Agni-4 surprise launch a success, next missile in Dec - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 15 November 2011

Agni-4 surprise launch a success, next missile in Dec

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Nov 11

The Defence R&D Organisation’s surprise test of a new Agni-4 missile, which the MoD says was launched flawlessly from the Odisha coast today, establishes India as a builder of cutting edge intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). While the Agni-4 was fired out to just 3,000 kilometres this morning, the DRDO claims it can comfortably deliver a nuclear weapon to a target 3,500 kilometres away.

That would make the Agni-4 India’s first true IRBM. Its predecessor, the Agni-3, with a range of 3,000 kilometres, was a medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). Readying now for its debut launch is the 5000-kilometre range Agni-5, which will be only marginally short of the 5,500 kilometre range needed to be classified as that Big Daddy of rockets: an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The DRDO has stated that it plans to launch the Agni-5 next month.

The Agni-4 project has been overseen by Tessy Thomas, who the media variously dubbed the “Agni putri” (daughter of fire, a play on the Agni name), and the “missile woman” after she became the first woman to head an Indian ballistic missile project. Thomas has ensured that the Agni-4 makes a major technological leap from the Agni-3, testing out several systems that will be crucial to the success of the Agni-5.

Ravi Gupta, the DRDO’s public relations chief, told Business Standard, “The Agni-4 represents an entirely new class of missiles, which use advanced technologies to improve capabilities even while reducing the missile’s weight.”

A crucial first for the Agni-4 is the successful use of a composite rocket motor, made of lightweight composites rather than the heavier “maraging steel” that earlier rocket motors were fabricated from. This composite rocket motor will be key to the success of the Agni-5, as will other first-time technologies like a high-accuracy ring-laser gyroscope based inertial navigation system (RINS); and a micro-navigation system (MINGS); and a powerful new onboard computer. Through this surprise Agni-4 test (which was not announced in advance) the DRDO has technologically de-risked the high-profile Agni-5 test that the world will be watching carefully.

“This test has paved the way ahead for the success of Agni-5 mission, which will be launched shortly”, said Avinash Chander, who heads the DRDO’s missiles division. Chander also talked up the RINS and the MINGS, describing the Agni-4 as ushering in major advances in long-range navigation systems.

Navigation is critical for long-range ballistic missiles; striking very close to the target allows smaller nuclear warheads to inflict as much damage as heavy “megaton class” nuclear bombs that less accurate missiles deliver several hundred metres, or even a kilometre away. Speaking earlier to Business Standard, Chander had indicated that the Agni missiles’ high accuracy would allow India to restrict itself to smaller nuclear warheads.

“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 unnecessarily large warheads]”, Chander said.

The DRDO emphasises that, although the Agni-4 tests several technologies that will go into the Agni-5, it is not a mere technology demonstrator but will be deployed with the military as an operational missile. According to a DRDO press release, the Agni-4 “has provided a fantastic [nuclear] deterrence to the country and it will be produced in numbers and delivered to the Armed Forces as early as possible.”

Launched from a road-mobile missile carrier at Wheeler’s Island off the Odisha coast, the two-stage, solid-fuel Agni-4 roared off its launch pad at exactly 9 a.m. in what the DRDO describes as a “text book fashion”. After reaching a height of 900 kilometres, tracked by a chain of radars along India’s eastern seaboard, it began its descent, encountering temperatures above 3000 degrees Centigrade while re-entering the atmosphere. Two ships of the Indian Navy that had been pre-positioned in the target area witnessed the final splash down.


  1. Col. Shukla,

    I do wish the TV channels and other media highlight and give prominence to Dr. Tessy Thomas so that young boys and girls look up to her as a role model similar to Kalpana Chawla rather than just actors of both sexes. Perhaps you can do an interview of Dr. Tessy Thomas :-).

    As an ordinary taxpayer, i am happy about the success of Agni IV and now look forward to the successful test launch of Agni V.


  2. Mr Ajai,

    Why is the Agni-3 missiles so overweight ?

    Is it because it is more like a technology demonstrator ?

    The Agni-3 has a range of 3,500 km and weighs 48 tons.

    A similar missile , the Jericho-III weighs 30 tons and has a range of 4,800 km.

    The S3 IRBM of France weighed 26 tons and had a range of 3,500 km.

    The North Korean Taepodong X has a range of 3,500 km and weighs 20 tons.

    The cold war era RSD-10 pioneer weighed 37 tons and had a range of 5,000 km.

    Please provide your insight.

  3. Safety people on Wednesday properly test-fired the most superior long variety rocket, Agni-4, getting the region to a new high.

  4. why? why? WHY? why are you reporting EVERY OTHER THING before the arjun mk2???? WHY??????......i've been checking your blog like crazy, every half hour.....i've got exams and i can't study.....its all your fault!!! why???????!!!!

  5. I dont understand how you claim the Agni-3 is not an IRBM.

    Surely the Agni-3 which weighs 48 tons has more throw weight than the Agni-4 which weighs only 17 tons.

  6. @ Der Hacker, Der Nie War

    Btw, what does your monikker mean?

    The overweight Agni-3 missile has slimmed down in the Agni-4 to a svelte 20 tonnes. Hope that meets your standards?

    @ Anonymous 19:12

    Study for your exams. The Arjun stuff will only come out next week.

    @ Murli Joshi

    Are you suggesting that the weight of the missile determines whether it is IRBM or MRBM? The operative word is range. And a true IRBM should have a range of 3,500 km or more.

  7. More accuracy or less accuracy, our second use policy -- "will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail" doesn't give us luxury to do away with Megaton warheads.

  8. Just want to have a perspective here..INS,RINGS,MINGS etc are the path breaking navigation technologies that DRDO is happy about, but how does it compare with other nav systems in missiles around the world?; There are GPS guided bombs that the US has, but is it not a better for Indian missiles to have a satellite based navigation too, especially when India has such a mature space program and stuff like Akash ganga and GLONASS are taking shape?
    And regarding the anti missile shields, how maneuverable are the missiles to dodge other missiles..and Is there a concept of stealth missile going on in India? Americans wud have implemented such techs already I guess..

  9. Dear Sir,
    Its not surprise test. The test dates have been announced in advance in October itself. The only surprise is that its name has been changed from Agni-2 Prime to Agni 4. The same Agni-2 Prime. Please see these -

  10. @Ajai :
    Oh its just German for "The hacker who never was".

    Anyways coming to the point ,

    You say that the Agni-3 has slimmed down to 20 tons in the Agni-4.

    But that would mean the Agni-4 is a derivative of Agni-3.

    But clearly this is false. The Agni-4 is a derivative of Agni-2.

  11. Ajaiji,

    900 km is polar earth orbit.

    Its hard to believe the Agni-4 can take a 1000 kg warhead to polar earth orbit. This is the job that the PSLV does.

  12. 900 Kms altitude? Are they planning to shoot satellites in space or army bases on land?

  13. Ajay,

    Range vs. weight comparisons have to take into account the payload. Agni-3 has a payload capacity of up to 1800 kg, while Agni-4's test yesterday carried a payload of 800kg. The higher payload and dimensions of Agni-3 allow for carrying multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRV), i.e. multiple bombs for multiple targets, which are also harder for anti-ballistic missile systems to eliminate. Thus, it is a more complex story than "Agni-4 is a slimmed down missile vs. Agni-3" (though that is certainly true).

    Lastly, the real range of the Agni-3 is likely more than the stated range. Merely reducing the payload weight can have a big impact on range. Thus, I contest the claim that the Agni-3 is not an IRBM. At even the design payload of 1800kg, it is at the bottom end of the IRBM range (3000-5500 kms). With payload less than 1800kg, it is certainly an IRBM. The Agni-5 will be at the upper end of the IRBM range, perhaps even classifying as an ICBM with a slightly smaller payload.

    Agni-3 was a stepping stone for the development of Agni-5 and with the development of the Agni-4, may have less of a need to be part of the arsenal.


    says the weight is around 17 tonnes. Whether 17 or 20 tonnes, it is still a massive reduction in weight from 48 odd tonnes...

  15. It all was just superb.

  16. @ Anonymous 01:30, Der Hacker, etc:

    I'm not in disagreement with the points you make. The Agni-4 is indeed the successor to the Agni-2 Prime. But the Agni-2 Prime is the successor to the Agni-3, lightened down and with several high-tech improvements in composites and navigation systems. So the bloodline comes from the Agni-3.

    Whether or not the Agni-3 is an IRBM... is a matter of interpretation and semantics since there is no clear dividing line between MRBMs and IRBMs. The 3,000 km figure is an arbitrary one. If you want to call it an IRBM, that's fine. But I don't quite understand your argument that if you reduce the payload, its range will increase and so it can be an IRBM. That is true for any missile. Perhaps it would be best to peg a missile's range to its designated payload. What do you think?

    @ Litmus

    I entirely agree that there are better technologies available today --- involving terminal guidance --- than Ring Laser Gyros etc. The DRDO chief is overstating the case when he claims the Agni-4 is the global standard.

    But it is a major step forward in accuracy and I have little doubt that terminal guidance will come into future missiles. The DRDO sure as hell is working on that.

    @ Anonymous 21:40

    "Punitive damage" is a matter of interpretation. Many people would say that 300,000 dead in a city is punitive damage.

    But if you want to "make the rubble bounce" as the famous saying goes, only then is there a justification for megaton bombs. And then you deal with all the dowsides.

  17. (Expanded) Like K. Subrahmanyam and former head of RAW Ashok Chaturvedi (see GaddafiCrimeDOTblogspotDOTcom), former head of RAW Vikram Sood is preparing to flee to the United States. He should be arrested and kept from fleeing. If he is not arrested and kept from fleeing, all those who failed to arrest him will face punishment. He calls his crimes and those of RAW as a branch of the CIA against India "piggy backing on friendly countries" (Intellibriefs, November 10 '11).
    I have said that nuclear weapons are made and used in a context which provides the motivation for making and using them. The most important part of the context is the psyche and genes of the leader. Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India like clockwork every year for over twenty years and Indians did nothing to defend themselves, passively waiting for him to come and kill and take away as slaves hundreds of thousands of them every year. The same is the story regarding other invaders; they quietly submitted to rule by a handful of the British for centuries and remain in the deepest slavery to the United States which is invading the subcontinent. Without me there would be no weapons development and no attempt at liberation ; I have had the task of motivating and pushing an inert mass of a billion-plus people out of slavery for the past 36 years.
    The 3,000 kilometer range of the Agni IV missile just tested is about one-sixth of the range India's missiles need to have. India could have tested missiles capable of reaching the continental United States decades ago but for prohibitions by India's CIA-RAW government which continues to throw dust in the eyes of the Indian people. DRDO officials boast it is an "all-digital" missile, unmindful of the United States' ability to disable and control digital equipment by microwaves from satellites as they have done to Pakistan's nuclear warheads and missiles and can do and possibly have done to India's.
    Satish Chandra

  18. Ajay,

    There were two points I made in my earlier post about range vs. payload. The first was that range is higher with lower payload. The point was that the 1800kg payload is well above the typical payload of missiles in India's arsenal so far. Maybe there is an intention to have higher payloads for the Agni-3 (e.g. due to MIRVs). For a single boosted fission warhead, this is an overkill. And when comparing with other missiles like the Taepodong or even Agni-2, one cannot do the comparison independent of payload.

    Be that as it may, the second and perhaps more relevant point is that the stated range of the Agni-3 is not the real range (even for the design payload of 1800kgs). There are reasons for the range to be understated, so as to allow the fiction of India not having ICBMs to be maintained. It does not fool the players themselves. The Chinese will unlikely be under the illusion that the real ranges of the Agni-3 and Agni-5 are what they are stated to be. And it suits India - it does not intend to threaten countries in Europe or the US, even if it has the capability to do so. Hence, there is no benefit to India of stating the range to be higher than what is required for China, thereby raising unnecessary fears in the Western countries.

    In any case, it was a nice article.

  19. @ajai sir

    I clearly dont agree with your views in response to @ Anonymous 01:30, Der Hacker, etc:

    the reasons are one to many

    1. Firstly you are saying 'But the Agni-2 Prime is the successor to the Agni-3'. That looks like a smokescreen.

    The 2000 km Agni 2 was the base model for 700 km Agni 1 its trimmed down version and its slightly fatter & enhanced version is Agni 2 Prime, which has been renamed Agni 4 to confuse everyone.

    Agreed the use of latest tech makes it a new missile but change in nomenclature doesnt make much difference as all of them carry payloads +- 1 ton.

    2. Agni 3 on the other hand is a shorter and much fatter missile with 3000 km range and payload of +-2 tons. I say Agni 3 is the base model for Agni 5 because both are 1st cousins by weight and may probably by height also.

    The only reason DRDO went for Agni 4 before Agni 5 (which was delayed by 1 year as Agni 2 Prime test in 2010 failed) was to validate one important thing. While Agni 2 and 3 have welded scaffoldings, Agni 2 Prime or Agni 4 looks seamlessly attached between stages.

    Validating this was important for Agni 5 is supposed to be a road mobile canistered missile. There is big possibility that welded scaffolding of a missile in sealed container will get ruptured during the high pressure gas powered launch.

    3 I dont see the point why will we need 2 missiles with same range. The answer is simple, there is no need.

    As Agni 3 will be base model for Agni 5, once Agni 5 is tested Agni 3 will be of no use of Agni 3. Its evident from the fact by Dr Avinash Chander's statement that 5 test flights are enough for induction of the missile into armed forces. If that is so why then after all 5 test were done by 2010 it has still not been inducted. It wont be inducted.

    4. In all probability Agni 4 will be the base model for Agni 3SL/KX/K4. India will go for MIRV warheads once Agni 5 is tested. Once MIRVs are prepared they will eventually find there way to Agni 5/3SL or the KX/K4 missiles.

    5. Missile man APJ Abdul Kalam in a interview in 1989 (if i remember correctly) had said all Indian missiles will be dog missiles and their range can be extended whenever needed. So ultimately its the CEP that will matter for gauging a missiles effectiveness and not the payload.

    Hope to get your views on this


    Joydeep Ghosh

  20. I second Jayant M's suggestion. An interview of Dr. Thomas and other such brilliant lady scientists would be a great way to ignite young minds.

    - Manne

  21. I think enough is enough. We are all indians. Do not discriminate any community or the person as our ancestors from all community contributed in building united India and fought for our Independence. A success in any field of India is our success and in the field of Science & Technology or any other field as the case may be, collective contribution is led to the ultimate results and success. But the only difference is here that those who are led from the front is got more applauds than the people worked behind the screen. But their contributions also very well appreciated by the entire scientific community of india. This very fact well known to the scientific community of india but not necessary to the general public.

  22. We should be happy for such a add on to our Army strentgh. Agni will help us in strong times when enemies attack us. But the fact is i am disappointed with such comments some individuals made above.


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