From a single-stage, liquid-propelled, surface-to-surface Prithvi missile with a 150-km range, which was first launched in 1988, to a three-stage Agni-V that can take out targets 5,000 km away, it has been a “giant leap” for India in less than 25 years.
Agni-V, with all its three stages powered by solid propellants, is a “game-changer” for India in its missile technology capability.
Prithvi was the first of the missiles developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), which was initiated in 1983 and wound up in 2007 after most of its objectives were met. However, the path to indigenous development from Prithvi to Agni-V was not smooth, as India had to overcome technology-denial regimes.
After the successful launch of Prithvi-1 in February 1988 and Agni in May 1989, the United States and other developed countries imposed technology embargoes on India under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), adversely affecting the availability of electronic devices such as computer processor chips, radio frequency devices, electro-hydraulic components, maraging steel and composite materials such as carbon fibre.
V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, had earlier told The Hindu/Frontline: “This is a very short list. The list runs into hundreds of components and materials.”
Undeterred, the DRDO embarked on a massive programme to overcome denial of scores of items. Adopting a consortium approach by roping in many of its laboratories, private industries and universities, the DRDO developed critical components such as phase shifters for phased array radars for the Akash missile; magnesium alloys for Prithvi; and servo-valves, resins and carbon fibres for re-entry systems of Agni.
From the first generation anti-tank missiles in the 1960s to Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Trishul and Nag, the DRDO has designed and developed a variety of missiles that could be launched from different platforms, including a canister. The missiles that have been inducted into the armed forces include Prithvi-1, Prithvi-II, anti-ship Dhanush, surface-to-air Akash and surface-to-surface Agni-1 (700 km), Agni-II (2,500 km) and Agni-III (3,500 km).
Among the strategic systems, the Agni missiles form the bulwark of India's nuclear deterrence strategy, which is based on the no-first-use of nuclear weapons policy.
India also realised the need for a Ballistic Missile Defence system in the late 1990s after Pakistan tested the Ghauri missile with a range of more than 900 km with a capability to carry a nuclear warhead weighing one tonne. To protect vital assets in the shortest possible time, a two-layered air defence system was conceived. The very first interceptor missile test was an unalloyed success: an incoming ballistic missile, mimicking the trajectory of an enemy missile, was intercepted and destroyed in exo-atmosphere at an altitude of 48 km in November 2006. The second interceptor test in endo-atmosphere at an altitude of 15 km in December 2007 was also a grand success, validating India's BMD capability.
With supersonic cruise missile BrahMos already inducted into the Army and the Navy, the Akash in the service of the IAF, the nuclear-powered submarine Arihant boasting of K-15 underwater-launched missile, a DRDO missile technologist said: “We have a complete range of missiles to take care of various threats from different quarters.”
The focus of the new generation of missiles is on weight reduction and improvement in velocities with high payload fractions, DRDO sources said.