A file photo of Agni 5 missile.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

In a major technological breakthrough and building in redundancy into the country’s nuclear weapons programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 11 announced the successful test firing of Agni-V ballistic missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under Mission Divyastra. The MIRV technology means a single missile can carry multiple warheads.

“Proud of our DRDO scientists for Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology,” Mr. Modi announced on social media platform ‘X’.

This technology will ensure that a single missile can deploy multiple war heads at different locations, Government sources said noting that with Mission Divyastra, India has joined the select group of nations who have MIRV capability.

“This system is equipped with indigenous avionics systems and high accuracy sensor packages, which ensured that the re-entry vehicles reached the target points within the desired accuracy. The capability is an enunciator of India’s growing technological prowess,” sources said. “The project director is a woman and has significant women contribution.”

The maiden flight test of Agni-V, India’s longest range ballistic missile with a “range of more than 5000 kms” was conducted in April 2012 and has since been tested multiple times. It has also been canistered, which improves ease of handling and operation.

Agni-V uses a three-stage solid fuelled engine and is capable of striking targets at ranges of over 5,000 Kms and can reach most parts of China.

In 1998, India conducted nuclear tests under Phokran-II and in 2003 declared its nuclear doctrine based on credible minimum deterrence and a No-First-Use (NFU) policy and massive retaliation forming its core tenets. The concept of maintaining a minimum credible deterrence and a nuclear triad for delivery of nuclear weapons based on aircraft, missiles and nuclear submarines flow from that.

The test has furthered progress on a capability that India has long desired, said Christopher Clary, Associate Professor of Political Science, University at Albany and Non-resident Fellow in the U.S. based Stimson Center. “India has struggled to show it had a truly credible capability against China, which has so many targets on its eastern seaboard far away from India. An Agni-5 with MIRVs helps achieve that. The challenge is that an Agni-5 with MIRVs may also help give India options against Pakistan’s much smaller nuclear arsenal,” he told The Hindu.

Noting that as China undergoes a rapid expansion and modernization of its nuclear arsenal, today’s test shows India will not stand still, Dr. Clary added, “The question is the pace and breadth of China, India, and Pakistan’s combined arms efforts and whether the region–and India specifically–can avoid a costly arms race.”

Agni series of missiles constitute the backbone of India’s nuclear weapons delivery which also includes the Prithvi short range ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft. India has also completed its nuclear triad and operationalised its second strike capability, with ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant undertaking deterrence patrols.

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