Agni - V is a three-stage, solid propellant MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle) missile with a range of 5,000 kms and can carry a nuclear warhead weighing over 1-1.5 tonne. The missile can cover most of Asia, parts of Africa and Europe.
With Agni-V, India entered the league of Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) holding nations - US, Russia, France, UK and China. India started its missile development program in 1983 and inducted the first missile in 1989.
India started developing Agni missiles as part of India's Minimum Credible Nuclear Deterrence Program.
India has in its inventory other Agni series missiles also:
Agni I of 700 km range, Agni II of 2000 km range - meant to account for a threat from Pakistan
Agni III and Agni IV of 2,500 km to more than 3,500 km range - designed with china in their scheme of things.
Key features of Agni - V
i) 3 stage propulsion - Till now, India had 2 stages for all previous Agni releases.
ii) High road mobility for requisite operational flexibility and short reaction time - Made possible using 'canister technology', which is immediately after its manufacture, the missile will be hermetically sealed into an airtight canister. This process will increase its life.
iii) Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) - Each missile capable of carrying 3-10 separate nuclear warheads. Each warhead can be assigned to a different target, separated by hundreds of kms
What all features/technologies were tested with Agni-V?
Among other technical parameters, this test validated engine, re-entry capabilities and guidance technologies as listed below:
(i) 3 stages of propulsion (remember earlier we just had 2-stage propulsion)
(ii) Composite Rocket Motors – made up of carbon composites which are high temperature tolerant (there was a report on this in NDTV 24X7, demonstrating its usefulness)
(iii) MIRV (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle) – Earth’s atmosphere re-entry capabilities (though there is no confirmation if MIRV was tested on 19th April'2012)
(iv) High accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS)
(v) Micro Navigation System (MINS) ensured the Missile reach the target point within few meters of accuracy
See DRDO press release here
Technology (iv) and (v) mentioned above were already tested in Agni-IV, so this test was reinforcement of their functioning flawlessly and making India completely self-reliant.
Why does it take 3-4 yrs before the missile is inducted into service?
Any product once built, needs to undergo several round of tests. While this 1st test was successful, it will take another 3-4 years to induct the missile into service, after it goes through several more tests and user trials.
For e.g. a typical test can be, testing if Agni-V performs successfully to track and destroy incoming hostile missiles both inside the Earth’s atmosphere and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. This first test (on 19th April’12) did not check all of these. Infact if you check the DRDO website, there is no such confirmation on whether MIRV technology (hallmark feature of Agni-V) was tested or not.
So, once all of these will be tested, it will then be handed over to the ‘Strategic Forces Command’ by around 2014-15.
Now that the test is complete, several important decisions needs to be taken like including strategic doctrines (remember NFU), target definitions, number of missiles to be produced etc. The government has to make these decisions before it becomes an instrument of capable, credible deterrence. Also in real terms, sufficient number of missiles needs to be produced before inducting them into service.
Remember, any missile launch in future, against any country, needs to be discussed in a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting and the final Go-Ahead needs to be given by the Prime Minister.
Though, I must mention here that India has pledged to No-First-Use-but-Massive-Retaliation (NFU-MR) policy. It was agreed during NDA regime by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. See here
Agni-V’s ballistic trajectory path along Indian Ocean
Agni splashed down in Indian Ocean, between the southern tip of Africa and Australia. Time taken from launch to splash-down was around 20 mins.
Agni-V’s ballistic trajectory path through Earth’s Atmosphere
Three important phases of a ballistic missile: Booster, Mid-Course & Terminal
(i) Booster – uses all of its fuel (remember Agni-V has solid propellant) during this stage to gain acceleration. Remember it has to fight against Earth’s gravity, inertia and atmospheric drag.
(ii) Mid-course – longest phase of a ballistic missile. It is during this phase that the main use of MIRV comes into picture, where it guides its different warheads into respective target locations.
(iii) Terminal – In this phase the missile is re-enters the atmosphere with exceptional energy and follows a free fall. The energy generated against drubbing with atmosphere generates a lot of heat and there is a need to protect the warheads against burning out before hitting the target. The significance of heat resistant ‘carbon composite’ material (mentioned above) comes into picture.