Thursday, 19 April 2012

Perfect launch for the 5000-km range Agni-5 missile

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 19th Apr 12

The tension sharpened at the launch area at Wheeler Island, on the Odisha coast, this morning as the massive, 50-tonne, 17.5 metre high Agni-5 missile was elevated into the vertical launch position, and the pre-launch checks began. The previous evening, exactly at this stage, lightening and thunder in the skies above had led to the launch being put off till morning.

At 8.07 a.m. the countdown went 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Now… and a giant ball of fire leapt out as the missile’s first stage ignited. As the Agni-5 rose smoothly off the launch pad, scientists checked off the health of its systems on the public address system, their voices calm, measured, almost surreal given the tension amongst the viewers. After 90 seconds, the first stage burnt out and separated. The missile was travelling at exactly the speed it should have been. Then, on schedule, the second stage burnt out and separated, an all-new composite stage that had performed exquisitely. By now there was already the sense that this would be a perfect test.

Within minutes, the Agni-5 was in space, streaking southwards for 2,000 kilometres until it crossed the equator. Then it hurtled along for another 3000-kilometers, re-entering the atmosphere over the Tropic of Capricorn and splashing down between the southern tip of Africa and Australia. From launch to splash-down, just 20 minutes had elapsed.

“Indian naval vessels tracked the missile all along its course, including at the terminal stage. The accuracy of the missile was exactly as expected,” said the DRDO’s spokesperson.

For Dr Saraswat, the Defence R&D Organisation chief after a lifetime of working in the DRDO’s ballistic missile programme, this was the sweetest of moments.

“Any launch is tense, even after testing a hundred missiles; and this was the first launch of the Agni-5,” Saraswat told Business Standard soon after the test. “Over the last 3-4 days, the team had gone through the complete launch process, with each activity and system being put through our scanners: the propulsion system, navigation system, everything. By yesterday I was completely confident of a successful launch.”

At the launch pad with Saraswat were Avinash Chander, the DRDO’s chief controller of missiles, a man of few words and big achievements; VG Sekaran, the laconic, wry-humoured boss of Advanced Systems Laboratory, the home of the Akash programme; Tessy Thomas, the self-effacing “missile woman”, who handled the Agni-4 project; and Dr Gupta, the Project Director for this test.

“For us, the Agni-5 success is the culmination of 30 years of work that began in earnest in 1983,” said Dr Saraswat.

Defence Minister, AK Antony, congratulated the team for “the immaculate success” of the Agni-5, hailing the efforts of “numerous unsung scientists of DRDO who have worked relentlessly years together to bring the nation to this threshold.”

In fact, the success of the Agni-5 was almost a foregone conclusion. Last November, several challenging new technologies that this missile incorporates were validated in an unannounced launch of the surprise Agni-4 missile. That new 3,500 kilometre range missile successfully tested a new composite rocket motor, made of lightweight composite materials instead of the heavier “maraging steel” that earlier rocket motors were fabricated from. The other brand-new technologies that the Agni-4 tested included: a highly accurate “ring-laser gyroscope based inertial navigation system (RINS)”; a “micro-navigation system (MINGS)”; and a powerful new onboard computer. By testing all these technologies in the Agni-4 the DRDO minimised the technology risks of today’s Agni-5 test.

The DRDO chief told Business Standard that the Agni-5 was not just a long-range rocket. “This missile incorporates unique technologies that will allow us to have multiple variants. We can achieve short ranges, higher ranges… all with the same missile,” he said.

Although the DRDO calls the Agni-5 an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), its range of 5000 kilometres puts it --- by most conventional measures --- in the class of intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), which have ranges of 3,000-5,500 kilometres. The Agni-5’s range is carefully calibrated; it can reach targets anywhere except for America and Australia. This would allow it to strike all India’s potential adversaries, even as friendly capitals in Western Europe and the US stay out of range. DRDO sources say that, in case of need, the Agni-5 could easily be ramped up into an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with a range of more than 5500 kilometres.

For now, more testing lies ahead, says the DRDO chief. “We will have two more test launches of the Agni-5, and then productionise it for induction into field service with the Strategic Forces Command. We will also start working on different variants of the Agni-5, including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles), anti satellite systems, and on making the Agni-5 capable of launching military satellites on demand,” says Saraswat.

A distinctive feature of the Agni-5 is its “canisterisation”. Immediately after its manufacture, the missile is hermetically sealed into an airtight canister. Mounted on a flatbed truck, the missile can be easily transported to a launch site; and fired quickly by hydraulically raising the canister into the vertical firing position. The canister is made of maraging steel, allowing it to absorb the enormous stresses of firing, when 300-400 tonnes of thrust is generated to eject the 50-ton missile. The hermitically sealed atmosphere inside the canister allows the missile be stored safely for years.

The DRDO claims that the Agni-5’s advanced navigation system would permit the use of smaller nuclear weapons. Speaking earlier to Business Standard, Avinash Chander said, “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].”


Mr. Ra said...

Congrats for the Agni-5 ICBM/IRBM.

Anonymous said...

How come they didnt launch A-V from Canister like they said before?

I was only disappointed on this front.

I guess they already has the technology to fire missiles from canisters( eg: Shourya and K-15)

Why back footing with A-V?

Anonymous said...

Para 3 Should read Agni-5 instead of Agni-4.

Anonymous said...

Impact of having a woman on top of the AGNI program ??

Anonymous said...

3rd Para , Typo error . It should be Agni-5 not Agni-4. Please correct it sir.

Anonymous said...

What about Surya Class Missiles

Rahul said...

Amidst euphoria i miss canister tube. Hope next test is from canister and following on from fully developed TEL.

Vizagite said...

@Broadsword / Ajai Shukla :

Sir, if it splashed down between the southern tip of Africa and Australia, then its range is 6500 km. (from Balasore)

I calculated this using freemaptools.

Please check

What do you have to say to this ?

Vizagite said...

Only if it landed right on the Tropic of Capricorn, the range would be between 5000 and 5500.

But you are saying it reentered atmosphere over Tropic of Capricorn.

I bet it would have travelled some distance after reentering. Thats because the reentry vehichle doesnt fall vertically at 90 degrees.

Vizagite said...

@Ajai Shukla : Did you turn into a deer after becoming Colonel ? Or did you remain a lion ? :)

the terminator said...

Congrats to all the scientists, engineers, technicians and other unsung low-key personnel in DRDO for making Agni-5 a reality.

If Agni-5 is tested and inducted into the Strategic Forces within a short period, our adversaries would have sleepless nights even before trying any of their monkey tricks to cow India.

India is go ahead with a true ICBM with double the range of Agni-5 to be in a position to fire the missiles from a safe distance, far away from hostile forces.

India should not shackle itself unnecessarily just to please other countries who are against proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons because THEY ALREADY HAVE THEM.

Would they be against if they were held to ransom by nuclear powered neighbours?

Broadsword said...

Thanks, alert readers, Agni-4 has been duly promoted to Agni-5

Manne said...


Well done on the NDTV Siachen debate. Crystal clear and crisp articulation without losing cool. Thanks.

- Manne

Abid said...

Good step in taming China. Now we can hit Beijing. Now, dear China.. please forget arunachal, laddakh, and vacate aksai chin. Thankyou DRDO.. atlast you people did something good enough in return for the tax payer's money.

Anonymous said...

@ Vizagite - Are you one of those Generals who have been sucking up to Kangaroo party for post-retirement benefits?

Post-retirement benefits include- Business for Son, MNC job for Daughter, Good Bunglow, Golfing perks, few foreign jaunts per year, couple of jazzy parties with high flyers a month and this list goes on. These are well documented reason for our lions becoming Deer.

Col is still a lion as he is self-employed and has a view/opinion about American stuff. But it his view and we all respect it (don't agree with it). But for me he is LION, have guts, intention and capability to call SPADE a SPADE.

Vizagite - take a stand and make something better in India. Sulking for being branded as a Deer demonstrates your GUILT.

JAI HIND (for me & other LIONS, not for you. You can enjoy your perks)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ajai,
Don't always rely on the auto spell check. For example, your article had hermitically instead of hermetically. May be hermitically was selected automatically by spell checker,