Agni-5: multiple warheads, road-mobility, global reach - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 11 October 2009

Agni-5: multiple warheads, road-mobility, global reach

Photo 1: China's Dongfeng-31 missile, a canisterised ICBM operated by the PLA's 2nd Artillery Division. The canisterised Agni-5 will be somewhat smaller than this

Photo 2: The target end of a US MIRV test in the Marshall Islands. Clearly visible are the tracks of 8 separate warheads

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
Hyderabad 12th Oct 09

The Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) in Hyderabad, which develops India’s strategic (long-range, nuclear-tipped) missiles, has dramatically increased the options for its forthcoming Agni-5 missile by making it highly road-mobile, or easily transportable by road.

That enables the Agni-5 to reach targets far beyond its stated 5,000-km range by quickly moving closer to the target. In a hypothetical war against, say, Sweden, an Agni-5 launcher, stationed near Bangalore, would be unable to strike Stockholm, 7,000 km away. But moving by road to Amritsar would bring Stockholm within range.

Similarly, moving the Agni-5 to northeast India would bring even Harbin, China’s northernmost city, within striking range. From various places across India, the Agni-5 can reach every continent except North and South America.

The Agni-5 will be the first canisterised, road-mobile missile in India’s arsenal, similar to the Dongfeng-31A that created ripples during China’s National Day Military Parade in Beijing on October 1. India’s current long-range missile, the Agni-3, a non-canisterised missile, can only be moved with difficulty from one place to another.

In many other respects, the Agni-5, which is scheduled to make its first flight in early-2011, carries forward the Agni-3 pedigree. With composites used extensively to reduce weight, and a third stage added on (the Agni-3 was a two-stage missile), the Agni-5 can fly 1,500 km further than the 3,500-km Agni-3.

“The Agni-5 is specially tailored for road-mobility,” explains Avinash Chander, Director, ASL. “With the canister having been successfully developed, all India’s future land-based strategic missiles will be canisterised as well”.

Made of maraging steel, a canister must provide a hermitically sealed atmosphere that preserves the missile for years. During firing, the canister must absorb enormous stresses when a thrust of 300to 400 tonnes is generated to eject the 50-tonne missile.

Canister technology was first developed in India for the Brahmos cruise missile. But it was the K-15 underwater-launched missile, developed here in Hyderabad for India’s nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, which fully overcame the technological hurdles in canisterising ballistic missiles.

Another major technological breakthrough that will beef up the Agni-5 is ASL’s success in developing and testing MIRVs (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles). An MIRV, atop an Agni-5 missile, comprises three to 10 separate nuclear warheads. Each warhead can be assigned to a separate target, separated by hundreds of kilometres; alternatively, two or more warheads can be assigned to one target.

“We have made major progress on the MIRVs in the last two years,” is all that Avinash Chander is willing to say on the subject.

Nevertheless, extensive testing still lies ahead for this highly complex technology. MIRVs will be deployed on the Agni-5 only after another 4-5 years.

While MIRV technology is similar to launching multiple satellites through a space rocket, a missile requires far greater accuracy. A satellite would be considered in correct orbit even it is a kilometre higher or lower than planned.

But each warhead in an MIRV must impact within 40 metres of its target. With such high accuracies, even small nuclear warheads are sufficient for the job.

Strategic planners consider MIRVs essential, given India’s declared “no first use” nuclear policy. Even after an enemy has hit India with a full-fledged nuclear strike, destroying or incapacitating much of the strategic arsenal, a handful of surviving Indian missiles must be capable of retaliating with massive and unacceptable damage. Multiple warheads on a handful of Agni-5 missiles would constitute such a capability.

MIRVs also enable a single missile to overwhelm the enemy’s missile defences. Tracking and shooting down multiple warheads are far more difficult than intercepting a single warhead.

Providing each warhead with the capability to manoeuvre, and dodge enemy interceptor missiles, increases survivability further. The MIRV warheads are also being given electronic packages for jamming enemy radars.


  1. That photo of the US missile test at Marshall island is awesome. Looks like some laser show in a stadium. Thanks for sharing Shukla ji.

  2. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Thats really great improvement. We can develop MIRV in 5 years.. Cool.. Pakistan and China is will sure get terrifired by seeing this news. At this rate, we can beat china in another 50-100 years.. Nice improvement DRDO. You guys really reduced the missile development duration to half a decade... I think China is already is pissing their pants seeing this news...

  3. I hope the truck based missile carrier is equipped with gas based pneumatic suspension like on the Arjun tank so as to absorb shocks of carrying Agni through heavily potholed war-time roads or rough terrain.

  4. Ajai, Do MIRVed ICBMs sans thermonuclear(TN) warheads really make sense? To the best of my knowledge all ICBMs in the world (especially those equipped with MIRVs) use TN warheads. So does the continued research on MIRV imply that:-
    1. India has TN warheads or can operationalise them in a hurry. (Which I doubdt)
    2. We dont have them as yet but plan on having them in the near future. Implies furthur tests.
    (Which I doubt)
    3. No we dont have realiable TN designs and cant test, so we will go for fission warheads with MIRVs anyway.

    Any thoughts?

  5. Correct me if I'm wrong but Can we integrate MIRV technology to Agni-3 as well....Will make it more easier and would mean far lesser platforms required.
    And what about the Submarine launched ballistic missile.??

  6. When are the next Agni-3 tests.
    Hope we do it 8 to 10 times before being inducted.
    Each test will be noticed and the cost involved is more than worth it when our great neighbors understand that it is a proven system which is reliable.That itself is a deterrence.
    Each time there is a crisis and we are planning some sort of action, the first thing that comes up in the media in Pakistan is that Indian Missiles are not as good because it is not tested properly and the user doesn't have confidence in them.Idle period like this should be used to test the Agni series more thoroughly.
    Even if DRDO or the army is confident of it performance we have to make our enemies understand that Agni will lift off and hit them and make a fire that they cannot extinguish in 100 years.

    Jai Hind

  7. Brilliant! After hearing so much about the failure of the IGMDP from the Army and Navy (their purchase order to Israel a couple of years ago is clear proof), this is indeed good news.

  8. I doubt if the situation you mention (of moving the missile from Bangalore to, say Guwahati)shall ever surface. In the event of a war with China, I doubt if we shall have enough time to move the missile to the NE by road from Bangalore.

    The road-mobility, I guess, refers to local mobility from the storage area to the launch area (say 20-30 km away, as opposed to 2000-3000 km away from Bangalore to Guwahati). For all practical purposes, I think we shall station a battery of Agni-5 in the NE (with missiles probably resting diverse locations like Shillong, Guwahati, Agartala, Itanagar, etc.) and the road mobility shall refer to the quick final movement and launch.

  9. great blog ajay.

    can you kindly look at

    can you tell us about the AGNI2AT,AGNI3A,AGNI3B,AGNI3C and AGNI3SL in the photograph

    will they be canisterised and will the MIRV have TN or fission warhead .
    fission MIRV is not feasible.
    thank you

  10. India also needs this
    It can be burried deep underground with mouth protected with heavy metal gates that open for a really short time and close like camera shutter.

  11. Orso, what order to Israel from the Army and Navy? Even the DRDO's most trenchant critics admit the IGMDP has been a success in terms of developing and operationalizing the Agni, Prithvi series.
    And the recent news shows the Akash & Nag have also cleared trials and been ordered.

  12. Thanks for the post. Knowing that we have a suitable deterrent (or the makings of one) brings a lot of relief.

  13. Ajaiji, What exactly is the Nirbhay ? A cruise missile as in here :

    or a UAV as in the PPT Gupta blog here :

  14. 4-5 years for developing the MIRV technology? That's too long! The problem with our nuclear weapons/missile programme is that while our enemies are freely colaborating among themselves for their nuclear weapons & missiles, we are going on the road alone. This has got to change.

    Damn it! The Chinese literally run a super market for nuclear weapons & missiles from which Pakistan can pick & choose whatever it wants, whenever it wants. We should also develope similar arrangements with whichever country that is willing Israel, Russia). Colaboration & co-development is the key to bringing in newer strategic weapons in shorter time frames.

  15. "The Agni-5 will be the first canisterised, road-mobile missile in India’s arsenal"

    What about Shourya/Sagarika/Brahmos?

    "India’s current long-range missile, the Agni-3, a non-canisterised missile, can only be moved with difficulty from one place to another"

    Agni-3 is not canisterised but it is already road-mobile(Tatra TEL). Will Agni-5 also not use the same Tatra TEL. So whats the difference except the canister?

  16. Surya missile is real or rumor

    Can you provide any info.

  17. In your article Avinash Chander says " even small nuclear warheads are sufficient for the job." so it means we only have 20-20 kt bombs??

  18. To one of the many anonymous people: Please post a name, it is easier to converse!

    The Indian Navy was forced to go in for Israeli-made Barak missiles in 2006 because India’s highly touted Integrated Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) had failed to produce results. The Navy, waiting for the Trishul, eventually chose to purchase missiles from abroad because despite twenty-plus years in the making and declared successful by the manufacturers (Defence Research and Development Organisation – DRDO), it did not evoke confidence among senior Navy officials. First test firing of the Trishul took place in 1991, and the manufacturer declared test firings completed by 1998. The armed forces, however, rejected the missile, as not ready for service. So development continued, until 2003, when the project was cancelled. But the project, which has cost nearly $200 million so far, had political friends. Development was allowed to continue, even though neither the army nor the navy wanted it. Trishul’s range is approximately nine kilometres, and missile has suffered from reliability problems, particularly with its guidance system.

  19. I am sorry to say but this is all hot air till they are deployed and operational. We have not even inducted enough number of AgniII and Agni III or for that matter the brahmos. Even for PrithviII we have not moved from liquid fuel to solid fuel. All this "will be" talks are feel good material. What counts is what you have battle ready and not what you have in lab.

  20. Mr P Mukherjee:

    The yield of the warhead that you need to carry is related to how accurate the missile is. If an enemy can be sure of putting a missile right over the police check post on Vijay Chowk in New Delhi, you don't need more than a 20 KT weapon to cripple India's decision making mechanisms in a pre-emptive strike. If, however, your missile has a CEP of 1000 metres, you'd better have a 200 KT warhead. Otherwise, much of India's decision-makers might well survive.

    Thermo-nuclear weapons are greatly over-estimated items. Surgical nuclear strikes, i.e. putting smaller warheads bang onto targets, are a far better option.

    Anonymous 09:55:

    You can certainly integrate MIRVs onto Agni-3s. I'm sure you can also integrate them onto even older systems. But 5 years hence, when MIRVs come into existence, integrating them onto obsolescent Agni-3 missiles will only be recommended by the idle and dim.

    Mayuresh Gaikwad:

    You really need to do some reading. For a canisterised missile, there is no storage area and launch area. The storage area is the launch area. Think about that!!


    The Agni-5 will be the first canisterised missile. The missiles that come after the Agni-5 will be canisterised too. Nothing before the Agni-5.

    Anonymous 16:40

    5 years is too long for developing MIRVs, is it? Wow. You should join the DRDO... they really need you. The poor sods think that in doing in 10 years what the P-5 took 20 years to do, they're doing a good job.

    Why don't you go and tell them what slow-coaches they are?

    Anonymous 17:55:

    There's a whole paragraph in that article that explains how the Brahmos and the K-15 were the canister forebears of the Agni-5.

    "What's different except the canister"? Dear Sir, a canister is a generational leap for a missile, in terms of the options it provides.

    And finally, Anonymous 20:36:

    It's all hot air!! Wow. So nobody should develop anything until the previous generations are fully deployed and getting obsolete.

    Actually, it's pointless even trying to explain the development process to you. Your mail should not have been posted... it flunked on the "stupidity" count.

    My fault.

  21. Col,

    Thank you once again. Your responses to the comments are priceless...for everything else there is Mastercard :).

    One statement stands out..Agni 5 will not have the range to hit either North or South America. Coincidence? I dont think so.

    Cheers and Jai Hind

  22. Sir since Agni-5 is canister based launch weapon,can we expect an SLBM version of it[In the same time frame for testing Agni -5].

  23. HI Ajay,

    Your comment: Photo 1: China's Dongfeng-31 missile, a canisterised ICBM operated by the PLA's 2nd Artillery Division. The canisterised Agni-5 will be somewhat smaller than this.

    From open source, the length of DF-31A missile is around 13m. Are you suggesting, the Agni-5 missile will be of less length than 13m ?

  24. Ajayji,

    Question is not about developing but how fast its developed and inducted. With China breathing down on our neck, only things which are deployed will count not whats being developed. I may be stupid but please answer my couple of questions:
    1) Why do we still have liquid fueled Prithvi? How long has been those developed?
    2) How long is development cycle of AgniII/III will last? Whats time frame for them to be mass inducted?
    3) How long before we have enough number of Brahmos after their "developmet" is over?

    Just because some of us who have different opinion and not clap at every announcement our defence research establishment makes, dose not make us stupid or ignorant.

  25. Anonymous 05:25:

    To start with, China must be breathing down your individual neck... along with the necks of our breathless TV channels. Amongst policy makers in Delhi, there isn't any sense of China breathing down anyone's neck! Nor is there that sense on the border itself, where I have lived for the last one year.

    So cool the hysteria please!

    Secondly, development DOES count and counts more than what is already developed. The systems of the future are in development now. If they were not, you would not have them in the future.

    And finally, it took me three months to clear my visit to ASL. Even though YOU got to read all about the Agni-5 just by opening your browser, don't delude yourself that this article was some "announcement" by the DRDO. It was hard work.

    Arun rajkumar:

    You do know, do you not, that the K-15 was a canisterised SLBM? Do go through the article again please.


  26. My comments were not aimed at you but towards defense research facilities who have habit of announcing success before its actually achieved.
    Your blog and reporting in Business Standard is among the best. I even take printout so that my 75 year old dad can read them using his magnifying glass. So please keep up the good work and thanks for sharing with us.

  27. Ajai, thanks for the reply. If I get your drift correctly, our nuclear deterrent will be primarily fission based and that we will see numerous missile tests now to ensure high levels of accuracy. A lot of work will also get done on advanced guidance systems including high tech collaboration with other countries. OK I can live with that. Too bad we did not get the H-bomb design right the first time. Now we have to live with that. (We should have taken Russian help, in fact we still can).Thanks again.

  28. Mr. Shukla, this was a superlative article.

    Two questions, however:

    1) How many Agni-1 and Agni-2 have been produced to date ?

    2) Is India's deterrent really fission based or are larger boosted-fission weapons available ?

    The first question is important as it would give an indication as to the production capacity available.

    Again thanks for an excellent article.

  29. "he canisterised Agni-5 will be somewhat smaller than this"

    Is that because Agni V has a smaller range?

  30. Anonymous 17:32:

    The answer to those questions are closely-guarded secrets that I am not privy to. Deterrence does better when there is certainty of retaliation, but uncertainty about how many tons of bricks will come down upon one!

  31. CALL FOR Non Cooperative movement with CHINA.

  32. Just want to add to Broadsword's argument on the advantage of MIRVs over unitary warhead.
    Its not just about accuracy. That would be a tactical strike. Strategic strike is about punishment, inflecting maximum damage. Though large thermonuclear weapons have enormous yield their destructive power is lost exponentially as you move away from the epicenter of the blast. In other words much of the energy is lost near the center in vaporising rocks and structures.
    Even though collectively MIRVs have lesser yield compared to a unitary TN warhead they are better able to spread the destructive energy by having multiple blast centers. MIRVs can therefore inflect damage over a wider area and are more effective than unitary warheads.

  33. Ajai,

    Truly, the storage area is the launch area. However, when in storage, I am sure we won't store the missile in open, unless it is in an underground silo, where we remove the cover and fire the missile.
    So, in all other cases, we would need to move the missile from storage (lets say, in a hardened shelter) into the open so that it can be launched quickly. That is what I meant by storage area vs the launch area.

    However, under no circumstance, do I visualize the scenario that we start moving the missile from Bangalore to Guwahati via road after a war breaks out! That would be like starting to dig a well after the house has caught fire.

  34. Imagine how destructive would the MIRVed compact TN warheads be.

  35. If only people had inside knowledge like I have through my association with the former espionage network you won't sit on your laurels about your understanding of Chinese ambitions.China is not Indo-centric as in 1962-1980 but gradually Chinese ambition is growing to beat the Americans like they do in the Olympics.China is developing various missiles to compensate for trimming its armed force and ensuring the world is within its reach.This they are doing by 1)buying ex-soviet scientists 2)increased industrial espionage 3)mixing technical experts and spies amongst overseas students and dissident groups.India is very much on their cards purely due to strategic reasons and long standing land claims but the greater thrust is on global domination.Sadly the West yet again created a Frankestein that they can't restrain.

  36. Mayuresh!

    Why don't you try reading something other than blogs. Perhaps some technical literature on how canisterised missiles work?

    Just to whet your appetite, here's a hint: the missile is stored in the canister, year-round, year after year. When it has to move, a truck hauls the ready-to-roll, ready-to-fire canister to the firing point. Then, upon reaching the launch point, it is fired from that same canister.

    That is what is meant by a road-mobile missile. Re-read my article now... then read some more on the subject.


  37. Hi Ajai Sir

    Thanks for this latest news on Agni. Your articles are very helpful & knowledgeable to people like me who are not related to defence sector but are very keen & enthusiastic to learn about it.

    Sir, I have a query related to NAL Saras. According to wiki, production is due to start from next year but we haven't heard anything new coming out of NAL. Can you please get us some new news about Saras ?? That'll be very generous of you.

    Last time I heard there were some weight issues. Have they been resolved & what about PV3 ??


  38. What a jump from Olympics hosted on its own land to becoming a global military power.

    As usual, your ex-espionage network lives up to its reputation, by correctly tying your country's fortune to the Glorious Soviet Union and then now allowing double agents to flee to America with satchel-loads of documents.

    China will never become a military power of note, because no one will ever help them, and for every dollar they spend on outward defence, they have to spend 3 on internal dissent.

    Name me one Chinese equipments that is more advanced than American Gulf War 1991. Tick tock tick tock.

  39. Vincent:

    As usual, you're largely off subject. Soviet Union, satchels to America, China doomed... everything in your little angst-riddled heart except for any sense on the subject of the article.

    I notice also that, after loud boasting about your background as a commando officer, you have avoided replying to my (very polite) question about which army you served.

    You're not the first and, sadly, not the last person to create a grandiose, larger-than-life internet persona to make up for what must be a sad and inadequate life. I would have had no problem with your fictional identity, if only you had posted some sense rather than the crude and vituperative tirades that you believe go with your 'commando' identity. Alas, there is only venom and no value.

    Vincent the Great... how pathetic is that?

  40. Orso,
    You need to be clearer in your comments - you said "failure of the IGMDP" - implying a failure of the entire program, whereas all you have posted so far is that ONE missile of the five systems under development did not come around in time! So please check your facts.
    The IGMP or as some refer to it, the IGMDP, had FIVE missile systems in it, the Agni & Prithvi demonstrators, and the Akash, Trishul and Nag. Of these lets check the status today:

    Both Agni & Prithvi series are successful and in series production, the follow on variants being launched as individual programs (And not part of the IGMP), but the point remains, that the basic tech for the first variants of these systems was proven first in the IGMP and it was clearly successful.

    Agni - Agni1,2 in production, 3 in trials
    Prithvi - 1,2 in series production as is Dhanush

    Now tactical missiles.
    The Akash - cleared all trials, 2 squadrons on order by IAF, Air Marshal Barbora has noted IAF wants more squadrons for North East.

    That apart, its systems are also quite successful, the IAF has ordered no less than 37 Rohini 3DCAR radars, the Navy 2 (with need for a few more) and the IA has recently had its version clear trials.

    The Nag - 443 missiles, and some 11-13 Namicas ordered (launchers)as an initial order.

    Of the entire IGMP only the Trishul failed to come around in time & requirement,whats interesting though is that by the final trials, its guidance issues were resolved, and the IAF apparently took up the handful of trial launchers and missiles.

    So to say the IGMP is a failure, by any means, is inaccurate. By any standard, its a very successful program especially considering its provided India with strategic missiles such as the Agni and self reliance in radar systems.

  41. sir, is there an upcoming cansister launched version of Agni 4?

  42. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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