India's Milestone in Missile Technology: Agni-5 MIRV Test

Image depicting the successful test launch of the Agni-5 missile with MIRV technology, marking a milestone in India's missile capabilities during Mission Divyastra
India's Milestone in Missile Technology: Agni-5 MIRV Test

On March 11, 2024, India achieved a significant milestone in missile technology by successfully testing an Agni-5 ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). This accomplishment places India in an exclusive group of nations, alongside the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, possessing operational missiles with MIRV capabilities.

Mission Divyastra: A Successful Flight Test

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) conducted the successful flight test, named Mission Divyastra, from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha. The mission employed various telemetry and radar stations to track and monitor the multiple re-entry vehicles carried by the Agni-5 missile. The mission was declared a success based on the designated parameters.

Understanding MIRV Technology

MIRV technology, developed during the Cold War era, enables a single missile to deliver multiple nuclear warheads to separate targets. Each warhead is carried in a separate re-entry vehicle and can be programmed to hit a specific target.

Significance of MIRV Success for India

The successful integration of MIRV technology into the Agni-5 missile system has two key implications for India’s strategic capabilities:

  • Enhanced Deterrence: MIRVs make defending against incoming missiles more challenging for adversaries. The presence of multiple warheads and decoys can overwhelm ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, increasing the likelihood of successful strikes on intended targets. This capability strengthens India’s deterrence posture, particularly against China, which possesses BMD capabilities.
  • Increased Payload Capacity: While the exact number of nuclear warheads an Agni-5 MIRV can carry is not publicly disclosed, reports suggest that it can strike at least three different targets spread over a large area. The missile’s payload capacity can be increased if required, allowing for the deployment of additional warheads and decoys.

Agni-5’s Range: IRBM or ICBM?

Officially classified as an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range of 5,000 kilometers, the Agni-5 has indications that its actual range may be greater, potentially qualifying it as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range exceeding 5,500 kilometers. Recent reports suggest that India has been working on reducing the weight of the Agni-5 missile, which could significantly extend its range.

Future Prospects: MIRVs and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles

The successful integration of MIRV technology into the Agni-5 missile system opens up new possibilities for India’s strategic arsenal. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) are particularly well-suited to benefit from MIRVs due to the limited space available on submarines and their higher survivability in the event of a nuclear attack.

Female Power

The project was led by female scientists from DRDO, with Shankari Chandrasekaran as the project director and Sheena Rani as the programme director for Agni-5. At DRDO’s Advanced Systems Laboratory, Sheena Rani led the development of the Agni-5 missile equipped with MIRV technology.

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