Agni V missile: What is the true range?

Sep 17, 2013 7:23 pm 9 comments

India tested the Agni V missile for the second time. Once again it was called as an “over” 5000 kms range missile.

I am recounting from the first test and all the information that came out from it in this post.

On my forum, I had said that the missile was going to be at least 8000 kms in range before the test. It didnt make any sense for India to make a new missile for just 1500 kms more than the Agni III missile.

For India to have true deterrence against China, it should be able to fire a missile from its southernmost tip that is Kanyakumari to the northern most point in China. This distance is nearly 7000 kms. A 5000 kms range missile will have to be stationed in Northern India to be able to reach every part of China making it susceptible to a Chinese first strike. India should be in a position to fire a missile hidden somewhere in the Western Ghats to Harbin in norther China.

If Agni V really is a 5000 kms range missile then it would actually mean India has a lot to catch up with its engine and propulsion technology and this missile is highly inefficient. But India has an advanced missile program and gathered over 30 years of experience.

Looking at the reports from the first test, the splash down was “somewhere” along the southern tip of Africa and Australia.

Southern Tip of Africa is 35° S and Australia is 44°S and Wheeler islands is at 20°N.

To a latitude range near South Africa the total distance traveled is 55° of latitude. I remember learning in geography that every degree of latitude covers 111 kilometers. This would make the distance traveled at about 6100 kms. If we consider the latitude range of southern Australia, total distance traveled is 64°. which puts total distance traveled at 7100 kms. A median of this is 6,600 kms.

Also consider that the DRDO has said that the flight time is about 20 minutes at speeds of about 25,000 kms per hour. Doing the math, it works out to 8,300 kms. Yes it does take some time to reach that speed but still means a total travel of about 8000 kms.

The missile was tested in a depressed trajectory which is not quite an ideal way and is a non-optimal, lower and flatter trajectory which takes less time between launch and impact.

Soon after the first test, the Chinese officially said that they think the range of India’s Agni V is 8000 kms. We have heard about China having monitoring station on Coco Islands as well as monitoring by satellites and sea based radars on their naval assets.

It is my belief that the Agni V is not just a 5000 kms range missile but an ICBM of 8000 kms range. India will continue to keep ambiguity over the range of the missile to probably address the western audience who would start to factor in India’s ability to reach their shores and be vocal about it. Yes they would have monitored the flight and known the distance traveled but “officially” Indian missiles dont pose a threat to the west till India does not officially say it has an ICBM of over 8000 kms range. That will change if the proposed Agni VI of over 10,000kms range is tested.

About Yusuf Unjhawala

Businessman by profession but always fascinated with defence and strategic affairs. Editor, India Defence Analysis. Admin, www.defenceforumindia.com/forum

9 Comments

  • Yes actual range is being kept a secret.

  • The range of Agni V is in miles and not Kilometers… It is true that its range is 5000 miles…

  • To Yusuf

    Interesting to watch your labours in Math to crack into the potential range of recently launched Indian ICBM as a test case to gauge India’s missile quality potential. Seen from a common sense point of view, it seems to me that we’ve to be clear about few terms as to what we mean and what our missile rocket scientists mean. Since the latter will not tell us the technical specs, we’ve to proceed with calculation along the former option. So let me throw up following points for clarification:

    a)Was Agni V conceived as an ICBM or an MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle) or both and whether as an SLBM, a mobile-pad-launched Ballistic Missile (BM), or from stable ground silos as ICBM?
    Keeping the distance (5000km/miles) and payload (50 ton) factors neutral, an SLBM launch will expectedly take longer than the announced 20 mts.

    b)Clarity is needed when we talk of target’s distance. Is it the missile’s flight trajectory path or the straight line from India to any Chinese target point wished. (Say if you would place a thread with its cut end placed at some launch spot in India or on international ocean waters on your desk-top Globe and other cut end at the targeted spot in China. The distance measured by this thread piece is strictly speaking not a straight line either.). Here a help from a geodesist is called for.

    c)When calculating BM’s travel time do you take the rotation of Earth against it into your Math.? We shouldn’t forget that in its sub-orbital flight a BM crosses the Earth’s atmosphere, conventionally set at 100 km above Earth, and re-enters Earth’s atmosphere (slowing down its speed) to hit the target.

    d)That the payload was set at 50 ton, one can safely assume that the BM is devised for carrying multiple warheads (smaller, more efficient than a single heavy warhead).

    e)There is no fun in being jubilant about the distance achieved, be it 5000 or 10000km/miles when we consider that China has entered this game long before us and will have its own Anti-Ballistic Missile Defence that could knock of the incoming Indian ICBMs either in Space, half- way or at atmospheric levels. China was able to knock off its own satellite in Outer Space as a demo of its space-tech prowess many years ago that made the U. S. furious. Nor do we possess the sophisticated zigzag trajectory capability of Russia’s Topol M Missiles that can pierce through the Chinese ABM system.

    (Over 5 or 8 years ago Russia announced its Topol-M technology inducted into its defence network and claimed it can successfully pierce the NATO defences with these superb missiles against which NATO has no counter. That got the then new NATO member Poland nervous and there were widespread protests in Poland against the US Missile Defence shield.)

    Eventually, if the current developments are any indication, and the reported fact that China has moved a certain portion of its nukes to India’s Eastern borders after India’s thermonuclear explosions of 1998, India seems pushed to expand its SLBM-loaded submarine fleet to Eastern seas and Indian Ocean, which would mean an ill-affordable heavy drainage on India’s budget. It’s a good start that both India and China has adopted a nuclear no-first use policy. Hence in mutual economic interests it is worth floating a proposal of a No-War pact with China or at least a treaty prohibiting nuclear no-weapon build up, or placement of such against each other in each other’s neighbourhoods or borders. Promoting one such treaty would be a piece of Indian wisdom and hopefully China will reciprocate with Asian wisdom.

    George Chakko – Former UN correspondent at Vienna International Center (UN), now retiree.
    Vienna, Sept. 28, 2013. Austria.

    • a)Was Agni V conceived as an ICBM or an MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle)

      Cannot say it was conceived as an ICBM because they deny it. From all the statements made, it will be with MIRV. They are now trying to put ambiguity over it by throwing in an Agni 6 with MIRV. The missiles are going to be road mobile canister launched not SILO based most probably to increase the surviveability of the missile.

      India is making the K4 SLBM of 3500 km range and an ICBM range SLBM is certainly the final goal.

      b)Clarity is needed when we talk of target’s distance. Is it the missile’s flight trajectory path or the straight line from India to any Chinese target point wished. (Say if you would place a thread with its cut end placed at some launch spot in India or on international ocean waters on your desk-top Globe and other cut end at the targeted spot in China. The distance measured by this thread piece is strictly speaking not a straight line either.). Here a help from a geodesist is called for.

      c)When calculating BM’s travel time do you take the rotation of Earth against it into your Math.? We shouldn’t forget that in its sub-orbital flight a BM crosses the Earth’s atmosphere, conventionally set at 100 km above Earth, and re-enters Earth’s atmosphere (slowing down its speed) to hit the target.

      To answer both of these, go back to the simple math. After all the earths rotation it splashed down at some points that i mention.

      Even if we consider the earths rotation and the 20 minutes of travel time by the missile, the distance traveled by earth is 500kms at equator level. Guidance systems take it to the target. the distance of 500kms.

      Still to a layman, the total distance traveled from Wheeler Island to somewhere near south of Australia is what has to be considered.

      d)That the payload was set at 50 ton, one can safely assume that the BM is devised for carrying multiple warheads (smaller, more efficient than a single heavy warhead).

      The total weight of the missile is 50 Tons not the payload (warhead). That is 1.5 tons. From what I gather, each Indian thermonuke weighs 400kgs (speculative) for a 200-250kt yield) So there is a scope to have 3 MIRVs with decoys.

      As for the rest of the point mentioned, China may have done an ASAT test, its still not the same as the ABM. China still does not have fool proof ABM. Even if it does, it doesnt mean we dont make weapons to give us capability to defend ourselves.

      From what i have read, India is making Maneuverable Re-entry vehicles to beat missile defence.

      I can understand your point about draining of resources to make these weapons, but India’s economy is growing (in spite of slowdown which is temporary). The cost of making these missiles is far lesser in India than it is in the west. Speculative cost of each Agni V is $6-8million while we are projected to spend $20billion for 120 Rafales working out to $165million a piece including weaponry. So the ICBM actually presents a cheap option of defence

      • Thanks for your prompt reply and the kind corrective info. I seem refreshed with a somewhat balanced picture.One or two things I may add with a minor correction.

        When I pointed to Chinese ABM I did not mean that we don’t have or intend not to have or are not working towards an ABM of our own. Our collaboration with Israel and slight help from Russia we will have it one day forced by the strategic follow-up logic. What I meant is that since we have no minimal or accurate knowledge on China’s ABM capabilities we are not in a position to surmise how many of our BM sorties will reach their targets accomplishing their mission, hence the question of how many of BMs and types of them we need to manufacture to assure a minimum success range, thus tossing up a defence planning problem.

        With the huge land space available Russia must have tested the success of Topol-M missiles against their own Missile Defence (MD) it has built around Russia (to counter Nato) in their own backyard, before announcing its induction into its armed forces. We are not in that exclusive position till we’ve successfully developed an MD/ABM of our own and tested for success.

        My own “esoteric” theory is that Missiles will take the centre stage in primacy and priority of all future high-tech wars. Already unmanned vehicles have substituted deployment of human soldiers and so will missiles usurp the position of expensive fighter jets and possible also of aircraft careers. Unmanned SLBM- loaded fast submarines could one-day make manned submarines redundant. Hence SLB missiles and a fool proof MD and ABM systems are the ones to concentrate on.

        That alternative could save monstrous “obscene” costs for a poor country like ours. Only, if by chance the electronics fails, or becomes defective, you can write off the war. And we are not strong in electronics as the Chinese are in hardware solid state electronics research, thanks to microelectronics technology discreetly stolen, or silently or inadvertently pumped into mainland China by Japanese, Taiwanese (American) hardware producers. Only now have we woken up asking Japan to invest in hardware electronics in India.

        I may sound fantasy-buoyed or science-fiction-like to foretell, few decades henceforth, we shall witness several convoys of multifarious sorts of missile fleets pass by the Indian President without a single live soldier march past in a Republic Day parade !

        George Chakko, Vienna, September 30, 2013

  • To Yusuf – A self-correction

    Sorry, I seem to suffer a bit from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)that while writing my comment 2 awful errors crept in !
    Error 1. Under point c)it should correctly read “rotation of Earth along the missile flight path”, and not “rotation of Earth against it” (opposite direction!).

    Error 2. In the last but 4 th line of the last para it should read “..a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapon build up” and not “..nuclear no-weapon build up..” (meaning the opposite !).

    My apology for the ADD.

    George Chakko, Vienna 30 th September, 2013 12.00 hrs.

  • vishwajeet

    This is the comment given by DRDO chief Avinash Chander on being asked about range of AGNI-5.

    He said “Range is the least problematic area. We have the full capability to go to any range…it’s just a question of additional propellant and larger motors. But, as of now, we don’t see the need for a higher range”.

    Also most of the defense information are kept secret.

    • Define what you mean by range? For strategic value, range is concomitant with speed? 20 mts for 2000 km, of what length, for what power? So, if you believe bigger motor and fuel will reach the target, then do it, independent of range! You cut down the time. Who hits whom faster?. Forget not, we are talking about ballistic missiles, an operation that presupposes space factors.
      Pak will go in for cruise missiles sent from their new China-helped strategic harbour in Arabian Sea to hit Mumbai the fastest. How are you going to stop that? China is slowly getting on to our nerves, but the Chinese believe, they are smart. Let them. Forget not, slow and steady wins the race!
      I suggest GoI should organise international pressures to force Pak to annul its first-use of nuclear weapons vis a vis India. If Pak rejects it, India should notify both China and Pakistan that any first-use by Pakistan will lead to simultaneous destruction of both China and Pakistan, as China is primitively,and principally responsible for nuclear bomb proliferation into Pakistan. To get China effectively earnest, Indian nuclear SLC/BM needs to scout around Chinese shores without American backup.

      Alternatively, India can adopt a selective nuclear first-use against Pakistan and a no-first use against China. All these aggressive and pseudo-aggressive options will never have a back-up from Indian philosophy.

      The strategic logic implicit here shall not get us Peace. Hence, why not a no-war pact between China, India and Pakistan with the ultimate goal of abolishing all nuclear weapons in all three?

      George Chakko, Vienna, 7 th October, 2013

  • To Yusuf
    Thanks for the info. Titanium alloys could help us build stronger but lighter motors. A Russian collaboration here seems unavoidable as Russia has plenty of the material and the technology. Speed increase will depend on propellant quality too.

    In an overall defence-preparedness context let me end touching upon a die-hard conspicuous issue – the Chinese double-face and Pak double-speak that got entrenched in both nations’ political and military dealings with India. Some might even call it an undying mental illness of a political sort. The Chinese premier said in New Delhi that China will not do anything to harm India. No sooner he landed in Pakistan the day after India visit he greeted Pak as an “iron” friend and fulfilled Nawaz Sharif’s baggage of military requests covering various offensive missiles including SLMs when Sharif visited Beijing. Pakistan seems to have a talent to say one thing to soothe India and in the same breath thinks and executes just the opposite simultaneously in reality. The former Pak Air Marshall Aslam Beg once said (decades ago publically) – “We should bleed India via Kashmir” which is what Pak policy is even today. Why can’t Nawaz Sharif put an end to Pak killings in Kashmir if he is that genuine about better relations with India?

    It is no more the problem of when to believe both and when not to believe, but more the truth that both have lost credibility in India’s psyche. India’s only hope seems, despite the overwhelming number of madrassas in Pakistan, a big majority of modern-educated young Pakistanis will someday emerge who would be genuinely sincere and India-friendly. Whether the same will ever follow with Chinese youth, we wouldn’t know now. I suppose that could work only if the envisaged people-to-people contacts between Chinese and Indian youth starts and matures, which in turn will depend on whether China will stop arming the Indian Maoists once and for all.

    George Chakko, Vienna, Oct. 8, 2013, Austria.

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