictably,was about how far it can fly and which all cities around the world can now be targeted. For a nation obsessed with numbers,the 5,000 km plus range of the nuclear capable missile has somehow become a convoluted symbol of Indias global position.
In reality,the challenge for Indias missile programme lies much farther ahead of the range it can achieve,scientists after all have sent a mission to the moon. As Indias top missile scientist and head of the DRDO Avinash Chander puts it,give scientists a number and two years of time and anything can be achieved.
The challenge lies in proving technology of such strategic nature at a different level gaining the trust of the users,the Strategic Forces Command,that a foolproof system will not fail in the time of need. While four more tests will be carried out before formal induction of the serial produced variant in two years,a critical factor will be ensuring the quality of production a sore issue that has plagued not just missiles but most indigenous military systems.
An even bigger challenge that remains is fine-tuning the technology to meet the requirements of a modern and dynamic battlefield. The Agni V has a designed precision of landing within a 100 metre of the intended target (CEP). This needs to be brought down to 10-15 metre. Though nuclear missiles can afford to be a bit off the target,it must not be forgotten that the Agni series also have a conventional role. A military mind would appreciate how far the capability of precisely hitting a hardened target at long range with a conventional warhead can be exploited.
Last but not the least,is the development of MIRVs (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle) a single ballistic missile carrying multiple warheads that are needed to defeat modern missile defence systems. Unfortunately,while DRDO has been working on this technology and has even fabricated certain modules to facilitate future tests,a decision has not yet been taken to initiate a formal MIRV missile programme.
Manu is an assistant editor based in Delhi