Thursday, April 19, 2012
Agni V, India's first ICBM, successfully test-fired.
"The mission was successful. The missile hit the target in the Indian Ocean in a perfect way," Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief VK Saraswat declared moments after the launch.
The indigenously developed, nuclear-capable missile has a strike range of 5,000 kilometres. It is about 17 metres long, two metres wide and weighs around 50 tonnes. The sophisticated missile travels faster than a bullet and has the capacity to carry 1000 kilograms of nuclear weapons.
Only six countries - including the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China and France - so far possess this technology. India will break into this exclusive ICBM club once the Agni-V is ready for induction by 2014-2015 - after several more tests.
Tipped to be a "game changer" by experts, Agni V will extend India's reach all over Asia, parts of Africa and parts of Europe. The Agni series of missiles, including Agni V, is crucial for India's defence vis-a-vis China since Beijing has upped the ante in recent times by deploying missiles in Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India.
Agni V can be configured to launch small satellites. It can also be used to shoot down enemy satellites in orbits. Once fired, it cannot be stopped. It can, however, be launched only after a decision by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
After the test flight of the missile was declared successful, Defence Minister AK Antony called the DRDO chief to congratulate him. "The nation stands tall today. We have joined the elite club of nations (who possess the ICBM capability)," the minister reportedly told him over the phone. "The immaculate success of Agni V is a major milestone in the country's missile research and development programme," he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too called Mr Saraswat and congratulated him for the feat. He also praised DRDO scientists for their "tireless efforts". "The nation stands together in honouring the scientific community who have done the country proud," he conveyed via twitter.
"DRDO and other organisations have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country. Today's launch represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science," he added.
Now that the initial euphoria of the successful launch of India's longest range missile (call it IRBM, ICBM, doesn't matter) Agni V is over, congratulatory messages from Prime Minister downwards delivered, scientists and India's strategic community must concentrate on the next steps in fully developing and operationalising the strategic deterrent asset.
As the Prime Minister said in a statement: "I congratulate all the scientific and technical personnel of the DRDO and other organisations who have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country. Today's successful Agni V test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science. The nation stands together in honouring the scientific community."
Without doubt, Agni V represents a major technology breakthrough for Indian missile scientists but it will require several more tests before Agni V can be seen as a credible deterrence.
Although the full telemetry data will take some time to be evaluated, scientists have reported excellent results of the missile's maneuverability terminal guidance system. Indian Naval ships, stationed in the path of the missile's trajectory, would have recorded its journey and picked up all the relevant data.
Built at a reported cost of over 25 million dollars, the 17 metres tall, 50-tonne Agni-V's three stages were powered by solid propellants. It has a capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over one tonne.
While the missile is at least four years away from full induction in the armed forces, its successful launch has sent out a message to Asia and the world at large that India now has the capacity to manufacture and launch a highly complex system which only five other nations possess.
In Asia, only China has the capability and better arsenal than India.
In any case, India should not aspire to match China missile for missile.
Agni V however will allow India to possess a credible N-deterrence which is what India is looking for given its No-First Use Nuclear doctrine.
Expectedly, Chinese commentators, or least some of them, have mocked the test. Global Times, the English daily from Beijing headlined the News item: "India being swept up by missile delusion" and went on to comment: "India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China, that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China."
On a day when India has crossed an important technology threshold, these comments are at best ignored.
Nations have national interests and each nation should act and behave by the dictates of its own national interest without bothering what rivals and neighbours are saying.
India should do exactly that.