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India successfully carried out the maiden flight test of the locally developed Agni-5 missile with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology


Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced that India successfully carried out the maiden flight test of the locally developed Agni-5 missile with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology, with the new capability allowing the weapon system to deliver multiple nuclear warheads against different targets spreads across hundreds of kilometres, and further strengthening the country’s strategic deterrence capability.

PM Modi also revealed the codename for the historic test, Mission Divyastra (divine weapon), which has propelled India into an exclusive league of countries that have the capability to deploy MIRV missile systems. (PTI File Photo)
PM Modi also revealed the codename for the historic test, Mission Divyastra (divine weapon), which has propelled India into an exclusive league of countries that have the capability to deploy MIRV missile systems. (PTI File Photo)

The PM also revealed the codename for the historic test, Mission Divyastra (divine weapon), which has propelled India into an exclusive league of countries that have the capability to deploy MIRV missile systems, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.

“Proud of our DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) scientists for Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology,” the PM wrote on X.

“Various telemetry and radar stations tracked and monitored multiple re-entry vehicles. The mission accomplished the designed parameters,” the defence ministry said in a statement, calling it a complex mission. The test was carried out from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast.

The first indication of the country’s intention to carry out a long-range missile test came last week when it issued a notice for a no-fly zone over the Bay of Bengal and a stretch of the eastern Indian Ocean region.

China may have been tracking the missile test after India issued the no-fly zone notification, Hindustan Times has learnt.

The Agni-5 missile, which uses a three-stage solid fuelled engine, has a range of more than 5,000 km. MIRVs can cause more destruction than traditional missiles that carry a single warhead. The other variants of the Agni missiles developed by DRDO include the 700-km range Agni-1, the 2,000-km Agni-2, the 3,000-km Agni-3, and 4,000-km range Agni-4.

The Agni-5 MIRV system is equipped with indigenous avionics systems and high accuracy sensor packages, which ensured that the reentry vehicles reached the target points within the desired accuracy, officials aware of the matter said, asking not to be named.

“The capability demonstrates India’s growing technological prowess,” said one of the officials cited above.

“We are often critical of DRDO, but one area where they have shown great progress is in missile technology. We are also seeing China modernising and increasing nuclear warheads in its arsenal. For continued strategic deterrence, we must ensure we do not fall behind,” said strategic affairs expert Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).

The project was steered by a woman scientist of DRDO, and it involved other women scientists too, said a second official, linking the maiden test to the country’s growing Nari Shakti (woman power). To be sure, DRDO’s women scientists have been associated with several critical missile tests.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh also took to X to highlight India’s new capability.

“India today successfully tested Mission Divyastra – the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology and joined the select group of nations who have MIRV. Congratulations to our @DRDO_India scientists and the entire team for this exceptional success. India is proud of them!”

There was no official word on how many warheads the MIRV version of Agni-5 can carry, though military scientists tracking the project pegged the number at four to five.

India’s nuclear doctrine, promulgated in 2003, commits to a ‘no first use’ posture, with weapons to be used only in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or Indian forces. In a stand that reflects the capabilities India has built over the years, the doctrine states nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.

Retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority consisting of a political council and executive council. The Prime Minister chairs the political council, while the national security advisor chairs the executive council.

The country can carry out nuclear strikes with fighter planes, land-launched missiles and from the sea. India completed its nuclear trial in 2018 when the indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant, successfully completed its first deterrence patrol.

The latest test came at a time when two so-called Chinese research and survey vessels are operating in the waters around India, including the Xiang Yang Hong 01 that is in the Bay of Bengal, somewhere between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Sri Lanka. The ship was likely monitoring the Indian test, people aware of the matter said.

The other Chinese vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 03, is a 4,500-tonne ship that docked in the Maldives in February, ostensibly for replenishment and rotation of personnel.

The Xiang Yang Hong 03 went to the Maldives after it was unable to dock in Sri Lanka, which in January declared a 12-month moratorium on allowing foreign vessels to carry out research in the country’s territorial waters. The moratorium was largely the result of pressure on Sri Lanka from India and the US not to allow Chinese spy vessels and warships to dock at Colombo or Chinese-controlled Hambantota port.

The Xiang Yang Hong 03 is now conducting research in waters of the Indian Ocean located between Sri Lanka and the Maldives. There was no word from Indian officials on the development. But people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the Indian side carefully monitors all developments that affect the country’s security and economic interests and will take all measures to safeguard these interests.

Chinese officials have contended that the vessels are conducting legitimate research and berthing in other countries for replenishment. However, the people cited above said the equipment on these vessels, including powerful sonar systems and sensors, allow them to gather up invaluable data for both submarine and anti-submarine operations.

During hydrographic and hydrological surveys, these vessels can collect data on matters such as ocean temperatures and the seabed that can be used for submarine operations. Their presence in waters around India at a time when the country was planning the missile test suggests they were monitoring and tracking the launch, the people said.

Damien Symon, a geo-intelligence researcher at The Intel Lab, said: “The Indian Ocean’s growing geopolitical significance has, over the years, drawn attention from China, which is evident through its increase in maritime research in the region.”

“Oceanographic research, under the guise of scientific and commercial endeavours, assumes a pivotal role in bolstering the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s capabilities with essential data that can enhance submarine warfare tactics as the navigation of submarines rests heavily on the knowledge of complex undersea conditions. Operating in waters around India, these Chinese vessels could also gather insights on possible subsurface routes exploited by the Indian Navy, presenting a challenge to Indian submarines in the region, threatening their covert operational abilities,” he said.

The current operations of the two Chinese vessels follow the docking of the Yuan Wang 5, a vessel used by China to track satellites and ballistic missiles, at Hambantota port in 2022, and the docking of the PLA Navy’s Hai Yang 24 Hao, known to have surveillance capabilities, at Colombo port last year. India and the US had protested to Sri Lanka against the activities of these Chinese vessels.

It is understood that India and the US also worked with other members of the Quad, which also includes Australia and Japan, to take up this issue with Sri Lanka, leading to the moratorium on visits by foreign vessels earlier this year.

THE MIRV PUNCH

The Agni-5 missile, which uses a three-stage solid fuelled engine, has a range of more than 5,000 km

MIRVs can cause more destruction than traditional missiles that carry a single warhead

The new capability will allow the Agni-5 missile system to deliver multiple nuclear warheads against different targets spread across hundreds of kilometres

India completed its nuclear trial in 2018 when the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant, completed its first deterrence patrol

India’s nuclear doctrine, promulgated in 2003, commits to a ‘no first use’ posture, with weapons to be used only in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or Indian forces.

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