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Friday, April 20, 2012

India Gatecrashes into the ICBM Club

On the quite morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, as the clock was ticking to 8:07, scientists assembled around the massive 50-tonne, 17.5-meter high Agni-V that stood majestically with a girth of 2 meters on the launch pad  at the Wheeler Island, Odisha, started their ‘Vedic’  chanting… 5…4…3…2… of course, in a calm and measured voice, as the surroundings encased in a surreal tension… and to their great relief, as the countdown came to 1 …now… a giant ball of fire leapt out as the missile’s first stage was ignited … and Agni-V took off the launch pad smoothly. 

As the missile was rising, scientists checked the health of its systems, and the viewers watched them go over their routine in a surreal tension. As scheduled, dot on the 90th second after the lift-off, the first stage, having burnt out, separated, while the rest were travelling at the speed at which they should be. Then as the second stage too, having burnt out, separated from the main frame fully burnt, a feeling of “all is well” seeped into the atmosphere, putting everyone at ease with themselves—heart rate fallen to normal.

Within minutes, the missile cruised into space and streaked southwards for 2000 km, then crossing equator journeyed for another 3000 km, after which, reentering the atmosphere over the Tropic of Capricorn, splashed down into the Indian Ocean between the southern tip of Africa and Australia. And all this took just 20 minutes.

“Indian naval vessels tracked the missile all along its course, including at the terminal stage. The accuracy of the missile was exactly as expected”, said the beaming DRDO’s spokesperson. And for Dr. Sarswat, the man who worked his whole life on DRDO’s ballistic missile programme, this was a historic moment. As the sweet news of success was aired across the nation, leaders started congratulating the jubilant scientists on their great achievement.

AK Antony, Defence Minister, congratulated the team of scientists on “the immaculate success” of the Agni-V. He also hailed the efforts of the “numerous unsung scientists of DRDO who have worked relentlessly years together to bring the nation to this threshold”—of placing the Chinese cities on the east coast within the reach of Indian missiles, which, does add strength to the Indian nuclear deterrence.  

That’s for the good side of the news—our scientists and public sector units can deliver the goods despite the government control. But as Dr. VK Sarswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defense Minister, revealed  about his organization’s plans to make Agni-V carry multiple independently targeted warheads, and also generate anti-satellite capability in the coming years, its political implications stared challengingly, if not threateningly, at the political leadership of the nation. China’s media has already dubbed it as a “political missile”.  

However, as former minister for external affairs MC Chagla once observed, however right India might be in its stance, unless it speaks from a position of strength, it will not be heard; this success of Agni-V does give India the strength and courage which it needs to make the world see the sense in its argument. 

No doubt, our scientists have placed in the nation’s hand the much-needed reliable standoff deterrence. But it also casts tremendous responsibility on the nation’s leadership in making the rest of the world understand that its proven ability at equipping itself with mighty lethal weaponry is only to create a deterring effect but not for any offence. 

At the same time, it must go ahead with perfecting Agni-V and its weaponisation process without any glitch and induct it into the armed forces at the earliest without cowing down to international pressures, if any.

Now it is for the leaders to act!

Images Courtesy:,

Keywords: DRDO, Agni-5 , Indian missile system, Indian nuclear deterrence, Dr. Sarswat


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