A successful launch

Published : Jan 31, 2003 00:00 IST

The surface-to-surface Agni missile being fired from the test range at Chandipur-on-sea near Balasore, Orissa. -

The surface-to-surface Agni missile being fired from the test range at Chandipur-on-sea near Balasore, Orissa. -

ON January 9, India successfully test-fired Agni-I, the short-range ballistic missile that can reach targets 700 km away, from the Wheeler island in the Bay of Bengal, off the Orissa coast. Agni-I was test-fired for the first time on January 25, 2002. Both the test flights carried a one-tonne payload.

Agni-I, which is India's reply to Pakistan's Ghauri, can hit most Pakistani cities without having to be launched from the border. While Ghauri is actually the No Dong missile of North Korea, Agni-I is totally home-grown. Unlike Ghauri, which is powered by liquid propellants, Agni-I is boosted using solid propellants and hence it can be readied much faster than Ghauri. Agni-I fills the gap between the Prithvi-II missile, which has a range of about 250 km, and Agni-II which can reach targets 2,500 km away. Thus the series is constituted by Agni, Agni-II and Agni-I. (Frontline, February 15, 2002).

Scientists have called the second launch a confirmatory flight, which is a prelude to the production and subsequent induction of the missile into the Army. According to informed sources, despite slight modifications, the guidance and re-entry systems performed flawlessly. Much of the credit for the success of the flight goes to R.N. Agarwal, Mission Director for both the flights of Agni-I. He told Frontline that the test-firing of Agni-I was undoubtedly a great success. It had several improvements when compared to the previous flight, but such improvements were part of developmental flights, Agarwal said.

The vehicle, which is 15 metres tall and weighs about 12 tonnes is a single-stage, surface-to-surface missile that can be fired from both road and rail launchers. An important modification to Agni-I was the removal of the second stage of Agni-II.

Dr. K. Santhanam, who is now Director, Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, was the originator of the Agni-I project. It was conceptualised in October 1999. The development was completed in 15 months, that is, by December 2000. However, there was a one-year delay before it was actually launched.

The confirmatory test of Agni-I firms up India's "credible, minimum nuclear deterrent" posture. Significantly, the test-firing comes after the country set up the Nuclear Command Authority.

Those present at Wheeler Island when Agni-I was launched on January 9 included Defence Minister George Fernandes and Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister V.K. Aatre. On December 31, 2002, Aatre revealed that India would soon conduct several tests of indigenously developed missiles including the medium-range Agni.

Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Controller (Research and Development), DRDO, said that the supersonic cruise missile called BrahMos would be ready for commercial production and induction into the Services in about two years. BrahMos has been jointly developed by India and Russia. Both India and Russia plan to market BrahMos to friendly countries. At a banquet hosted on December 4 in honour of the visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had called BrahMos "a unique example of the partnership between our two countries in critical areas of research and development." The first flight of BrahMos took place on June 12, 2001. While the Agni series form the centrepiece of the IGMDP, the other missiles include Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, and Nag.

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