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When equipped with a 3-ton nuclear payload, the Agni-VI ICBM is expected to have a range between 9,000 and 12,000 kilometres, and between 14,000 and 16,000 km when carrying a lesser 1.5-ton payload. Agni-V and Agni-VI missiles are part of India’s powerful ICBM arsenal, creating a formidable security barrier. Since its first flight in April 2012, India’s Agni-V ICBM has conducted nine successful trials. At Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha on December 15, 2022, India completed a successful night experiment of the Agni-V missile with the goal of validating new technologies and apparatus added to the weapon system.

The Agni-V missile’s weight was 20% lower than that of its previous iterations because to the replacement of maraging steel—a material renowned for its very high tensile strength—with lightweight composite materials. The remarkable range of the missile was also revealed by this launch. It can travel farther than 7,000 kilometres. The Agni-V’s 1.5-ton payload limit, however, continues to prevent India from building a reliable nuclear deterrent against China.

The integrated guided-missile development programme for India is struggling to advance in a number of areas. DRDO Veda, a satellite launch vehicle (SLV), is currently being developed by Indian engineers and scientists with a strong commitment to national security. This programme aims to reduce the dependency on ISRO and increase the pursuit of self-reliance by the Indian armed services’ three branches by enabling them to deploy military satellites into low earth orbit quickly.

In contrast to ISRO’s SSLV rocket’s vertical stacking technique, DRDO Veda’s method of manufacturing the launch vehicle will be novel, using the horizontal stacking of stages and payloads. The remarkable agility and mobility of this cutting-edge vehicle will enable it to be launched from a multi-axle TEL (Transporter Erector-Launcher) truck.

DRDO Veda is an Indian DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) three-stage solid-propellant space launch vehicle (SLV) that is road-mobile and canister-based. Up to 2,000 kilogrammes of payload mass can be launched with it into low Earth orbit. Veda is anticipated to be utilised for on-demand launch of payloads, including satellites for the military.

“AGNI-V’s Long-Term Effects”

Despite the nine nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Agni-V test launches that have been successful since 2012, little progress has been made on the long-awaited Agni-VI missile project. Dr. Vijay Kumar Saraswat, the previous DRDO Chairman, unambiguously confirmed India’s commitment to extending the Agni missile programme after Agni-V’s first trial on April 19, 2012. He also promised that additional missiles in the Agni series would be a logical follow-up to Agni-V in the years to come.

With a 1.5-ton nuclear payload, the Agni-V missile has an impressive effective range of around 5,500 kilometres. Because of the effects of gravity and momentum, a fundamental rule in physics states that there is an inverse relationship between a missile’s range and the weight of its warhead. It becomes possible to considerably increase the missile’s range, perhaps reaching up to 10,000 km, by using the same rocket boosters as those on the Agni-V, which are optimised for slow-burning propellant.

In accordance with this hypothesis, the Agni-V might be regarded as an ICBM in the 10,000 km range, although perhaps having a weaker warhead. One of the main goals of the Agni-VI missile is to close this gap in India’s nuclear deterrence. When carrying a 3-ton nuclear payload, Agni-VI is expected to have a range of between 9,000 and 12,000 kilometres, and it will have an even greater range of between 14,000 and 16,000 kilometres when carrying a lesser 1.5-ton cargo. Agni-VI’s guidance system will include terminal guidance with potential radar scene correlation, an inertial navigation system with a Ring laser gyroscope, and optional IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) enhancements. The accuracy of the missile will be improved by this method of terrain contour mapping.

Arguments In Favour Of AGNI-VI

Pradeep Vasant Naik, the then-Chiefs of Staff Committee chairman and former Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force, argued vehemently for the expansion of India’s nuclear attack capabilities beyond of its immediate neighbourhood in 2011. By having a strike capability to reach at least four major world cities, Agni-VI’s expanded range will greatly increase India’s power and reach on the international scene.

A range of more than 12,000 kilometres would significantly improve India’s adaptability, an essential component of successful deterrence. Additionally, it would provide India the ability to take out Chinese aircraft carriers, ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and navy ships that are hiding in the furthest regions of the Southern Indian Ocean and Central Pacific Ocean. This is based on the supposition that India will create more accurate ICBM guidance systems, similar to China’s DF21D anti-ship ballistic missile, which is intended for warships, aircraft carriers, and submarines. To emphasise the value and potential of its ICBM programme, India wants Agni-VI to outperform China’s JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile with a minimum range of 9,000 km.

A Significant Force Multiplier, AGNI-VI

Currently being developed in India is the multistage, solid-fueled Agni-VI intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It should be able to transport up to 10 nuclear or thermonuclear bombs and have a range of 9,000 to 12,000 km. With the aid of MIRV (several Independent Re-entry Vehicle) and MaRV (Manoeuvrable Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle) technologies, the missile will be able to deliver several warheads to various targets. Additionally, it might have chaffs and light decoys to help it avoid hostile anti-ballistic missile defence systems.

India has created a lethal arsenal of nuclear weapons, including boosted-fission bombs and thermonuclear fusion devices. Each MIRV warhead in this arsenal has the potential to be as potent as 250 kilotons of TNT, which is almost 16 times as potent as the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Accordingly, a single MIRV weapon has the potential to decimate an entire metropolis and kill tens of millions of people.

“Reputable defence analysts stress how important it is for India to create real ICBMs with a range more than 12,000 kilometres. They support the Agni-VI project’s quick clearance, highlighting the fact that a country’s ability to endure global challenges depends on its resolve and strategic acumen. These analysts stress the need of the present union government displaying resistance to such influences as a key element in India’s quest to become a great power.

“Establishing a sizable ICBM force with Agni-V and Agni-VI missiles will create a strong security barrier on the strategic battlefield and greatly discourage large nations from any future attempts to undermine India. The current NDA-3 administration must prove its political tenacity, unlike the UPA-1 and UPA-2 administrations were frequently viewed as “pacifist” by some decision-makers. The quick acceptance of the Agni-VI programme and the impending test launch of its first prototype in the approaching years are crucial steps towards putting India among the USA, Russia, and China among the world’s elite military heavyweights. A capability like that would give India significant diplomatic clout on the world scene.

Intelligent IT implementation

“A thorough test of the Agni-VI missile that spans more than 9,000 kilometres would garner interest in Western media circles. A different strategy would be to declare the missile’s range to be up to 9,000 km in official documents, tacitly conceding its importance with regard to China, and carrying out the flight test with a 3-ton super heavy warhead. This tactic would successfully showcase the new missile’s capabilities without running the risk of escalating tensions with Western countries. Additionally, such a test might provide the BJP-led central government with major political benefits by enabling the Prime Minister to hail this scientific breakthrough to the voters as a key historical turning point, similar to the ASAT test that was conducted in March 2019.

The phrase “Emulating Vajpayee’s Example”

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi may think about declaring a permanent voluntary halt to the future development of longer-range missiles, formally halting the ICBM programme at 9,000 km, following the successful testing and validation of Agni-VI. This strategy is identical to that of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who, in the wake of the Pokhran-2 explosions in May 1998, announced a comparable permanent voluntary halt on nuclear testing. Vajpayee’s choice helped him gain international acclaim as a statesman.

“The speedy completion and presentation of the DRDO Veda and Agni-VI programmes must be a top priority for the current administration. India runs the risk of being seen as only a subcontinental state, trying to assert itself but ultimately being left out of the global conversation without a reliable ICBM force. The ruling government is now in charge of taking action.

The director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a division of ADD Engineering GmbH in Germany with production facilities in Russia, is the defence and aerospace expert Girish Linganna. He is Frontier India’s Consulting Editor for Industry and Defence.

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