Advanced Agni-6 missile with multiple warheads likely by 2017 - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 7 May 2013

Advanced Agni-6 missile with multiple warheads likely by 2017

Technicians at the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad, work on the payload of an Agni-3 missile

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 8th May 13

Ending worldwide speculation about the futuristic Agni-6 missile, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has briefed Business Standard about the direction of India’s ballistic missile development programme after the Agni-5 enters service, probably in 2015.

DRDO chief Dr VK Saraswat, and missile programme chief Dr Avinash Chander, say the Agni-6 project has not been formally sanctioned. However, the missile’s specifications and capabilities have been decided and development is proceeding apace. Once the ongoing Agni-5 programme concludes flight-testing, the defence ministry (MoD) will formally okay the Agni-6 programme and allocate funding.

Chander says the Agni-6 will carry a massive three-tonne warhead, thrice the weight of the one-tonne warhead that Agni missiles have carried so far. This will allow each Agni-6 missile to launch several nuclear warheads --- Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Warheads (MIRVs) --- with each warhead striking a different target. Each warhead --- called Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARV) --- performs evasive maneuvers while hurtling down towards its target, confusing enemy air defence missiles that are trying to destroy them mid-air.

The DRDO is at an advanced stage of developing these warhead technologies. But the difficult challenge is building a booster rocket that can propel a three-tonne payload to targets 5000 kilometres away. This weighs almost as much as the satellite payload carried by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s much larger and heavier Geo Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

“Our ballistic missiles must be compact and road mobile, even the Agni-6 with its heavy payload. We will do this by building the first stage with composites, fitting the Agni-6 with India’s first composite 40-tonne rocket motor. This is a technical challenge but we have good capability in lightweight composites,” says Chander.

The road mobile Agni-6 would also have stringent limits on its length. “It must be carried on a standard size trailer that can move from one part of the country to another, turn on our roads, cross our bridges and climb our heights. As the payload weight increases, we will require more advanced technologies to keep the missile’s length constant,” explains Chander.

Coaxing higher performance from smaller rockets becomes especially important in submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), which can be no longer than 13 metres so that they can fit into the cramped confines of a submarine. Even long-range SLBMs that can fly 14,000 kilometres, like the Chinese JL-2, are built no longer than 13 metres. The DRDO faces this challenge as it develops the K-4 SLBM for the country’s Arihant-class nuclear-propelled ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).

Eventually the Agni-6 will be no taller than the Agni-5, i.e. about 17 metres, says Chander. It will, however, be heavier and thicker --- slightly over 2 metres --- which will cater for the different shape of the MIRV payload.

“The timeframe for developing a new missile system is about 5 years and the DRDO has mostly achieved this in the Agni programme,” says Chander. Calculating five years from April 2012, when the Agni-5 had its debut launch, the first test of the Agni-6 could happen in 2017.

The DRDO says the Agni-6 will have a longer range than the 5000-kilometre Agni-5, but is not mentioning figures. “The MARVs and MIRVs will give us extended range. I will not be able to tell you how much because that is secret,” Saraswat told Business Standard.

Ballistic calculations, however, suggest that at least some of the MIRV warheads on the Agni-6 would reach at least 6,000 kilometres. In a missile that travels 5,000 kilometres, the last MIRV warhead released flies an extra 1,000 kilometres.

Currently, the DRDO is readying for the second test next month of the Agni-5 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM). This will be fired in the same configuration as its debut test a year ago, in order to establish the missile’s reliability. A third test by end-2013 will see the missile fired from a canister.

“We will conduct at least 5-6 more Agni-5 tests before the missile enters operational service. After the repeat test this month or the next, we will conduct two test firings from a canister. Then the military units that will operate the Agni-5 will conduct 2-3 test firings as part of the induction process. Even after induction, the users conduct test firings as part of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) training plan,” says Avinash Chander.

The Agni-5 is a three-stage, solid-fuel missile but its first stage consists of a metallic rocket motor, while the second and third stages have composite motors.


  1. Shouldn't I get the Platinum Star..

  2. @ Dan

    The wooden spoon, more likely! ;-)

    You're wrong on almost everything, but nothing more so than in your conspiracy theory about this being a SLBM.

    Be informed that an SLBM requires an entirely different set of technologies from a surface launched missile and you can't disguise an SLBM project as a surface launched one.

    But good try. Maybe you can make this into a thriller novel some day.

  3. @Ajai sir

    a few things

    while good work is going on Agni 5 & will on future on Agni 6 nothing much is being said or done about Agni 3 or Agni 4, why & what is happening on these 2 missiles

    Agni 5 carries 3 ton payload so well Agni 3 too carries a 2.5 ton payload too & is 2 mtr wide

    I doubt K4, that K4 or the B-05 will go into Arihant subs simply bcoz the Arihant draft is 10 m (33 ft) while K4 or B-05 both have a height of 10 m (33 ft), surely 1-2 mtr space is needed in the launch tube, also the pic of Arihant doesnt show any hump at the back or front.

    This clearly means Arihant subs will carry only the sub launched Brahmos or Nirbhay as the height of these missiles is between 6 to 8 mtrs and as such Arihant subs will be classified as SSGN

    This also means that B-05 is a TD and that K4 mk1/mk2 will go into bigger follow-on Arihant subs and these will be classified as SSBN.

    Agni 6 or not focus should also given to sub launched Brahmos / Nirbhay


    Joydeep Ghosh

  4. @Broadsword

    Eventually the Agni-6 will be no taller than the Agni-5, i.e. about 17 metres, says Chander.

    I kind of think SLBM will be based on Agni VI/VII.

    Please watch the walking on the lawn interviews they do on NDTV. AC is on record stating MIRV/MARV missile is on record stating call it what you will Agni V+ or Agni VI.

    Remember Agni II+ morphing into Agni IV? So there is a morhper out there which will be Agni VI. Not yet clear if that missile is Agni VI 3tonne or Agni VII 3 tonne.

    If you follow how we have so far handled the transitions ... we have always had a counter-value missile and a counter-force missile. Agni IV being a prime example of this doctrine ... where there payload is lower but the range is the same as a different missile. These missiles have a smaller diameter 1.1m. Agni III and Agni V have a thicker profile. AC has on numerous occasions stated Agni III and Agni V will be MIRV capable and can be "upgraded" with an MIRV package and all these missiles are modular.

    So Agni VI you have disclosed if it is the official DRDO designation of Agni VI is an MIRV follow on to the Agni V and there must be a singe warhead 1.1 meter Agni VII with a "range" of 6000km.

    Also 3 tonnes throw weight is as good as shouting from the rooftops ... we have an ICBM with a range or 14,000km...

    Again lost in all the jargon which went along with the Agni V test was the mach number reached by Agni V. Please do look up the range figures for the missiles which reach the mach number specified by AC. A ballistic missile will reach such a mach number only if it goes to x distance above the atmosphere ... If Agni V can withstand such mach numbers and travel that high ... then based on ballistic calculations it can travel .... kms.

    Thanks for your article. There are enough details here to fill in some of the missing blanks. The missile disclosed in your article is almost fact accompli... This again is based on AC's comments published in Hindu or outlook. It might not be AC but someone else from DRDO equally reliable source, where they state Agni V and Agni IV are interchangeable and modular. Same applies for Agni III as well. The changes in Agni IV and V were spectacular. They removed the Agni III interstage .. scaffolding shown in your photograph posted above.

    So we are almost there and Agni morphs into Surya II. Given that Agni is fire and Surya is the sun ... there never was any doubt they were two forms of the same kind ...

  5. Will the MIRV be nuclear capable ?

  6. no deals... in international levels... what about... deals... in tactical levels... as the case... wheel chairs... for abled bodied... citizens... no deal for... disabled... citizens...

  7. t@Broadsword
    GSLV stands for Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle,not Global Satellite Launch Vehicle

  8. Excellent article sir. Just one minor point. I believe GSLV stands for Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle and not Global atellite Launch Vehicle.

  9. GSLV - Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle not Global Satellite Launch Vehicle Ajai! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

  10. is this another disinformation package to divert attention from recent failures in ongoing missile projects apart from LCA INSAS Rifles. Can we have some result producing products that hjave been in the making since more than 3 decades before shooting off about future products. Or is it that the Indian defense thinks by such propoganda it can scare China off whilst India cannot stand by its beheaded soldiers nor can stand by its territory and can be asked by the adversarys to back off or retreat from India. Actually due to DRDO/HAL and such ilk,India has its soldiers beheaded and can only stare, pilots killed due to no trainers and then blame fighter a/cs and lose territory yet claim high flying machines in brochures

  11. @ rustom

    Are you addicted to talking rubbish or are you just having a bad day.

    You make no points... only wild allegations. Calm down.

  12. Thanks everyone for pointing out that careless error. Of course you're right. It is Geo Synchronous Launch Vehicle.

    Perils of too much work!

  13. @ Joydeep Ghosh

    You're so wide off the mark that I can only say... go back and do your nuclear missile homework all over again.

  14. @ Anonymous 15:01

    If the point you are making is that each Agni successor builds upon its predecessors... that is hardly surprising or revelatory.

    Go back and read my April 2012 article on Broadsword at the time the Agni-5 was launched. It lists out each technology that was pre-tested on the Agni-4.

    Naturally, the Agni-6 will use many of those technologies. What will be entirely new is the all-composite first stage... and the payload.

    Naturally any Agni-6 successors --- the Surya or whatever fantasy name anyone chooses to give it --- will also use some of those Agni-6 technologies while also developing and fielding some new ones.

  15. "Ending Worldwide Speculation" ---

    why does indian media always tries to get World attention?

    Why the damn urge to always join the elite club of 5 nations? Even if you join what do we get?

    Indian media is not setting the priorities correct. Neither does the world care (other than pakistan or china to an extent), nor should the indians care about what others think about A6!. Ain't it?

    -Sudheendra S

  16. Ajai sir, a question out of context. I had read somewhere that the AAD missile that was developed as a part of DRDO's ongoing anti-ballistic missile defence shield was to be further developed into a long range anti-aircraft missile. Sort of a big brother to the Akash missile. Is this is just another rumour or there is some substance behind it? Its sounds like a sound idea though.
    Would it be possible for you to, someday, put up a post about this, please?

  17. Ajaiji, still you have not answered, What is going on in this picture?

  18. Hi Ajai,
    It was good to see more info on Agni 6 and even more interesting was reading the comments section :)
    However i do like to make one point which you can ask DRDO scientists later whenever you meet them.
    The Point is:
    Consider Agni 5 its range was told around 5500 Kms when it was launched
    (Though later DRDO started saying that the Range is between 5500-5800

    Agni 3 and 5 both have almost similar configurations Eg:- A3 Weighing 48000 Kg while A5 50000 Kg,
    Heights are also similar around 17 metres. Yet when we compare the range A3 has 3000 Kms and A5 has 5500 Kms thats a difference of 2500 kms.

    Now if we compare A3 or A5 with Missiles of other countries with similar ranges we will find our missiles too much heavier.
    Eg:- Israel's Jericho 3 Missile which has range between 4,800 to 11,500 km yet it weighs only 30000 Kgs with 15.5m Height.

    Similarly consider Russia's (actually USSR's) RSD-10 Pioneer Missile which has range of 5500 Kms yet it weighs only 37000 Kgs.
    Even China's Missiles like DF31 weighs only 42000 Kgs and 13m in height yet it can fly upto 8000 Kms.

    All these suggests that :

    1.)Either our A3/A5 Missile systems are bulky and there is a lot of scope for improvement in terms of reducing weight and height as
    Bulkier missiles poses logistical problems and can be easier to detect even when they are road mobile. In this context i would
    also like to point out that our road mobile TELS are also bigger than the Russians or Chinese which are more compact and
    seems to be highly mobile.
    (One can easily see TELS of Russian TOPOL Missile in Youtube videos while Indian TELS can be seen in Republic day parades)

    2.) DRDO is lying about the Ranges of these missiles.To me the bulkier size of A3/A5 systems suggests some extra capabilities which are
    not yet revealed to public.Bulkier size of missiles mean more room for Fuels which means additional ranges are achievable.

    I hope next time when you have a chat with DRDO scientists you can clarify these questions OR even better if you know the answers
    Yourself, in that case waiting for your response as a post.

    and By d Way you haven't answered the A6 riddle.

    Your friend and Blog Reader

  19. So A6 is definitely an ICBM with range in excess of 8000km++ if payload is reduced to one tonne

  20. @ Broadsword
    On ure " Are you addicted to talking rubbish or are you just having a bad day."
    Ok, the LCA is flying, the INSAS rfile is doign well, the Arjun has performed superbly, ansd the IAF has had a trainer for over 2 decades yet probably the force was mad to use the Mig 21 as a trainer..." And HAL/DRDO delivered what it promised....Lets see if such fantasies under the garb of not talkign rubbish gets us further..

  21. Insas all the problems rectfied. Lca is comming soon 2015. Arjun mk2 worlds best tank in its catagory. keep update yourself dont write rubbish

  22. MIRV deployment would not be an issue/problem. Like things flow from our learning curve in the space program, the MIRV would be a natural progression with the experience gleaned from launching multiple-satellites from the PSLV.



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