Agni-III is capable of carrying warheads weighing up to 1.5 tonnes, is 16 meters tall and weighs 48 tonnes. Agni-I is a 750-800 km short-range missile. Agni-II has a range of more than 1,500 km. Both have already been inducted in the armed forces. Agni-III is capable of reaching strategic targets deep inside China like Beijing and Shanghai. The third member of the family, Agni-III, will be rail-mobile and has a still higher range. Although the Agni-II does reach deep into China it still does not threaten its major cities. As of early 1999 India was reportedly developing a longer-range Agni-III with a 3,500-km reach, capable of engaging targets deeper inside China.
A miniaturised submarine-launched version of the Agni-III called Agni-III SL is also being developed. Agni-III makes it possible to bring even Beijing and Shanghai within India's strike range. The 16.7-meter high Agni-III is a totally new system, with a massive lift-off weight of 48 tons, unlike the much lighter Agni-I (12 tons) and Agni-II (17 tons) missiles. DRDO designed and built an all-new rocket configuration, compared to the earlier versions. The Agni III missile was a stubby and shorter version of Agni II, but packed almost twice the rocket power. DRDO had developed two new solid fuel motors. It had also incorporated an advanced flex nozzle capability for guidance control.
Unlike Agni-I and Agni-II, the Agni-III missile is said to have been designed and optimised to carry lighter 200 KT thermonuclear weapons. Although India has claimed that this missile will be used only to carry a conventional warhead, the cost of the system would be difficult to justify unless used as a nuclear delivery vehicle.
Initially it was planned that India would be test firing Agni-III, its nuclear-capable missile with the longest-range (over 3,000 km), by the end of 2005. Speaking at the June 2005 awards ceremony of DRDO Dr M Natarajan, DRDO Chief, said that development of Agni-III was on schedule and it would fly by the end of the year. Test firing of Agni-III, the surface-based, solid and liquid propellant ballistic missile, had been rescheduled twice. The Agni-I (700-800 km) and Agni-II (over 2,000 km) missiles are being inducted into the Army.
The Indian government had announced that it would not test Agni-III, due to India's familiar 'self-imposed restraint'. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee also said, "As responsible members of the international community, we want to keep our international commitments on non-proliferation". The first test of the two-stage, solid-fuelled Agni-III on 09 July 2006 from the integrated test range on Wheeler Island off the coast of Orissa failed, with engineers losing control of the missile over the Bay of Bengal barely 65 seconds into its flight. A faulty component in the guidance system threw the missile off course.
The next day, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had scheduled the fourth launch of the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV). A malfunctioning strap-on motor on the first stage of the rocket had knocked the launcher off course. The twin failures of the Agni III missile and the GSLV satellite launcher were a downturn for Indian rocketry and caused delays in the plans of the country's two premier research programs. Unlike the rocket programs of many other countries, there does not appear to be any significant relationshipw between these two Indian programs.
The second test on 12 April 2007 proved successful during its entire flight path of 15 minutes. India successfully test fired its nuclear-capable intermediate range ballistic missile Agni-III from the Interim Test Range(ITR) at the Wheeler's Island in the Bay of Bengal off the Orissa coast, nine months after its first launch failed. The indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile, blasted off at 10.52am from a fixed platform with the help of an auto launcher in the launch complex-4 of the ITR, located about 72 km from Balasore. The sleek missile vertically roared into the clear sky leaving behind a thick column of white and yellow smoke, eye witness accounts said. A four-hour "range count down" for the test-firing of the Agni III began at six am in the morning. The missile was likely to be fired before noon. The range count-down can be put on hold if any snag was found in the missile and commence again after the same was rectified. Three minutes before the blast-off, there would be a hold in the range countdown process and an "auto launch sequence" would takeover so that a network of computers in the main control station could check all the health parameters of the missile as well as its sub-systems and allow the missile to move forward.
On May 7, 2008 India successfully test-fired its 3,000 km range Agni-III missile for the second time, giving the country a capability to hit targets as far as deep inside China. The all solid fuel missile took off from Wheelers Island off Orissa coast at 09:56 hrs and achieved its full range and accuracy by reaching its pre-designated target in 800 seconds. "The missile is now ready for induction," jubilant DRDO scientists told reporters after the missile achieved its target in a copy-book style. Other sources suggested that with the third test being successful, the ballistic missile would require just one or two more tests before it can go for limited series production and training trials by the armed forces. Its operational deployment should be possible by 2010-2011.
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