The missile, capable of covering 5,000 km, can carry nuclear warhead

Amid the sylvan surroundings of coconut groves, shrubs, lawns and cottages on the tiny Wheeler Island off Odisha coast, hectic preparations are on for the launch of Agni-V missile any day between April 15 and 20. The three stages have been integrated horizontally. It will then be made vertical and electrical connections given. If the current schedule holds good, the missile will soar into the sky from a road-mobile launcher during the launch window of April 15 to 20.

Capable of covering 5,000 km, Agni-V is India's longest-range missile which can carry a nuclear warhead. If the test-flight is successful, it will catapult India into a select band of countries possessing the technology for Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has designed and developed it.

Agni-V is 17 metres tall and weighs 50 tonnes. Its diameter is two metres. All its three stages are powered by solid propellants. It can carry a nuclear warhead weighing 1.1 tonne and a dummy payload. The entire flight will last more than 1,000 seconds.

“Game-changer”

Avinash Chander, Chief Controller (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, described Agni-V's technology as a “game-changer” for strategic options. Except the U.S., Russia, France and China, no other country had designed and developed this range of systems, he said.

V.G. Sekaran, Director, Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), DRDO, Hyderabad, which has designed and developed the missile, said, “The integration of the propulsion stages has been completed. Everything is going on as per schedule.”

While many critical technologies went into the making of this system, Mr. Chander said, the most important challenges involved ensuring a high degree of accuracy of flight (with the missile plunging into the Bay of Bengal only a few hundred metres from the designated impact-point) and make the nose-cone withstand a scorching temperature of about 5,000 degrees Celsius as the missile re-enters the atmosphere. “At that stage, the outer layer starts burning and the package inside has to survive and be functional at 50 degrees Celsius…Over a few inches of thickness, the temperature drops from 5,000 to 50 degrees Celsius,” Mr. Chander said.

Unlike space shuttles, missiles re-enter the earth's atmosphere at a much steeper angle of descent and the system had to withstand very severe thermal, mechanical and structural loads.

Besides, the payload had to be compact for the missile to carry its mass over 5,000 km. “We want to be road-mobile. That is another challenge,” the Mission Director said. With navigation and guidance playing an important role in the flight, “we are going for better navigation systems for higher accuracy for both the normal and the back-up mode,” he added.

Dr. Sekaran, who is the Chief Designer of Agni-V, said “the foot-print of this missile is Agni-III.” The size, the shape and the height of the two missiles were the same.

“The only thing is we have made changes in the configuration and brought it to this level [with a range of 5,000 km].” Agni-III has a range of 3,500 km. With the addition of the third upper stage and changes in the configuration, the two-stage Agni-III has metamorphosed into the awesome Agni-V.

High mobility

DRDO officials explained: “We could upscale Agni-III with a range of 3,500 km to Agni-V in a short time. On similar lines, we can go beyond Agni-V. That is the beauty of this configuration. Upscaling and mobility is high.”

A crucial step towards building Agni-V was taken when the DRDO developed in 2007 a large rocket-motor casing made entirely of carbon filament-wound composite.

This casing is Agni-V's third upper stage. Agni-V can be launched from a canister as well.

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