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June 2, 2022
India Announces Successful Agni-5 Test

Eric Auner

The Indian government announced on April 19 that it had successfully conducted the first test of the nuclear-capable Agni-5 ballistic missile.

The Agni-5 is the first Indian ballistic missile capable of reaching almost the entire Chinese landmass, including Beijing, as well as the Middle East. India was already capable of reaching all of Pakistan, India’s other nuclear-armed neighbor, with its existing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

The three-stage Agni-5 is solid fueled and can carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers, according to news reports. The missile was fired from Wheeler Island, off the eastern coast of the country.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the test “another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science.” Singh said that he hoped the scientists involved with the Agni-5 would continue to promote “self-reliance in defense and other walks of national life.” India has long emphasized domestic development of advanced military technologies.

The Agni-5, which is road and rail mobile, according to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is the latest in the Agni series of ballistic missiles, which have had progressively longer ranges. The deployed Agni-3 has a range of 3,000 kilometers. India tested the Agni-4, which has a range of 3,500 kilometers, last November. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

The DRDO, which is the main Indian government entity responsible for developing new advanced military technologies such as ballistic missiles, issued a press release that said the Agni-5’s “composite Rocket Motors have performed well and made India completely self-reliant.” Other indigenous technologies incorporated into the missile included the “Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System” and the “Micro Navigation System,” according to the press release.

In an April 19 U.S. Department of State press briefing, spokesman Mark Toner reiterated his previous statement that the United States “urge[s] all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding their nuclear and missile capabilities” while recognizing India’s “solid nonproliferation record.”

An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) typically is defined as being able to carry a given payload a distance of 5,500 kilometers or more. Given its declared range of 5,000 kilometers, the Agni-5 would be considered an intermediate-range ballistic missile. Media reports and analysts in India and elsewhere have described the Agni-5 as either an ICBM or long-range missile. India could extend the range of the Agni-5 by using a payload lighter than 1,500 kilograms. Generally, nuclear-capable missiles have a payload capacity of 500 kilograms and higher.

Official reaction from Pakistan has been muted. According to a Pakistani official speaking at a press briefing held after the launch, India had informed Pakistan of the launch, consistent with an agreement between the two countries on prenotification of ballistic missile launches.

Pakistan tested the Shaheen-1A nuclear-capable ballistic missile on April 25, according to a press release from the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Public Relations office. The release did not state the range of the missile, but analysts said it was approximately 700 kilometers.

China, with which India fought a war in 1962, has not reacted strongly to the test. In an April 19 statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said, “China and India are cooperative partners rather than competitive rivals.” The Chinese state-owned Global Times, however, published an editorial soon after the test, warning that “India should not overestimate its strength” and that India “would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.”

Some Chinese analysts have claimed that the Agni-5 actually has a range of 8,000 kilometers, according to the Indo-Asian News Service.

In a piece on the website of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a think tank affiliated with the Indian government, Abhijit Singh wrote that the test may “end up impacting the balance-of-power equation in the subcontinent” as well as “the broader India-China relationship.”

India is not party to any international agreement that limits its ability to develop and test ballistic missiles. When India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1172, which condemned the tests and called on both countries to “cease development” of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Both countries have developed and tested nuclear-capable ballistic missiles since the resolution’s passage.

Meira Kumar, the speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament’s lower house, called the Agni-5 test “a major leap forward in India’s missile technology and military deterrent capabilities,” according to the Economic Times, an Indian newspaper. Nitin Gadkari, leader of India’s largest opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “congratulated the DRDO scientists for this proud milestone” in a statement on the BJP’s website.

DRDO Chief Controller for Research and Development W. Selvamurthy told the Indian television program Headline Today that the Agni-5 can carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. He said that this capability has been “proven” but was not “demonstrated” during this most recent trial.

Five countries currently possess ICBMs: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. North Korea unsuccessfully attempted to launch a satellite into orbit on April 13 (see page 29). That test, which was widely seen as a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test, was met with international condemnation, including from the United States.

India is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the international group that coordinates export controls for missile technology. The Obama administration is supporting Indian membership in the MTCR and other regimes that limit exports of sensitive technology. (See ACT, December 2010.)

The MTCR does not limit partner nations’ own missile testing and deployments. However, since 1993 the United States has had a policy of requiring that countries joining the group to adhere to the regime’s key missile-range restrictions for their own missiles as well.