Agni-III’s Success- India Displays Nuclear-Capable Missile Muscle

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI–With “text book precision,” India successfully test fired a new missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads across much of Asia and Middle East, according to a defense ministry spokesman.

India’s nuclear capable intermediate range ballistic missile Agni-III was fired on April 12 at 10 50 AM (Indian Standard Time) from the Interim Test Range (ITR) at Wheeler’s Island in Bay off Bengal, off the Orissa coast, official release said. With the launch succeeding nine months after a similar attempt failed, the official release described this launch as a “major milestone in missile technology.” Last July, the test firing failed and the missile plunged into the Bay of Bengal, short of its target. By contrast with most Indian missiles meant for confronting Pakistan, Agni-III is the country’s longest-range missile, designed to reach 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles).

It is capable of carrying a payload of 1.5 tons. Within its range are China’s major cities as well as targets deep in the Middle East. With this success, the “design team is happy that the problems faced in the previous attempt on July 09 last year have been fully understood and solved,” official sources said.

The 16 meter long Agni-III, weighing 48 tons, lifted off successfully from its Rail Mobile Launcher System, leaving a trail of orange and yellow smoke. This missile’s trajectory is computed by the onboard computer system based on launch and target coordinates, defense sources said. “During the flight, the missile has no communication with the ground systems and is autonomous and fully intelligent to reach its designated target,” sources said.

Many “firsts” have been established with this launch, according to Mission Director Avinash Chander. The firsts include “Flex Nozzle Controls of rocket motor during powered phase, specially developed composite propellant with high specific impulse for the rocket,” sources said. Also included among firsts are guidance and control with built-in fault-tolerant avionics, and the withstanding of the severe aero thermal environment experienced during the re-entry phase, and coordinate mission management, sources said.

The four-hour “range countdown” for test firing of the Agni-III began at 06 00 AM (IST), defense sources said. “The entire flight of approximately 15-minute duration validated all mission objectives primarily to establish the performance of the two stage propulsion in flight and flex nozzle control system being attempted by DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization) scientists for the very first time,” defense release said.

The flight was tracked from ground stations at Dharma, ITR, Balasore, Port Blair and two Indian Naval Ships in the Indian Ocean. Agni-III’s launch shows a high degree of self-reliance, as most subsystems were developed within India, according to M. Natarajan, DRDO head and Scientific Advisor to the Defense Ministry. Synergy between DRDO-Industry (both Public and Private) and Academia has led to development of most sub systems, he said.

Agni-III’s predecessors include Agni-I, a single stage 700-km missile, and Agni-II, a two-stage 2,000-km system, both of which have already been inducted into armed forces. Agni-III “would be [a] stepping stone to build capability of 5,000 km,” Natarajan said.

Felicitating all those associated with Agni-III’s launch, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it “an impressive illustration of the indigenous capacity developed by our scientists and technologists in mastering strategic high technologies essential for maintaining the nation’s defense and security.”

Defense Minister A.K. Antony congratulated defense scientists on the successful launch and for achieving another important milestone in self-reliance in this critical strategic system. India has matured in missile technology and is definitely on a par with many other developed countries, he said. As India’s missile tests are meant for “deterrence” and are not aimed against any country, they will continue, Antony said. The scientists would decide on how many launches of Agni-III are needed to make it operational, he said.

Agni-III has confirmed India’s strategic capability for minimum credible deterrence, defense sources said. Though Agni-III is the missile with the longest reach in South Asia and more powerful than any in Pakistan’s arsenal, China has missiles with a longer reach.

It may be noted that the world at large has displayed a cautious reaction to the test firing of the Agni-III. The tests have not provoked any criticism from any quarter nor has any nation threatened any sanctions against India.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: “The Indians do have an active missile program… What we urge all the governments in the region to do, India, Pakistan included, is to work within the constraints of the agreements that they have regarding notification and also not to take any actions that would be destabilizing to the balance in the region.” In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: “We hope that India, as a country with an important influence in this region, can work to maintain and promote peace and stability in the region.”

A slight diplomatic itch was created over confusion whether India played its part of informing countries in the region in advance. This is because according to media report in Jakarta, a Garuda Indonesia jet, full of Muslim pilgrims en route to Saudi Arabia, had reached Indian airspace, when the missile streaked across the sky, forcing the plane to turn around. Rejecting claims that India had not informed Indonesia and other countries about the test-fire, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “A notice was sent a week before the test by the Indian civil aviation authorities to Air Traffic Control (ATC), Jakarta and other ATCs in the region informing them about the launch window dates, danger time, zone and height.” “The ATCs were requested to take action to issue NOTAM (Notice to Aviators and Mariners) in accordance with relevant ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) provisions,” he said.