August 26, 2014

Agni 6 (Agni VI) Why would India want to develop a 10,000 km Range ICBM?

The white lines represent the 10,000 km range (with a 500kg warhead?) of an Agni 6 (Agni VI) ICBM. The minimum and main Indian objective is the ability for at least one Agni 6 to deploy 3 tonnes of warheads from one missile onto Chinese northeast coast cities. The inner red circle is the 4,000 km range (with one tonne warhead?) of an Agni 4 (Agni IV) which may be operational in 2017. India's now operational Agni 3 (Agni III) can just reach Beijing with one 500 kg (no MIRV yet) warhead.
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The flight of the 3 booster-stage Agni 6 with several MIRVs. Note that chaff might also be released to confuse anti-missle defence sensors including radar and perhaps satellite electro-optical.
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Agni 6 (Agni VI)'s likely specifications are total weight 55,000 kgs, height 17-20 meters, 1.1 - 2.0 metre diameter, 3 stage rocket boosted. Launched from semi-hidden transporter erector launcher (TEL) truck, or disguised rail car. 
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The short answer to "Why would India want to develop a 10,000 km Range ICBM?" is India may  develop ICBMs each able to launch several  warheads (MIRVs) (all up weighing 3 tonnes) capable of reaching northeast China - around 4,000 km from central India.

A basic law of physics is that due to gravity and momentum there is an inverse relationship between the weight of a warhead and the range of a missile. If the same rocket boosters (better with a slower burning propellant) for the heavy load were used for a light load, amounting to one 500kg warhead, then the range of that warhead may be 10,000 km.

Ranges involve capabilities even if India has no intentions about friendly countries. The 10,000 km range would bring the capitals of three of the other major nuclear powers into range. Such a long range increases flexibility, important for deterrence. For political reasons India probably does not wish to talk about longer range ICBMs - with 13,000 km capable of reaching all nuclear powers.

India has a right to defend itself. Having nuclear missiles with equal capabilities to the missiles of other great powers is important.

India wishes the 10,000 km range missile, known as the Agni 6 (Agni VI), to have characteristics equal to (parity with) the latest ICBMs of India's main nuclear opponent, China. China's latest ICBM under development is the DF-41 (Dongfeng-41) which will have the range to hit any capital of its nuclear opponents, including London and Washington DC. A December 2014 report indicated that China conducted the full test of the DF-41 involving MIRVs The DF-41 has an estimated range of 12,000km and “can carry up to 10 warheads, which separate from the rocket body during the final, third stage of flight and target individual cities. The military has previously carried out tests of the DF-41 but these probably involved only a single warhead”.

10,000 km range would also allow India to target SSBNs or warships (especially China's) attempting to hide as far out as the southern Indian Ocean and central Pacific Ocean. This is assuming India develops ICBM guidance systems (like China's DF-21D) against warships and submarines. India would wish that its Agni 6 would have at least the range of China's JL-2 SLBM (currently estimated as 8,000 kms).


The Agni 6 will be an evolutionary development of the Agni series of long range Indian ballistic missiles developed following the test of India's first nuclear device (1974).

Carrying multiple warheads (10 is the usual upper limit) on one missile is the most economical way to deploy warheads and such a deployment is more difficult to defeat with anti-missile defences. These multiple warheads are known as Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). Along with live warheads light decoys can be carried (to draw off some anti-missile missiles) and various types of "chaff" (to confuse radar defences).

Agni 6  may be first tested in 2017 . Testing may last 4 years to 2021. Then in-service, operational around 2023 or later.

If India has developed fusion boosted fission weapons (like Joe-4) the yield of a single warhead missile may be up to 400 kT). If India has developed two-stage thermonuclear weapons - then each MIRV warhead may well have a yield between 100 to 250kt.

Cross reference this article with many concerning the Agni series including:

The Second Agni 5 Test, Any MIRV? September 16, 2013

China's, India's and Pakistan's Future Nuclear Rivalry August 12, 2013

Indian Strategic Weapons Programs - Gradual Progress, July 3, 2013

Agni 5's First Test in April 2012, April 27, 2012

Pete

15 comments:

jbmoore said...

There is another reason for so much power. Launching heavy payloads into orbit. ICBMs are dual use vehicles. The first manned rockets were repurposed ICBMs.

Good article, Pete, but you you missed the dual use angle.

Pete said...

Hi JB

Its true that India's ICBMs contain technology that has "dual use" civilian applications.

This not only includes rocket engines - such as for the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geosynchronous_Satellite_Launch_Vehicle_Mk_III - but also guidance, mission control methods and super computer backup.

The Indian scientists who develop rocket engines frequently have dual-use careers in the civilian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Space_Research_Organisation and the military http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_Research_and_Development_Organisation .

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

If India can send probe to Moon and now to Mars, then they can reach any place on earth. Dont get worried about ICBM.

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous

Yes there is the 'comforting" thought that an Indian ICBM warhead can reach anywhere on Earth.

Still a missile must have a decently heavy payload, capable of carrying MIRVs to defeat-saturate anti-missile defences.

There are also accuracy requirements that are different from a space probes'.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to be neutral , India is peaceful country and is poised to become one of the superpower . Such ICBM are just status symbol speaking strategically .

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous

ICBMs (a development path to SLBMs) probably constitute India's highest priority defence program.

If India were only seeking status symbols then much larger aircraft carriers would be the highest priority program.

Against the growing nuclear arsenal of China ICBMs (being vulnerable-land based) serve as first strike weapons (no matter what India's "second strike only" policy says).

ICBMs, once miniturised, perform an even more important role as SLBMs in India's future nuclear submarines (SSBNs). In submarines these missiles WILL BE second strike weapons and no doubt will be India's most important weapons.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Indian scientists already said they are capable of making 12000 plus km range ICBM they have the required technology but to make it or not its purely with government. As of now India has no threat beyond China that's why India never took long range ICBM very serious. India is a very peaceful country it never promotes war but if any other attackes then we need to respond back for safety of billions of ppl living in india , India is a true democratic country with responsible policies for peace like Non First Use of nuclear weapons so use of weapons will be our last option in any situation. But I believe India should build 16000 km plus ICBM just to keep a status that nobody should think its easy to attack us. Keeping deadly weapons with us will make others think twice before doing any mistake of attack. So weapons gives us a sense of security. These weapons are needed to maintain peace in the world.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

I do not doubt any of your statements or reason. India (like democracies of France, UK and US) has a right to defend itself. That right means capable nuclear weapons with the maximum range and flexibility. This promotes deterrence.

India is large enough geographically (unlike UK and France) to strategically hide nuclear missiles on truck or train TELs. Such TEL mounted missiles need maximum range. The more usual alternative or supplement of medium range SLBMs will probably take 2 decades, I assume.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous (of Feb 11, 2015)

You'll see that I have just altered the text - less on India's targets and more on China's developing MIRV capabilities.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

I m above Anonymous of Feb 11, I have seen your reply thanks for your opinions. I have few questions to ask you about submarines, what is actually air indepentant propulsion system of non nuclear submarine. There are many types of AIPS technology in the world and few are under development too so can you tell me which is best among these. And is it possible for a submarine with AIPS system to perform same like a nuclear submarine. I heard recently in a article talking abt future desiel submarine will be capcable like nuclear submarine with support of latest AIPS system.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

I'll explain what AIP is in an article in a few days. Meanwhile the first few paragraphs of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air-independent_propulsion are very useful.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

India's may simply want a deterrent against all countries that can attack it. It does not matter if the US or the UK is democratic or not, because that didn't stop their armed intervention in 71 against India's liberation of Bangladesh, which apparently was stopped by the Soviet Union nuclear subs. India has every right to protect itself especially when it not only has hostile neighbours like China, It has countries like US that have sanctioned it and sent an armed warships to prevent India from stopping the Pakistan genocide in East Pakistan which was inundating India with millions of refugees.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [2/4/16 1:43 AM]

No problem with India's nuclear deterrent. India should have become a Permanent (P5) Member of the UN Security Council in 1945 (but British Empire history prevented this). The P5 Club decided amongst themselves that only they could NNPT-legally have the Bomb.

I understand China's defeat of Indian units in the 1962 border war was another reason why India later nuclear armed. See http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India/IndiaSmiling.html "In keeping with the great secrecy involved in India's efforts to develop and test its first nuclear explosive device, the project employed no more than 75 scientists and engineers working on it in the period from 1967 to 1974."

Note "1967" is before the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh war.

Also Indian intelligence knew long before 1971 that Pakistan wanted to build the Bomb - so India needed to build it first.

Regards

Pete

GhalibKabir said...

IMHO, Agni 5 and K-4, K-5 are being planned for being/already being MIRVed or MRVed for the future. As it is well known, the one Indian bomb that works well is the tritium boosted fission device in the arsenal with realistic war time yields of 100 kT (some say 200 kT, I go by blast yields on the conservative side and assume 100 kT realistically). A minimal 4 MIRV missile will then be able to deliver 400 kT.

Considering the trend in China and globally, of shifting away from Megaton warheads, MIRV/MRV will make the 4x100-8x100 kT MIRV 8000 km Agni 5/ 7000 km K-5 truly capable deterrent weapons.

A K-5 can strike Shanghai from Kavaratti--- 400 km from India's Western Shores or Beijing from Northern Pacific or Cocos Islands in the IOR. A S-5 SSBN or S-3 Aridhaman carrying upto 8-12 K-5s will be a useful third leg of the N triad.

the agni 6 will be at best an ego booster...

Peter Coates said...

Hi GhalibKabir

For India to develop MIRVs it would need to test them. Such a test would involve boosting them into high altitude positions that would easily be detected by Western spy satellites. I have not seen any evidence of Indian MIRV testing.

Another SLENDER possibility is that Russia (and/or maybe Israel [1] or France) has assisted India so much with MIRV designs and hardware that India feels so assured of a MIRV capability that it has decided not to test its MIRVs.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jericho_(missile)#Jericho_III

Regards

Pete