DRDO plans early entry of Agni-4 into arsenal - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 16 November 2011

DRDO plans early entry of Agni-4 into arsenal

Left to Right: DRDO Chief Controller for Missiles and Strategic Systems, Dr Avinash Chander; Director General, Dr VK Saraswat; and Project Director, Agni-4, Tessy Thomas; address a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday (Photo courtesy: The Hindu)

by Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 17th Nov 11

The day after the successful launch of the Defence R&D Organisation’s all-new Agni-4 ballistic missile, a triumphant DRDO chief proclaimed it as good as America’s Pershing-II missiles; and declared that India’s missile arsenal could no longer be constrained by technology denial sanctions

Highlighting the capability of the Agni-4, Dr VK Saraswat, the DRDO head, told the media in New Delhi that this 20-tonne missile could deliver a one-tonne warhead to a distance of 3,500 kilometres, significantly further than the 3,000 kilometres range of the much heavier, 48-tonne Agni-3 missile. Saraswat listed out multiple technological breakthroughs that had permitted this feat: composite rocket motors; a state-of-the-art navigation system and control systems that were both lighter and better.

Asked by Business Standard whether the Agni-4 was qualitatively in the class of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles (the Shaheen and the Ghauri), Saraswat responded, “Agni-4 compares with what is available [globally] in its class of missiles like the Pershing (US missile)… I am talking in terms of technology, not in terms of range, as Pershing missiles have higher range… it meets global standards.”

Saraswat may have mixed up his facts, since the Pershing II, the US ballistic missile he likened the Agni-4 to, is a decommissioned 1980s missile with a range of just 1,800 kilometres. But his claim, as evident from his other remarks, was that the Agni-4 met global benchmarks.

Saraswat also explained that the Agni-4 represented the final defeat of the technology denial regime that the west imposed on India from 1974 onwards. India, he said, could no longer be blocked from developing a world-class nuclear deterrent.

“No technology control regimes can stop us from making missiles in this class. We need to thank the technology sanctions for enforcing upon us a degree of self-reliance where we no longer need imports,” said Saraswat.

The DRDO chief praised a range of Indian entities for defeating western sanctions. Defence PSU, MIDHANI developed “maraging steel” for missile components; Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) produces 500 tonnes per year of badly needed titanium; the blockage on Indian imports of composite carbon fibre --- essential for the Agni’s heat-resistant nose cone --- was defeated. “We have made our own carbon fibre which is better than anything that is available from those foreign countries”, said Saraswat.

The DRDO plans to quickly bring the Agni-4 into military service. “We hope to complete the test phase (two launches) in 2012; the user phase (two launches) in 2013; and in 2014 we would offer it for service. We have dramatically shortened the time from development to service,” said the DRDO’s missile controller, Avinash Chander.

Indian nuclear specialists worry that, although advanced simulation capabilities have reduced the requirement of actual test launches, there is a haste to introduce inadequately tested missiles into the Indian arsenal.

“In earlier times, missiles like the Pershing were fired dozens of times before being brought into service. But even today, at least 3-5 launches are needed to verify that the Agni-4’s performance can be replicated in various conditions. Only then should user trials commence,” says deterrence expert, Brigadier (Retired) VK Nair.


  1. “We have made our own carbon fibre which is better than anything that is available from those foreign countries”, said Saraswat."

    For heavens sake give us a break or better still substantiate your statement with proof. This brash chest thumping will make you look like a clown.

  2. Pershing?Rightly observed, it was de-inducted in the US in the 1980s under treaty obligations.Very good to see a professional approach on defence matters in our open media.But still, a DRDO chief saying that!
    In any case,things like Ring laser Gyros and MINGs were not the things found on a Pershing.I would still place our tech as stringing between 1980s to early 2000s.I think its from Agni 5 that our tech should start building up on our collective experience.After all the US,Russia and later China matured their systems over decades.And even with that, the yanks have faced niggles here and there, the Russians had a lot of issues lately with their Topols.What the Chinese do nobody knows but I would be surprised if they do not have their challenges!!
    Its a long path and we have to soldier on.
    On the PR front,I still wish the govt guys hire or take briefing in PR.Never mention we are the best,never name intended targets or areas even if it is obvious to all.
    The bland response should be,'the missile is at par if not in excess of set user parameters. I am against such senior people and particularly actual team heads appearing.It unnecessarily exposes some very critical people. I also do not like the shots of actual personnel on some PR shots of Tests handed around or pics/vid worse available on defense sites and yu tube. DRDO should strictly ensure that no unauthorized media leaks out or is taken by staff and any material released is strictly vetted. It may mean nothing but may it could also mean something to people who matter.You never know which agency may suddenly find they have a person who knows a person who matters or try to approach them, they can but one cannot be accused of paranoia in such matters. Like lot of Govt.bodies these days,DRDO should have a PRO to handle such matters.

  3. 'Saraswat may have mixed up his facts, since the Pershing II, the US ballistic missile he likened the Agni-4 to, is a decommissioned 1980s missile with a range of just 1,800 kilometres. But his claim, as evident from his other remarks, was that the Agni-4 met global benchmarks.'

    Motor mouth does it again :)

  4. "Asked by Business Standard whether the Agni-4 was qualitatively in the class of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles "....

    What was this Ajai Jii? Are we still so Pakistan centric? You wanted DRDO chief to compare Agni-4 with dumped Chinese missiles on Pakistan? Did not expected this from you.

    Anyway thanks, good article.

  5. Now only if they can get the manufactures to build quality parts...

    Great update as always Col. Shukla!


    p.s. I am eagerly awaiting your reports on the Arjun development and the Gripen NG. Oh and definitely eager for the FGFA/PAKFA report! I would thoroughly enjoy reading your insight on the FGFA/PAKFA situation.

  6. @ Anonymous 12:32

    It must be nice to be as blindly patriotic as you are, but the simple fact is that ever since India and Pakistan began structuring their nuclear deterrents, Pakistan has had better missiles. They had solid fuel missiles long before we did... and the fact that Chinese and North Korean assistance helped them along is irrelevant. When you have a nuclear-tipped Pakistani missile coming down on your head, it does little good to start squealing, "Hey, you can't fire that at me, it's based on a North Korean missile!"

    As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on whether we have caught up with the Pakistanis in terms of accuracy, reliability, command and control systems, and maintainability. Only time will tell.

  7. Chest thumping by DRDO chief!. Hope indian government reins in on this guy to stop opening his big mouth.

    -"carbon fibre better than anything available in foreign countries"

    -and in the same breath compare agni 4 to a decommissioned missile..that too done in 1980's.

    "Keep your feet on the Ground"...is something which they dont seem to understand or its importance.

    These guys should be forced to take a crash course to be humble and down to earth. It is for this arrogance and making tall claims only many people get critical of DRDO.

    -Sudheendra S

  8. Ajai, in which age you're living. In 2011? or 1990's?Your claim are pure stupid when it comes to comparing Indian missile systems with Pakistan. I don't understand in which aspect those missiles are better than Indian? Range wise? Accuracy wise? Payload wise? Just making absurd statements don't makeup to your claims. If you can prove that the Pakis have better systems be it build by the Nokos or the Chocos you prove it and I'll remove my moustache. You don't need it as you're wrong.

  9. Sir waiting for Tank Arjun report....plz specify(date and time)about when r u posting???

  10. Pershing-II was 7.5 T, 1770 Km, two-stage solid propellant, ~400 Kg warhead with accuracy of 30 meters (100 ft) circular error probable.

    So the only thing worth comparison is the accuracy/CEP. As such if the CEP of Agni-4 is anywhere near 30 meters, it is highly commendable.

  11. Anonymous @ 12:06-

    I agree with you. Our PR and our propaganda machinery plainly sucks. Sadly, we tend to talk and talk and talk way more than we do. Reminds me of our old "India Shining" campaign.

    Subtlety and well planned execution was never our forte.

    That said, I am happy and thankful that we have reached where we are, DESPITE all these odds we stack up against ourselves.

    That is something to raise a glass of Old Monk to :)

    And Col. Shukla is correct about Pakistani missiles being ahead of whatever we have displayed so far, and it really does not matter that they got it all from the North Koreans or Chinese... the fact remains that they have an arsenal superior to what we have displayed so far...

    As for what we have not yet displayed, let us wait and see..

  12. While Saraswat was wrong on the range of the Pershing II (and perhaps was thinking of other US missiles), please remember that this 1980s US missile achieved CEPs that we could only dream of until now. So no scoffing at old US technologies please.

  13. I am Anonymous 12:32.

    OK, that is your answer. Good. Did not expect that from you. Better... When India try to get rid of Pakistan eccentricity, some cheap journalists always ask to compare with Pakistan, now I see from where those mentalities come.

    "They had solid fuel missiles long before we did"
    -> Really when Pakistan had solid fuel missile? When India tested Agni-1? In 1989.

    "it does little good to start squealing, "Hey, you can't fire that at me, it's based on a North Korean missile!"
    -> We are not that bad. Pakistanis are gifted but we never say they cannot use them. But like you we also cannot compare a hi-tech Agni-4 with vintage Chinese/North Korean missiles. Do you?

  14. @Anno 12:06

    You must be that useful (useless) PRO type like our lively Krrrrr. Your advise though appear to be genuine but sounds like a typical allied PRO Naukari type having No PR value....
    bland and tasteless

  15. Sudheendra, unlike you the DRDO guys are actually making stuff and have every right to be proud of what they do. They don't need your sanctimonious advice on what is what. The rest of us Indians couldnt care less about what Saraswat says as long as he and his team keep delivering quality products. Ultimately, that is what is burning so Pakistanis up who keep making ad hominem attacks on Saraswat under the easy tag of anonymous. Under his watch, the DRDO has delivered Shourya, the BMD, Prahar and variants of the Agni series, marking the hardest transition from development to user acceptance. He has earned his place in history of being one of the doers, not the talkers as a lot of you trash talkers believe in.

  16. >> It must be nice to be as blindly patriotic as you are, but the simple fact is that ever since India and Pakistan began structuring their nuclear deterrents, Pakistan has had better missiles.

    Ajay, solid better than liquid is not always true. In our case, the liquid fueled missiles had two critical advantages for us.

    1. Better accuracy. Thrust on liquid engines can be modulated. Even today, the big upper stage that you see on the Agnis, incorporates a liquid rocket engine to trim the variation in speed imparted by the solid stage.

    2. More robust and mobile. This is a little counter intuitive, as public perception is that solid equals more robustness. But for mobile missiles, that is only true given certain conditions, which werent true in our case. The fuel grain inside solid fueled missiles cant handle the rough movements that would be the case on Indian roads, at least not without special suspensions that were not available. The herky jerky of Indian roads caused the fuel grain to develop cracks, with unpredictable results for the rocket motor.

    If you have been following the missile related news, I think for shourya (?) or Agni 1, we read in one of the tech focus issues, that the missile was road mobile, with a top speed of 40km/hr. The reason for the low speed limit is to reduce the jerks, and protect the fuel grain. This is not as much an issue for western road mobile missiles, that have the luxury of well maintained concrete roads, and excellent suspension in the vehicles.

    So the liquid prithvis had their place..


  17. Agni-3 has a range of 3500 km not 3000 km and the payload is much higher than Agni-4.

  18. @ Sudeep

    Interesting points. Let me check them out with some more people.

    But the downside of liquid fuel missiles can hardly be ignored. Given the few minutes that we will have for decision-making in a nuclear crisis, having to fuel missiles is just another added friction (and a hazardous one too, given the vulnerability of liquid-fuelled missiles during the fuelling stage).

    @ Anonymous 22:46, formerly 12:32

    I understand your pain, but cheer up.

    While we might like to imagine that we live in some Heavenly solitude where our exalted status is sullied by comparisons with lesser beings, the truth is that all military preparations are evaluated by comparison. Our conventional military readiness is directly linked with that of our likely adversaries... and our nuclear readiness too must be evaluated in those terms.

    So, very sorry, but this "cheap journalist" will continue to make those comparisons. Hold your nose please.

  19. @Rajesh,

    Being proud (confident of your work),and being modest are different things. Granted i dont work on complecated stuff like DRDO does, but then again i am not claiming that either. They may not care about my advice (sanctimonious according to you), but am damn sure know about the importance of message i m trying to convey.

    I might sound arrogant but then again you might not care about me(which i m sure you dont and neither do i care). But do pay attention to what i am trying to convey, thinking that it was not given by me. And that message is holds true in all ages.


  20. Ajai, if you check up with your sources, you'd know the Prithvis can be fuelled and then transferred. They can last for several years in that condition before having to be reworked. So the persistent myth that the IA will have to stage Prithvis to a deployment area, fuel them and then use them - giving ample time for people to react, is simply untrue. Yes, you may correctly point out that this is still more complex than just deploying solid fuelled missiles but it is not as much of an issue as the original supposition.

    Also, the Prithvis have two significant advantages because of which they were chosen during their era. Being liquid fuelled, they could be transported more easily without end user testing. Solid fuelled missiles of that era developed cracks in propellant and hence required careful handling and storage.

    Third, the Prithvis gimballed nozzles give it a non ballistic trajectory allowing for tailored trajectory shaping (also avoiding TBM defences). This makes it one of the most interesting missiles of its class, and better than the average solid fuelled missile the Pakistanis employed.

    The most important advantage throughout is that the Prithvis accuracy has steadily increased. Its now proven and very accurate.

    Hope this helps.

  21. Sudheendra, given that you don't work on complicated stuff like DRDO and per your own words, lack even the expertise they possess, you are clearly in no position to dictate what they should feel or what message they convey.

    People like you are and always have been a problem in india. If it was an israeli or western company saying what drdo did, you chaps would have fallen over yourselves in lambasting india for not being upto their standards, all on the basis of their publicity material. However, if a saraswat or chander dares to say they are as good as the rest, your hackles are up.

    Ultimately, it speaks volumes of your inferiority complex that you get sanctimonious about being humble and talk about arrogance. But if you had these aforesaid qualities, ie if you lacked arrogance or were humble, you'd ask Ajai for more data and not attack those who are confident enough in their achievements.

    Enough said.

  22. @Rajesh,

    Ok...I was arrogant. Apologies to saraswat, meant no harm to anybody or hurt anyone's ego.

    “We have made our own carbon fibre which is better than anything that is available from those foreign countries”, said Saraswat.

    "Better than others" - i guess this would invite questions....As far as inferiority complex goes, by comparing DRDO products to foreign ones, i think it is he who should stop feeling inferior or rather superior. If the end users like it, they would buy it. And why would i ask data from Ajai??...I dont have journalistic qualities (and It is his blog), so i shouldn't question him either just like i cannot question saraswat since i dont possess the capabilities which DRDO has.I rest my case !


  23. Dumb question. What is the relevance of the alien looking feller on the stage backdrop to the agni programme?


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