Scope of the nuclear-capable missile

“Missile woman” Tessy Thomas on Monday said work was under way for a canister-based launch of the 5,000-km-range Agni-V strategic missile, the second successful test-firing of which took place in mid-September.

Ms. Thomas, Project Director of the 4,000-km-range Agni-IV and Project Director (Mission) of Agni-V, said both missiles saw the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) attain great breakthroughs in missile technology. Agni-V, test-fired with “pinpoint, single-digit accuracy,” was important in the global scenario, obliquely referring to the ICBM range of the nuclear-capable missile.

(Canister-based launch of the missile is expected to enhance its operational readiness and flexibility.)

Speaking at the Engineers’ Day celebration organised by the Association of Engineers, Kerala, Ms. Thomas said she had little understanding of missile systems when in the mid-1980s, she was handpicked to undergo an M.Tech. course in missile technology at the Institute of Armament Technology, which had since become the Defence Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT).

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam took a liking for her project on “gyro-less inertial navigation” and deputed her to work on the Agni series of missiles, for which she eventually designed the guidance scheme.

Ms. Thomas said that while the two-stage Agni-III missile capable of hitting targets up to 3,000 km away weighed 50 tonnes, the team was able to bring down the weight of the missile to 22 tonnes.

“It saw several technological enhancements and we had to redesign the entire system, use maraging steel and composite motor rocket,” she said.

Agni-V, which is believed to have given India a true ICBM, was testimony to Indian missile technology attaining maturity, she said.

Ms. Thomas cited biotechnology as an area where engineers could work wonders with “smart material.” For instance, use of Mems-based (micro-electromechanical systems) sensors could warn about impending damage to aircraft frame, which could then repair itself by reconfiguring, she said.