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Inside India's newest missile project
George Iype in Kochi
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October 18, 2005

These days, the top brass of India's defence ministry and key scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation often get together to discuss how far an Indian missile can go.

The discussions seem to be bearing fruit.

Flush with the success of the medium-range ballistic missile Agni, India is now developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, better known as an ICBM. delves deep into this unique -- and perhaps the most prestigious -- missile programme that India has embarked upon indigenously.

What is this ICBM programme that India is working on?

It is a three-stage ballistic missile that DRDO, along with a number of defence agencies in the country, is working hard on.

The missile will have solid fuel rockets in the first and second stages, and a liquid propellant rocket in the third stage.

The launch weight of the missile may reach 270 to 275 tonnes. The missile could have a 5,480 pound to 7,680 pound releasable front section with two to three warheads of 15 kilo tonne to 20 kilo tonnes each.

The ICBM is being developed by combining the technology of the Agni II with that of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. It is expected to have a range of more than 8,000 km.

When did India moot the production of such a missile?

In May 1998, DRDO and its then chief A P J Abdul Kalam, now the President of India, became symbols of national pride thanks to the Pokhran nuclear tests.

Four months later, the government entrusted DRDO with the Rs 20 billion (Rs 200 crore) ballistic missile defence project.

This is perhaps the most ambitious programme that DRDO has embarked upon. It would need to integrate the Russian-made anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile systems, which the army and air force are planning to induct, with an Israeli fire control radar.

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Is the project part of the India's integrated guided missile development programme?

Yes, development of the ICBM is part of the integrated guided missile development programme and the nuclear submarine programme that DRDO has engaged in over the years.

It is meant to lay India's foundation of strategic missile programme and security stability.

What does the integrated guided missile development programme comprise?

It comprises five core systems. The Agni IRBM and Prithvi series of missiles have already been developed in close association with India's space industry.

Other programmes are the surface to air missile Trishul, the medium-range missile Akash and the anti-tank guided missile Nag.

In addition, India is developing the Sagarika, a submarine-launched cruise missile with a range of about 300 km. The biggest project among these is the development of the ICBM.

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What is the ICBM going to be called?

DRDO scientists have code-named it Surya.

When will the ICBM be ready?

According to officials involved in the project, the ICBM is likely to be test-fired by 2008. They expect it to be added to the Indian armed forces' deterrence arsenal by 2015.

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Why does India want to test-fire the Surya as early as possible?

First, there is consensus among India's political parties on the need to enhance the country's missile defence capabilities. Experts say future warfare will be heavily dependent on missiles.

Second, India's neighbouring nations are bristling with missiles. Pakistan has developed and tested a number of missiles including the Hatf-1 and Hatf-2 missiles. China has an arsenal of short and long-range missiles. China is far ahead of others in the missile race in the region as it has already done two-test flights of the Dong-Feng-31 and Julang-2, a combined ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile.

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Given DRDO's slow pace in executing major defence works, will the deadline stand?

Given DRDO's track record, not many believe the ICBM project will meet the deadline.

For instance, for the last 20 years, DRDO has been building two types of anti-aircraft missiles -- Trishul and Akash.

According to the government's defence plans, these surface-to-air missiles were to have replaced the Russian-supplied OSA-AK and Kvadrat systems by the early 1990s. But the DRDO has been unable to meet the deadlines.

The Trishul project began in 1983. The original deadline was 1992.

DRDO has spent more than Rs 2.6 billion (Rs 260 crores) on the missile, but it is still undergoing trials.


Prithvi-1/ SS-150Ballistic/ Single-stage/ Liquid-engine  Conventional/ nuclear1,000 kg150 kmOperational
Prithvi-2/ SS-250Ballistic/ Single-stage/ Liquid-engine  Conventional/ nuclear500 kg250 kmUndergoing user trials
Dhanush/ Prithvi-3/ SS-350  Ballistic/ Single-stage/ Liquid-engine  Conventional/ nuclearUndisclosed350 kmUndergoing flight tests
Agni Technology DemonstratorBallistic/ Two-stage hybrid/ solid-motor/ Liquid-engineNuclear1,000 kg1,200 km to 1,500 kmSmall number available to army
Agni-IBallistic/ Single-stage/ Solid-motor  Nuclear1,000 kg700 km to 800 kmUndergoing flight tests
Agni-IIBallistic/ Two-stage/ Solid-motor Nuclear1,000 kg2,000 km to 2,500 kmCompleted flight tests
Agni-IIIBallisticNuclearUndisclosed3,000 km to 4,000 kmFlight tests expected this year
BrahMos/ PJ-10Cruise/ Two-stage/ Solid-booster/ Liquid-sustainer engine  Conventional200 kg to 300 kg280 km to 300 kmSerial production to begin this year
SagarikaClass contestedConventional/nuclearUndisclosedUndisclosedExpected to be operational by 2010

India is pumping its arms

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