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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


In May 1989, India test-fired its first intermediate-range ballistic missile, the Agni. It is a two-stage missile with the first stage using the first-stage solid-fuel booster motor of the SLV-3 satellite launch vehicle. This marked the first time that India had used directly a component of its civilian space research program for military purposes. (12)The second stage is possibly a shortened version of the Prithvi. (13)The 18-meter long, 7.5-ton Agni has a range of up to 2,500 km (allowing access to southern China) and is capable of delivering a 1,000-kg payload. Although accuracy is reduced with increased range, the Agni is believed to be fairly accurate, employing a closed-loop inertial guidance system, said to have been developed with a great deal of West German assistance. (14) The second experimental flight of Agni was conducted in May 1992 but the mission objective could not be achieved fully. The post flight analysis was carried out and necessary modifications were incorporated for the next flight test. A second successful test of the Agni occurred in February 1994, firing at a sea-based target 1,200 km into the Bay of Bengal. The next flight of Agni in 1994 was tested at a trajectory designed to simulate a range of 2500km, with an actual range achieved of 1450km.

In 1994, the United States persuaded India to suspend testing of the Agni missile after three test flights.

India refered to the Agni not as a weapon system but as a "technology demonstrator project" to establish re-entry vehicle technologies. (15) As with the Prithvi, the U.S. has opposed the program as another potential proliferation affront to the MTCR, which India has criticized as biased in favor of the major powers. Notwithstanding its justifications for the Agni development, India formally suspended the program at the end of 1995. (16) Whether the suspension is real and the result of diplomatic pressure, technical problems, or other factors, is not evident. India may have decided to put the Agni under wraps until it decides the larger related issue of whether to test nuclear (perhaps thermonuclear) warheads for its missiles in the face of US and other diplomatic pressures to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the ratification process for which began in the fall of 1996. India indicates that it won't sign the Treaty unless the five major nuclear powers commit to a nuclear disarmament timetable. (Pakistan, understandably, won't sign the Treaty unless India does.) (17) In March 1997 Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda indicated that India would not give up the development of the Agni missile programme, a position echoed in July by Defense Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who denied that India had any immediate plans to further test fire the Agni missile. (17a)

India's turning point came when an openly pro-nuclear government took office in March 1998. The new coalition elected to power pledged, in the words of A.B. Vajpayee, to "exercise all options, including the nuclear option." The new government announced that a new version of the Agni with an extended range was under development.

As of early 2000 it was suggested that there were between 5 and 9 Agni-1 missiles in existence, at least 1 or 2 Agni-2 and 2 prototypes of the Agni-3. These were all test models which could be fitted with warheads and used in an emergency. BDL has the capacity to produce up to 12 Agni IRBMs per year. It was believed as of early 2000 that no real production had taken place since neither the Agni-1 or the Agni-2 was the definitive production variant of the Agni system.

  • The Indian Drive towards Weaponization: the Agni Missile Program - By Michael Kraig - May 2000

  • 12. Gary Milhollin, "India's missiles with a little help from our friends," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov 89, pp. 31-35.
  • 13. Jane's Defence Weekly, 3 June 89, p. 1052.
  • 14. Gary Milhollin, "India's missiles with a little help from our friends," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov 89, pp. 31-35.
  • 15. "Indians Place Cloak Over Missile Plans," Defense News, 11-17 Dec 95, p. 5.
  • 16. "India puts Agni IRBM program on ice," Jane's International Defense Review, Jan 96, p. 5.
  • 17. "Test Ban Talks At Impass," The Washington Post, 15 Aug 96, p. A29.
  • 17a. INDIA / MISSILES Voice of America 3/4/97 and INDIA MISSILES Voice of America 7/31/97
  • Agni-II missile successfully test fired India Express Sunday, April 11, 1999
  • INDIA MISSILE Voice of America 11 April 1999
  • INDIA / MISSILE Voice of America 11 April 1999
  • Agni-II missile test fired April 11 (UNI):

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