Agni IV: India adds more muscle to its deterrence against nuclear-armed neighbours

From a practical and strategic standpoint, the Agni-IV represents India’s most viable deterrent weapon against China until the Agni-V enters full service. As the latter seems to be drawing closer to full induction with two user-associated trials taking place in 2018, there is little doubt that the combination of the Agni-IV and Agni-V provides a quantum leap in India’s deterrence capability.

The Agni-IV – Inducted Deterrence Proven The December 23 2018 test of the Agni-IV ballistic missile is the latest in a series of missile tests aimed at ensuring the credibility of India’s land-based nuclear deterrence while simultaneously providing useful training to the Strategic Forces Command which is inducting the missiles.

Coming on the heels of the Agni-V test of December 10 2018, India has in 2018 alone, conducted SFC launches of the Agni-I, Agni-II, Agni-IV and with two launches of the Agni-V taking place. With a range of 4000km (or possibly more), the Agni-IV represents the successor to the Agni-II.

Earlier known as the Agni-II Prime, the Agni-IV is no larger than its predecessor but has a significantly greater range and, being road mobile, is even more flexible and survivable than the Agni-II. This reflects a greater use of lighter composites and improved solid-fuel propellants and improvements to the guidance system ensure that even at maximum range, the Agni-IV retains a “two-digit” CEP but is a streamlined and noticeably better engineered system as compared to the Agni-II, possessing a much longer range. While its first test in December 2010 was a failure, technical trials on 15th November 2011, 19th September 2012 and 20th January 2014, the latter in full user configuration, were deemed successful. Thereafter, the SFC commenced induction and carried out user trials on 2nd December 2014 and 9th November 2015.

All subsequent tests have been conducted by the SFC and it can be safely assumed that the Agni-IV is inducted and in service. It is expected that the Agni-IV will supplement and then completely replace the Agni-II in production and become the mainstay of the Indian IRBM force. It is also noteworthy that there have been persistent rumours of a canister launched version of the Agni-IV being contemplated.

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From a practical and strategic standpoint, the Agni-IV represents India’s most viable deterrent weapon against China until the Agni-V enters full service. As the latter seems to be drawing closer to full induction with two user-associated trials taking place in 2018, there is little doubt that the combination of the Agni-IV and Agni-V provides a quantum leap in India’s deterrence capability. The Agni-IV entered service with the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) in or around 2014, prior to its first user-associated trial in December 2014.

Since that time, it may be assumed that the Agni-IV is in production and given its thus far trouble free user-trials – three of which have now been conducted – it may also be inferred that the SFC is satisfied with the system and is increasingly comfortable with handling and operating the missile.

The system, being both rail and road mobile, is even more flexible and survivable than the Agni-II. In fact, the Agni-IV is, by virtue of its weight and relative ease of transportation, is a versatile delivery system which can be transported more easily than the larger (though much more capable) Agni-V.

The Agni-IV has been fired out to its full revealed range of 4000km at least twice (19th September 2012 and 20th January 2014). It was fired out to 3500km on 9th November 2015 and for about 3000km on 15th November 2011 and 2nd December 2014. With this demonstrated range, Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai come within the range of the Agni-IV even if the missile is sited in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

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The combination of road and rail mobility gives unprecedented flexibility to the Agni-IV. It is also noteworthy that there have been persistent rumours of a canister launched version of the Agni-IV being contemplated. As with the Agni-V, a hermetically-sealed canister offers the prospect of keeping the missile ready to fire, with a mated warhead.

It is hoped that moves in this direction are taken with alacrity with positive indications emerging (the author has seen requests for launcher and canister components) that such a development will not be long in coming, increasing the already impressive flexibility of the Agni-IV. With respect to warheads, the Agni-IV seems to be deployed with a fusion-boosted-fission weapon with a yield somewhere in the 150-500 kiloton range. These warheads seem to be the standard large-yield designs deployable by the SFC.

To date there have been twelve Agni-II tests, more than a dozen Agni-I tests, eight Agni-III tests, seven Agni-IV tests and seven Agni-V tests. If it is assumed that production commenced after the third successful technical trial, and that user trials would not involve testing more than one in five of any production batch, then it might be suggested that production of each type exceeds twenty missiles.

This might also tally with the rough estimates available for the number of warheads held by India. If it is assumed that between twenty and two dozen of each of the Agni I through IV variants is in service to date, this would give India a deployable strength of perhaps 96 land-based missiles.

 

 

 

 

 

Source:- Financial Express

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