September 11, 2013 By Zachary Keck - Flashpoints
India will conduct a second test of its longest range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile sometime around September 15, according to local media outlets.
On Monday, the Chennai-based The Hindu cited an unnamed official at the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India’s military technology agency, as saying that DRDO is currently preparing for the second test of the Agni-V missile at Wheeler Island. The official said the test would be conducted “around September 15,” presumably depending on how preparations go and weather conditions. The report went on to cite another Indian official as saying that two Indian naval ships were being positioned in the Indian Ocean near the target point of the test.
The Agni-V is a three-stage, solid-fueled missile that can travel 5,000 km while carrying a 1,000 km payload, making it India’s longest range missile. It is often referred to as India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in local media. Although it demonstrates mastery of all the necessary technologies of ICBMs, technically it is only an intermediate ballistic missile as ICBMs have ranges of at least 5,500 km.
India first tested the Agni-V in April 2012. The first test, which was also conducted at Wheeler Island, was successful and garnered a lot of excitement in India, both because of the scientific achievements involved in developing an ICBM-like missile, as well as because the Agni-V will allow India to deliver nuclear weapons to many of China’s major cities for the first time. In light of this, some in India have taken to calling the Agni-V the “China killer.”
Last month The Hindu reported Tessy Thomas, the director of the Agni Missile Project at DRDO, as saying there will be two or three more tests of the Agni-V before the missile is deemed operational in 2015. She also said that the Agni-V, like all of India’s missiles, is a “weapon of peace.”
Back in May, V.K. Saraswat, who at the time was DRDO’s Director-General, confirmed that his organization was modifying the Agni-V to enable it to carry Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). As The Diplomat explained at the time:
“MIRVs enable ICBMs to carry multiple nuclear warheads on a single missile, and strike multiple targets or a single target with greater efficiency. After the last stage of the ICBM boosts off, a MIRVed ICBM will dispense the warheads to their separate or singular targets. Both the Soviet Union and the United States MIRVed their ICBM forces during the 1970s, which complicated arms control agreements moving forward.”
In her comments last month, Ms. Thomas implied that the modifications to allow India to MIRV its Agni-Vs had been completed successfully. This raises the possibility that the upcoming test would use a MIRVed Agni-V, although The Hindu report did not give any indication to suggest that this is the case.