Monday, December 17, 2007
In what could provide India greater strategic depth, the government on Wednesday announced its plan to develop 6,000-km range Agni-IV missile which will be capable of destroying targets deep in China.
The announcement is seen as a move to send out strong signals to countries in the neighbourhood. Any missile with a range of more than 5,000 km stationed in south or central India would be out of the range of most capable missiles in Pakistan's arsenal while it would be able to hit targets in eastern and northern China with cities like Beijing and Shanghai in its ambit.
The 3,500-km Agni-III, which was successfully test-fired in April, will not be able to reach cities like Beijing unless it is deployed in eastern states near the Chinese border.
Top scientist V K Saraswat of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said the Agni-IV project was in the design stage and its trials and development could take a few years.
Saraswat said the DRDO would carry out three more tests of Agni-III over the next year with the second trial of the missile slated by June. The 3,500-km range missile, which has the capacity to carry a nuclear payload of upto 1.5 tonnes, is likely to be inducted into the forces by 2009 after at least three successful tests.
The DRDO scientist said India would have a complete ballistic missile defence (BMD) system in three years — ready and deployed. The system will have interceptor missiles that can hit targets 50-km above the atmosphere and supersonic interceptors that can eliminate endo-atmospheric targets 15-km within the atmosphere.
Believed to be superior to America's Patriot, the BMD system has been in development for the last eight years. As part of the programme, the Prithvi air defence missile was tested in November 2006 while advanced air defence interceptor was tested this month.
The development of 6,000-km Agni-IV also indicates that the country has shelved plans to develop Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles which would have hit far away targets.
There had been speculations of India developing an ICBM named Surya with a range of more than 10,000-km. However, in light of the ongoing negotiations on Indo-US nuclear deal, it is quite possible that India may not like to annoy US.
India says it has carried out its first successful test interception of a ballistic missile, using a second missile to shoot down an incoming rocket, the defense ministry said.
If the interceptor missile, the medium-range and nuclear-capable Prithvi II, can be transformed into a viable defense system, it would push India into an elite club of nations with working missile shields.
Such a system would vastly boost India's defensive capabilities, especially against neighboring Pakistan. The longtime rivals are both nuclear-armed.
According to the ministry, the first missile, a modified Prithvi II simulating the "adversary's missile," was launched from the Chandipore test range about 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Bhubaneswar, capital of India's Orissa state.
The interceptor, also a Prithvi, was fired one minute later from the Wheeler's Island missile testing center. The island is in the Bay of Bengal, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Bhubaneswar.
In July, India reported a successful test firing of the longer-range Agni II nuclear missile for a full day before acknowledging the test failed, with the missile plunging into the sea short of its target.
But this time Defense Minister A. K. Antony was quick to convey "his heartiest congratulations" to the development team, the statement said.
The test caught observers by surprise, particularly the use of the Prithvi, which until now had been used only as surface-to-surface missile.
A successful missile kill would represent a major advance for India, analysts said.
"The technology is hard and you have to be working for years," said Robin Hughes, the deputy editor of Jane's Defence Weekly. "If they have done that in the first test, it is an exceptional advance in technology."
However, the true capabilities could only be known once India revealed further details about the system, he said.
Most of the technology was home grown and was "validated through this successful mission," the defense ministry statement said.
The nuclear-capable Prithvi II can carry a conventional payload of up to 500 kilograms (1100 pounds) and has a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles). The move to modify it comes after the repeated failure of India's Trishul anti-missile project.
Monday's test also represented a victory for India's domestic missile program.
"This has great political significance for the DRDO since the recent avalanche of failures, so this success is important for them," said Gen. Ashok Mehta, a retired officer and military commentator.
However, he noted that it was only the first step in a process that would require at least 30 successful tests before the system could be brought online.
India has also been in talks with the Israel, the U.S. and Russia to buy a proven anti-missile defense system, and the Press Trust of India news agency quoted an unnamed defense officials as saying India would still pursue such options.
Mehta said the test was also a message to Pakistan, which does not any similar capacity.
The interceptor test comes a week after the firing of a single Prithvi II missile, and 10 days after Pakistan carried out a similar test of its nuclear-capable Ghauri missile, also known as the Hatf 5.
The competing missile tests came after the countries concluded a crucial round of peace talks in New Delhi aimed at resolving their differences, including the thorny issue of their territorial dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India routinely test-fires missiles it is developing for military use, as does Pakistan. Both countries are usually informed ahead of time of the other's tests.
The official said that some 3,000 people from five villages within a radius of 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Chandipore were temporarily evacuated as a precaution while the test took place.