Agni-V and neighbours

Published : May 18, 2012 00:00 IST

IN the aftermath of India successfully test-firing the Agni-V missile, a media report that received a lot of attention was of a Chinese researcher's observation that the missile actually has the potential to reach targets 8,000 km away. Du Wenlong, a researcher at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Sciences, in an interview to the Global Times, said that the Indian Government had deliberately downplayed the missile's capability in order to avoid causing concern to other countries.

No comments, said a top missile technologist of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who played an important role in the Agni-V launch, when he was asked about Du's remark. The DRDO official, however, jokingly said, If our enemy underplays our missile's range, it is good. If he overestimates its range, it is still better.

India has only two missiles, Agni-III with a range of 3,500 km, and Agni-V, with a range of more than 5,000 km, which can target China. But China has several missiles aimed at India. They are DF-3 (Dong Feng), DF-4, DF-4A and DF-21. These are strategic, surface-to-surface missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

China has deployed DF-3, DF-4A and DF-21 to target India, says an assessment paper prepared in June 2010 and entitled Missile Developments in India's Neighbourhood. The paper was prepared by the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. The assessment was done by S. Chandrashekar, Rajaram Nagappa, N. Ramani, Manabrata Guha and Lalitha Sundaresan.

While DF-3A can carry a nuclear warhead weighing two tonnes over 2,842 km and thus can reach many parts of India up to Ahmedabad, DF-4A, with a range of about 5,000 km and the ability to carry a two-tonne warhead, can reach all of India, says the assessment paper. The DF-21 missile, with a payload of 700 kg and a range of 3,047 km, can cover all of India and Pakistan, it adds.

Rajaram Nagappa told Frontline that the DF-21 missile was a fully operational missile. It is a two-stage missile, with both the stages powered by solid propellants. DF-21 has a counterpart called JL-1 (JuLang), which is launched from a submarine. There are several variants of DF-21, and they have been used as interceptors or to shoot down satellites in orbit. The NIAS' assessment paper says: On January 11, 2007, China carried out an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test. A direct ascent missile launched from close to the Xi Chang Launch Centre hit and destroyed a defunct Chinese Fengyun polar orbiting satellite at an altitude of about 850 km. The missile that was used was apparently a modified version of the Chinese DF-21.

China then conducted an anti-missile test on January 11, 2010. The target missile launched from Xi Chang in Sichuan province was intercepted and destroyed by a KT-2 variant (DF-21) test missile launched from a mobile launcher near Korla in Xinjiang province. The interception apparently took place at an altitude of at least 700 km, indicating a substantial Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capability, says the paper.

There is a DF variant called DF-21D, which can carry a 1,700 kg warhead over 3,000 km.

China has DF-31, an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a range of about 7,000 km. Depending on the weight of the warhead it carries, its range can increase or reduce. This is a totally operational missile. DF-31's submarine- launched version is called JL-2, said Rajaram Nagappa. There is DF-31A too, which can carry a nuclear warhead weighing 700 kg over a distance of 13,000 km.

The paper says: Coupled with a major space programme that includes space launchers, manned space flight, substantial radar and optical reconnaissance capabilities, communications, navigation, a small satellite programme and substantial investments in various ground-based surveillance and tracking systems, the Chinese seem to be intent on leveraging their substantial space capabilities into strategic flexible assets' that can be used in different ways, depending on the situation it faces. Elsewhere, the paper adds, Aditionally, the Chinese ASAT and anti-missile tests suggest that they are actively moving towards acquiring capabilities to become a space weapons power.

On April 25, Pakistan successfully test-fired Shaheen-1A, an intermediate range ballistic missile capable of reaching targets in India. It is a missile that can carry nuclear warheads. Pakistan's military officials declined to specify the range of the missile. Pakistan has the Ghaznavi missile, which can carry a one-tonne nuclear payload over a distance of 320 km.

A DRDO official said: India felt the requirement for ballistic missile defence in the late 1990s when Pakistan test-fired Ghauri missile with ranges far enough to threaten our major cities. So India conducted seven interceptor missile tests as part of its quest to build a credible BMD shield and protect its vital assets in the shortest possible time. Six out of these seven missiles have been successful.

According to the NIAS paper, The range of the Ghauri missile with a 1,000 kg nuclear warhead, launched at an azimuth of 135 degrees from around Islamabad, is 953 km. There are two configurations of Shaheen-1 missile, with ranges of 673 km and 735 km. Both can carry a payload of one tonne. Shaheen-2 has the longest range in Pakistan's arsenal and it is pegged at around 1,250 km with a one-tonne warhead. The study adds, Pakistan's foray into the development of cruise missiles, especially the Babur missile, could have a direct impact on India.

T.S. Subramanian
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