India test-fires Agni-V ballistic missile with multiple warhead technology under Mission Divyastra

Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauds DRDO scientists on first flight test of Agni-V missile 

March 11, 2024 06:15 pm | Updated 11:02 pm IST - New Delhi

A file photo of Agni 5 missile.

A file photo of Agni 5 missile. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

In a major technological breakthrough and building in redundancy into the country’s nuclear weapons programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced the successful test firing of Agni-V ballistic missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under Mission Divyastra. The MIRV technology means a single missile can carry multiple warheads.

The flight test named Mission Divyastra was carried out from Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha, DRDO said in a statement adding, “Various telemetry and radar stations tracked and monitored multiple re-entry vehicles. The mission accomplished the designed parameters.”

“Proud of our DRDO scientists for Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology,” Mr. Modi announced on social media platform ‘X’. Noting that with this test India has joined the select group of nations who have MIRV capability, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh too joined the PM in congratulating team DRDO.

This technology will ensure that a single missile can deploy multiple war heads at different locations, Government sources said noting that with Mission Divyastra, Government sources said. “This system is equipped with indigenous avionics systems and high accuracy sensor packages, which ensured that the re-entry vehicles reached the target points within the desired accuracy. The capability is an enunciator of India’s growing technological prowess,” sources said. “The project director is a woman and has significant women contribution.”

The maiden flight test of Agni-V, India’s longest range ballistic missile with a “range of more than 5000 kms” was conducted in April 2012 and has since been tested multiple times. It has also been canistered, which improves ease of handling and operation. Agni-V uses a three-stage solid fuelled engine and is capable of striking targets at ranges of over 5,000 Kms and can reach most parts of China. DRDO officials had stated over the last several years that MIRV tech was under development.

The first flight test of Agni V under Mission Divyastra marks a very important milestone in India’s march towards greater geo-strategic role and capabilities, President Darupadi Murmu said on ‘X’. “The state-of-the-art technology developed indigenously is a firm step in the direction of India becoming Atmanirbhar,” Ms. Murmu said congratulating Team DRDO for this major achievement.

In 1998, India conducted nuclear tests under Phokran-II and in 2003 declared its nuclear doctrine based on credible minimum deterrence and a No-First-Use (NFU) policy and massive retaliation forming its core tenets. The concept of maintaining a minimum credible deterrence and a nuclear triad for delivery of nuclear weapons based on aircraft, missiles and nuclear submarines flow from that.

The test has furthered progress on a capability that India has long desired, said Christopher Clary, Associate Professor of Political Science, University at Albany and Non-resident Fellow in the U.S. based Stimson Center. “India has struggled to show it had a truly credible capability against China, which has so many targets on its eastern seaboard far away from India. An Agni-5 with MIRVs helps achieve that. The challenge is that an Agni-V with MIRVs may also help give India options against Pakistan’s much smaller nuclear arsenal,” he told The Hindu.

Noting that as China undergoes a rapid expansion and modernization of its nuclear arsenal, today’s test shows India will not stand still, Dr. Clary added, “The question is the pace and breadth of China, India, and Pakistan’s combined arms efforts and whether the region--and India specifically--can avoid a costly arms race.”

Agni series of missiles constitute the backbone of India’s nuclear weapons delivery which also include the Prithvi short range ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft. India has also completed its nuclear triad and operationalised its second strike capability, with indigenously built nuclear ballistic missile submarines now undertaking deterrence patrols.

In March 2019, DRDO had demonstrated Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capability under Mission Shakti by destroying a live orbiting satellite in low earth orbit of around 300 km with a new three-stage interceptor missile in a “Hit to Kill” mode.

According to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the U.S. was the first country to develop MIRV technology, deploying a MIRVed ICBM in 1970 and a MIRVed Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) in 1971. The Soviet Union quickly followed suit and by the end of the 1970s had developed their own MIRV-enabled ICBM and SLBM technology, a fact sheet stated.

China which also fielded MIRV tech, is rapidly modernising its nuclear arsenal. According to Yearbook 2023 of the Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the size of China’s nuclear arsenal increased from 350 warheads in January 2022 to 410 in January 2023 and depending on how it decides to structure its forces, China could potentially have at least as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as either the U.S. or Russia by the turn of the decade.

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