Pakistan-aimed Agni-P ballistic missile flight-tested successfully

The Agni-P will replace the Prithvi, Agni-1 and Agni-2 missiles in India’s arsenal
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully flight-tested the Agni-P, India’s most technologically advanced, nuclear-capable, ballistic missile from Balasore, Odisha, on Monday.

“Various telemetry and radar stations positioned along the eastern coast tracked and monitored the (Agni P) missile. The missile followed a textbook trajectory, meeting all mission objectives with a high level of accuracy,” stated a Ministry of Defence (MoD) press release.

While the MoD was silent on this, the Agni-P has been developed specifically to strike targets in Pakistan. Its range of 1,000-2,000 kilometres (km) is too short to reach targets in the Chinese mainland, but can comfortably cover all of Pakistan’s territory.

The Agni-P will replace the Prithvi, Agni-1 and Agni-2 missiles in India’s arsenal — missiles that were built two decades ago with technologies that are now considered outdated.

While the Agni-P will be the workhorse of the nuclear deterrent against Pakistan, the Agni-5 will be the mainstay of the anti-China nuclear arsenal.

“Agni-P is a new generation, advanced variant of the Agni class of missiles. It is a canisterised missile with range capability between 1,000 and 2,000 km,” said the MoD.

The Agni-P will enter service as a two-stage, solid propellant missile. Both stages will have composite rocket motors and guidance systems with electro-mechanical actuators. The missiles will be guided to their targets by inertial navigation systems (INS) that are based on advanced ring-laser gyroscopes.

The Agni-P and Agni-5 ballistic missiles trace their origins back to the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) that the then DRDO chief, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, launched in the early 1980s.

The first missile built under the IGMDP was the liquid fuelled, single-stage Prithvi, which could drop a nuclear bomb with moderate accuracy on a target 150-250 km away.

Next to come were the two-stage Agni-1 and Agni-2 missiles that had conventional “maraging steel” fuselages, older propellants, hydraulic actuation systems that were vulnerable to leaks and far less accurate navigation systems.

A major technology leap took place with the Agni-4 missile in 2011, in which the DRDO first tested technologies that were being developed for years. These included on-board computers based on the Power PC platform, and avionics changes involving integrated technologies. By combining several avionics packages into one, the designers improved reliability and saved space and weight by reducing cabling and harnesses.

The Agni-4 also incorporated composite rocket motors, high-energy propellants, electro-mechanical actuators and ring-laser gyro-based navigation systems that could guide a ballistic missile to a target thousands of miles away, striking it within a few hundred metres.

Increased accuracy in ballistic missiles allows them to deliver relatively lower-yield nuclear bombs, thereby reducing collateral damage. A former DRDO chief told Business Standard: “Megaton warheads were essential for destroying targets in the days 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 unacceptable damage.”

The DRDO believes that the cutting-edge technologies developed for the Agni-4 and Agni-5 missiles, which have now been reverse-engineered into the Agni-P, are as advanced as those in intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) anywhere.

Many of these systems were developed by the Research Centre Imarat, a DRDO laboratory that was headed for many years by Satheesh Reddy, now the DRDO chief.

Being a canisterised missile, the Agni-P can be transported easily by road or railway and fired at very short notice.

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