Reign of fire

Discussion in 'Strategic Forces' started by Neil, Nov 29, 2011.

  1. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

    Jun 23, 2010
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    The launch of Agni 5 missile will see India enter the elite ICBM club

    Sometime within the next three months, a missile canister on a mammoth truck in the eastern coast of India will be turned towards the clear sky. From a safe distance, scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation will punch in the launch code, igniting the base of Agni 5, India's first intercontinental ballistic missile. The ignition will generate 3,50,000kg of force, propelling the missile hundreds of kilometres into the outer atmosphere. The payload will then be separated to splash down at extremely high speed into the Indian Ocean, more than 5,000km away from the launch site. The splash will add one more country to the global ICBM club. Scientists say the entire Asiatic landmass will fall within the range of the first Indian ICBM.

    Says Avinash Chander, chief controller (missiles and strategic systems) and programme director, Agni: “As of now, most of India's perceived immediate and potential strategic threats are located within 5,500km. Agni 5 will take care of those concerns.”

    Agni 5 follows the successful launch of Agni 4 from Wheeler Island, off the coast of Orissa, on November 15. Unlike last year when a similar launch had failed, Tessy Thomas, project director of Agni 4 and in-charge of the mission aspect of Agni 5, dashed to the nearest landline at the facility to inform Defence Minister A.K. Antony about the textbook flight. Antony promptly invited her to brief him at the earliest in Delhi.

    “What kept us going despite the setback of last year was the way the seniors kept on motivating us,” says Tessy. “I think that the personal involvement from the Raksha Mantri, [former president] A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Mr Chander is the biggest thing for us at the Advanced Systems Lab in Hyderabad.”

    Tessy's career has soared with the Agni missiles. She joined the Agni team in 1988, a year before Agni Re-Entry Demonstrator project was launched. In the past 23 years, she has handled the mission aspects of Agni 1, 2 and 3, and became leader of the Agni 4 project. “I have nearly 300 people working under me and I make it a point to be available to them at all times,” says she.

    Established in 1958, DRDO began with a humble test of an anti-tank missile system on the banks of the Yamuna river. The organisation, says Chander, got a unique culture and sense of community once Kalam joined in 1982. “We became a community of scientists under him and he made us rope in new people and approach new institutions. As a result, currently, we can coordinate with more than 25 institutes across the country on our state-of-the-art missiles,” says Chander.

    Tessy was among the second generation scientists who came in, leaving a bright academic career that could have taken her around the world to deal with what she terms “classical scientific challenges”. Under Tessy's guidance, a number of young talents have bloomed. G. Satheesh Reddy, who designed the Ring Laser Gyroscope (RLG) for Agni 4 and 
Agni 5, is one such.

    “We are now among the best and have the latest in missile technology,” says Reddy, who is his 30s. According to his colleagues, RLG accelerates the missile and turns it invulnerable to the enemy's anti-ballistic missile system. Cruder gyroscopes are used by ships and aircraft but the ones to be used in high-velocity missiles are special. Scientists at DRDO say that the earlier gyroscopes and the navigation systems in Agni 1, 2 and 3 were of the 1970 generation. “With Agni 4, we have embarked on a new quantum of technology. And with Agni 5, we will perfect the sleeker systems,” says Chander.

    Diplomats at the external affairs ministry, too, say the optical gyroscope of Agni 4 has become a “gamechanger” in the global strategic environment. Apart from RLG, what sets apart Agni 4 and Agni 5 are their higher avionics and their ability to do real-time estimation (on-board improvisation of performance of the missile).
    Unlike Agni 2 and Agni 3, which were rail-mobile, Agni 4 and Agni 5 are road-mobile, thereby making it possible to launch them from anywhere in India. “The trucks carrying the Agni 4 and Agni 5 missiles will be able to speed up to 60kmph giving the missile system minimum signature,” says Chander.

    Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, feels that given India's size, the land-based ICBM will become undetectable to enemy eyes. “Total road length of India is approximately 3.34 million kilometres and the new generation ICBM can be parked anywhere in that road network. This adds a new element in the nuclear triad that India is developing,” says Kanwal.

    Over the years, Agni missiles have become ‘fat-less'. “Past Agni missiles needed a large number of auxiliaries,” says Tessy. “Our challenge at hand was to reduce the operational manpower to just one or two officers, whose sole duty will be to launch the missile from a well-placed location once the coded orders were given. We reduced the number of auxiliaries, and as a result, the auxiliaries have become programmes on board the ICBM.”

    Thanks to the measures, Agni has become sleeker and more efficient. Agni 3 weighed 40 tonnes and had a range of 3,000km. Agni 4 weighs 20 tonnes and travels 3,500km. The lighter components used in the frames of Agni 4 and Agni 5 make possible a high level of flexibility and reach. Also, given that the Agni series uses solid fuel, they can be launched from the high-altitude Himalayan road network as well. “Flexibility, reach, coverage and speed are a few of the features of the latest Agni missiles India is producing,” says Chander.

    Apart from its new features, Agni 5 will be distinguished by the fact that it will be the first indigenous canister-launched missile. Scientists at DRDO are glad that the news of the coming launch of Agni 5 has added to the morale of Indian soldiers. “Our weapons provide cutting edge to the Indian soldier. If soldiers feel confident about our product then that is the biggest reward for us,” says a scientist.

    According to DRDO sources, the sleek, powerful Agni missiles, combined with the strength of the armed forces, will translate to a ‘do-not-mess-with-India' message. V.K. Saraswat, scientific adviser to the defence minister, says the new age missiles will help India put its rivals on notice so that its vital assets are not targeted in the future. “Older, big powers of the world were dependent upon energy and military might. India's powerful status comes from its economic might because of its strengths in IT and manufacturing. Future warfare might target IT and other relevant sectors of Indian economy,” says Saraswat.

    “In the coming days, DRDO will turn the national cyber security infrastructure and encryption process totally impregnable,” he said. Buoyed with the success of the Agni 4 and the optimism for Agni 5, scientists at DRDO say that they can come up with an ICBM of 10,000km to 12,000km range. “Developing that weapon will depend on the decision of the political leaders. But the country should know that we have the technology for building missiles that can strike beyond 12,000km,” says Chander.

    But a cyber virus like Stuxnet, which wrecked the Iranian nuclear programme, is a threat. “We have taken precautions throughout the development process of our first ICBM and have neutralised all cyber threats in the beginning so that the systems like Agni 5 can produce the desired results,” says Saraswat. “We sanitise hardware so that mischief can be avoided. Stuxnet cannot attack our missiles. Software in the missiles is indigenous and therefore cyber attacks cannot take place on strategic assets.”

    What marks Agni 5 special is the political decision to test it. Given the reach of the missile, the strategic community believes, a decision has been taken in the highest level that New Delhi should not economise on projecting its strength. However, with China working on a 3,000km-range super fast missile that can target moving aircraft carriers, a 
new challenge has come up. “We cannot rest on the success of our missiles,” says Saraswat. “Strategic situations are changing fast and we have to be ready for a wide array of challenges.”

    Nation's pride: The Agni team with Saraswat (third from right) at the launch of Agni 4
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2011
    Kunal Biswas likes this.
  3. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

    Sep 28, 2011
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    North Carolina, USA
    The people in the photo appear so mild to be labelled reign of fire.

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