BENGALURU, India — India is preparing for the first launch of an upgraded version of the Agni-II missile.
Known as the Agni-II Plus, Agni-II Prime or A2, this nuclear-capable missile was developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
The surface-to-surface missile can hit targets at ranges between 2,500 km. and 3,000 km. (1,550-1,860 mi.), bridging the gap between the 2,500-km.-range Agni-II and 3,000-km.-range Agni-III missile.
It is currently scheduled for a December launch, and top scientists from DRDO’s missile complex in Hyderabad already have started preparations at Wheeler Island, off the Orissa Coast.
Sources tell AVIATION WEEK that the Agni-II Prime will be an improvement in terms of accuracy, distance and strength. “The launch preparations are on,” an official says. “This is part of DRDO’s extended campaign in December as we have scheduled some more launches.”
The A2 will be most likely test-fired for the first time on Dec. 8. “The dates might [slip], but the launch is [certainly] soon,” the official says.
In addition to the ability to carry extra fuel, the A2 will have a new motor in its re-entry vehicle for better maneuverability and increased range, a flex nozzle in the second stage to avoid anti-ballistic missile defenses and an improved navigation system.
The makers of the A2 at DRDO’s Advanced System Laboratory (ASL) in Hyderabad refuse to give any details of the missile launch. The A2’s launch follows a Nov. 25 Agni-1 test-firing by India’s Strategic Forces Command as part of user trials.
In an interview for AVIATION WEEK’s India Thought Leaders series, ASL Director Avinash Chander says that India’s aim is not to create mass nuclear weapons, but to create deterrence. “We must be adequate enough to survive the first strike and we must be ready with an adequate response,” Avinash says.
With the stage set for the A2 launch, all eyes are on Tessy Thomas, DRDO’s project director and India’s first woman scientist to head a missile program. She was appointed to lead A2 in May 2008, having previously served on the Agni-III project as an associate director.
The A2 program also is significant for DRDO as the majority of scientists working on this mission are relatively young. “This is the DRDO of tomorrow and we are not hesitant to hand over national programs to people who can deliver,” an official says. “A2’s success is sure to write a new chapter in India’s missile program.”
By Anantha Krishnan M./AviationWeek
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