Agni-5 missile to fly half-way to Antarctica - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 6 October 2011

Agni-5 missile to fly half-way to Antarctica

The Agni-2 roaring off the launch pad at Wheeler Island last week. This same test range will witness a full-range test of the Agni-5 in December, which will see the missile flying 5000 kilometres to a designated target halfway to Antarctica.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Oct 11

After three successful ballistic missile tests during the last fortnight, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is finalising preparations for the big one. In December the giant Agni-5 missile will undergo its first-ever test, blasting off from Wheeler Island, on the Odisha coast, and travelling its full range of over 5,000 kilometres to a target in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Agni-5 is debuting with a full-range test for two reasons. Firstly, so that there is no question about how far the missile can strike. Secondly, to test not just the missile, but also whether the DRDO’s monitoring networks can cope with such enormous ranges, tracking the Agni-5 every moment en route to a target 5000 kilometres away. This will involve transporting a DRDO team and its tracking equipment on Indian Navy warships deep into the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

“The Agni-5 missile will travel halfway to Antarctica. The missile’s designers are certain [about the missile’s range] but we will demonstrate it for the users,” says Dr Avinash Chander, Chief Controller for Missiles and Strategic Systems in the DRDO.

As director of the Hyderabad-based Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), Chander oversaw much of the development of the Agni-5. Talking exclusively to Business Standard, he describes how the three-stage, 50-tonne, 17.5-metre high missile will be powered off the Wheeler Island launch pad by its giant first stage; within minutes it will be in space, powered by a brand new, all-composite second stage. After heading southwards for 2,000 kilometres it will cross the equator. Then it will hurtle through space for another 3000-kilometers or so, re-entering the atmosphere over the Tropic of Capricorn and splashing down at the target somewhere between the southern tip of Africa and Australia.

Following international practice, the DRDO will issue advisories before the test, giving out the launch window and warning shipping and air traffic to stay clear of the target area.

Explains Chander: “No Indian missile has ever travelled so far except for ISRO rockets. But those remain in space and there is no requirement to monitor their re-entry. Besides, space is a collaborative environment, with establishments worldwide cooperating in tracking a rocket. For the Agni-5 we have to develop a network of tracking systems, which will do the job out to 5000 km and beyond. And our ships will have to be at the target area to collect the data.”

While the Indian Navy had declined to officially comment, senior sources confirm that one of the navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) will position itself at the target end, with a DRDO team on board, equipped with tracking and communications equipment.

The DRDO predicts a highly accurate missile, which will strike within a few hundred metres of the designated target even after travelling 5000 kilometres. This would allow the operational version of the Agni-5 to carry a smaller nuclear warhead. “Megaton warheads were used when accuracies were low. Now we talk of [accuracy of] a few hundred metres. That allows a smaller warhead, perhaps 150-250 kilotons, to cause substantial damage. We don’t want to cause wanton damage [with megaton warheads]”, says Chander.

The Agni-5’s 5,000-kilometre range, say nuclear strategists, is carefully calibrated. It can reach targets across the globe, except for America and Australia. This prevents alarm bells from going off in friendly capitals, while establishing and strengthening nuclear deterrence against all possible enemies.

“Agni-5 will take us to a level of 5,000-km plus class of missile systems which meets all our threat requirements,” said VK Saraswat, the DRDO chief at a public function recently.

The Agni-5’s range just keeps it in the class of intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), which are missiles with ranges of 3,000-5,500 kilometres. DRDO sources indicate, however, that the Agni-5 could easily be ramped up into an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), having a range greater than 5500 kilometres.

The Agni-5 is similar in size and weight to its predecessor, the Agni-3, with a range of 3,500 kilometers. But the extensive use of composite materials allows the Agni-5 to propel a warhead 1500 kilometers further. While the first stage remains unchanged from the Agni-3, the second stage is significantly lighter, being made of composites. This has allowed a third stage, also composite, to be fitted, extending the range of the missile.

Engineering the third stage was a major technology challenge. “The third stage, which slopes into the warhead stage, has a conical motor. So far, we have only been doing cylindrical motors; never a shaped motor,” explains Chander.

Another distinctive feature of the Agni-5 is its “canisterisation”. Hermetically sealed into an airtight canister that is mounted on a flatbed truck, the missile can be easily transported and fired quickly by hydraulically raising the canister into the vertical firing position. Made from high-strength maraging steel, the canister must absorb enormous stresses during firing, when a thrust of 300-400 tonnes is generated to eject the 50-ton missile The canister also provides a hermitically sealed atmosphere in which the missile is stored safely for years.


  1. eagerly waiting

  2. this missile weighs just 2 tons more than AGNI 3. very good. sir can you tell me whether 3rd stage uses liquid fuel or not as your article says "The canister also provides a hermitically sealed atmosphere in which the missile is stored safely for years."

    luck to DRDO

  3. All the best wishes.

  4. We have faith in... our scientists... not that we don't... it's the... officialdom/babudom... need the path correction... to have zero... CEP in defence matters...

  5. Ajai sir

    Is it true that Agni 3 was developed merely to validate systems for Agni-5 /K-4 and will never be inducted into the armed forces.

    If thats true what is point in spending so much money first on developing Agni-3 and then again spend money on Agni-5. That utter waste of money, isnt it. Your views


    Joydeep Ghosh

  6. all the best drdo and india.

  7. Any news on Suraya......ICBM...?

  8. more research is needed in the area of chemical propellant to make agni lighter and smaller than it is now.

  9. Can we attach some of our politicians while testing it? Paint the missile like $100 notes so they won't mind....

  10. The new missile Agni 5 could raise concerns about relations with India's nuclear rival Pakistan with nuclear power in China.

  11. India should have Inter Continental Ballistic Missile...Bravo...Now we would have One...Agni - 5

  12. this is typical DRDO without testing they are planing the full range test . however, if they succeed in doing what they are saying to do it would make us proud.But the real target is to achieve SLBM with 8K+ range .

  13. @ Pranav:

    The third stage is a solid-fuel stage, just like the first two. It would make no sense to have two solid fuel stages in a ballistic missile and a liquid-fuel third stage.

    @ Joydeep

    What is the point that you are making? That any money spent on development and testing is wasted?

  14. @ajai sir

    I meant that but from tax payer's perspective. If the Agni-3 is not inducted and does not form part of arsenal then certainly it will look like a waste of tax payers money.

    There is much confusion regarding the 3rd stage of Agni-5. You are saying it will be solid, while some other defense experts say it will be liquid as that will allow a greater maneuverability. Liquid or solid which is better as per you.

    Also you say since all Agni missiles have welded scaffolding between stages Agni 5 will also have the same.

    Accepting your view that it helps in easier stage separation, in my view it will not since this missile will be canistered and will be ejected using gas boosters, any anomaly while launching can rupture the scaffoldings. Since there will be lot of pressure generated while launch and any gap can be disastrous.

    As such it will be like Agni 2 Prime which does not have welded scaffolding. Your views on this please.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  15. @Joydeep
    After Agni 5, Agni 6 will come and then Agni 7 and so on.
    So why not make Agni N and save money ?
    Do you think that making a missile is making a cake ? The knowledge earned by DRDO in past 50 years is what growing now. And it does't happen in day or two.
    By the way how much tax you pay ? can please give your PAN number. Need to check, you shout so much.

  16. For better maneuverability, accuracy and first strike, the third stage can be liquid.

    Unfortunately for immediate second strike, the third stage should better be solid.

  17. @ Anonymous 18:48

    Bahut fikar hai aapko main kitna tax deta hoon. I work and study (at this age as i like to) close to 16 hrs a day and I also pay tax. What about you?

    By the Way this is not about me, its about Agni-3, can you name the missile group which uses the Agni-3. None I am aware of, so indeed it looks like waste of tax payers money.

    But for your kind information about Agni-6/7, MoD and DRDO officials both have said as per current security scenario there is no need to develop an ICBM (you may know a missile with over 5500 km range classifies as ICBM), as such Agni-5 range has been capped at 5000 km and there wont be a Agni-6/7.

    Agni-5 like other Agni missiles will be a dog missile so extending its range by couple of hundred kms with lighter payload (Agni-5 is supposed to carry a payload of over 2 tons like Agni-3) wont be a problem.

    But if India really needs a credible 2nd strike capability (via a SSBN) a missile with over 6500 km range is must. K-4 presumably a 4000 km missile will be the basis of such missile (K-4MkII) and not Agni-6/7. I think you are aware that Agni cant fit into a submarine.

    Hope this answers all your doubts

    !!!Tax Payer!!! Anonymous 18:48


    Joydeep Ghosh

  18. Thanks for review.This post should be really useful for all people.

  19. Joydeep Ghosh, I don't think we need to know which unit has the Agni 3. All we need to know is that the missile has been inducted:

    "Agni-III, Saraswat pointed out, is an inducted missile. "So there is no confusion whether or when it will be inducted. Agni-III is an inducted missile. It has completed its complete development and is under production," he added."

  20. What about GSLV??? Can DRDO help ISRO make a reliable cryogenic engine? Or is it that the Indian scientific agencies not capable of understanding, developing and mastering a cryogenic engine? I personally feel GSLV is more important than an ICBM, strategically.


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