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Is India working on Agni-6? What could be the ramifications if it is test fired


New Delhi, July 10: Ballistic missiles play a key role in the international geopolitics. The range and type of warhead a missile can carry determines what is called a sphere of influence of particular nation. Long range nuclear capable missiles are strategic weapons which means that it can not only spook the enemy nation with possible consequences if used, but can also serve as a deterrent. Deterrence, in layman terms, is nothing but planting the fear of retaliation in the mind of the adversary.

Most long range nuclear capable ballistic missiles with advance striking capabilities are developed to serve as deterrents. The basic concept is 'If you strike, I can strike back and wreak havoc', it is this fear that prevents war and hostility.

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Coming to Indian ballistic missiles, Agni-5 is India's most advanced long range missile which was inducted into the service after multiple trials. Whenever Agni series missiles are test fired, especially Agni-4 and Agni-5, a prompt statement comes from both China and Pakistan. The Chinese response to Agni-5 tests are particularly elaborate as this missile can reach almost all parts of the Chinese mainland.

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There have been speculations that India could be working on a longer range ballistic missile - Agni-6. While some reports have suggested that Agni -6 could be in the hardware development phase, some others have gone on to the extent of claiming that Agni VI is being given the finishing touches by the DRDO. The DRDO and the MoD have been tight-lipped about it and no clear statement has been given in this regard.

The fourth test of the nuclear-capable, intercontinental Agni-V missile on 26 December 2016, it was reported that Agni-6 could be armed with MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) capability which is an advanced technology that allows a single missile to carry multiple warheads, with each warhead capable of striking a different target.

Agni-6 could be an ICBM with 8,000 km - 10,000 km range. Developing it or even the mere announcement that India would be developing it in future is a very tricky situation. For one, India would be breaking out of the regional context. Range of ballistic missiles is a contentious issue. Many European nations and experts in the US are likely to argue that why should India develop a 10,000 kms range ICBM when its furthest rival is China.

The range of Agni 5 itself is a mystery of sorts as China claims that it can travel as far as 8,000 kms. The DRDO claims that Agni 5 has a range of 5,000 kms.

After Agni-5's previous test, China's ruling Communist Party-run tabloid Global Times said in its editorial, "India has broken the UN's limits on its development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile...New Delhi is no longer satisfied with its nuclear capability and is seeking intercontinental ballistic missiles that can target anywhere in the world and then it can land on an equal footing with the UN Security Council's five permanent members."

While accusing India of violating limits imposed by UN on nuclear and long range missile development, the editorial further said that Pakistan should have those privileges in nuclear development that India has.

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"In general, it is not difficult for India to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles which can cover the whole world. If the UN Security Council has no objection over this, let it be. The range of Pakistan's nuclear missiles will also see an increase," it said.

In a way China is hinting that it would back Islamabad if Pakistan chooses to develop long-range missiles. Now that would seriously hamper peace and stability in the sub-continent, as the existing reasons were enough.

If India unveils Agni 6, then it may irk the US and some European countries. India would be risking sanctions if it blatantly goes ahead and tests Agni 6. India is a rising economic power and at this juncture, it would not like to sour economic ties with Europe. A missile of 10,000 km range is bound to make European nations uncomfortable and this may have an impact on trade ties.

What do we know so far about Agni-6 or Surya ICBM:

The information here is based on what is available in the public domain. We would like to mention at the outset that all these are based on speculations in leading defence publications.

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Many reports have claimed that the DRDO is working on a three-stage Agni VI missile. Agni 6 could be a three-stage solid fuel ICBM missile which will be heavier and thicker than the Agni-V. Agni-VI could possibly be able to carry 3 tonne warheads thrice that of Agni-V which can carry only 1.1 Tonne warheads. Agni-VI will be the first missile to have the capability to carry 4 or 6 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) payloads.

It would be based on the components of the polar space launch vehicle (PSLV) and the Agni IRBM, and that it will have a range between 8000 and 12,000 kms.

DRDO usually has a development gap between each Agni-series of around 4-5 years. It has been over 5 years since Agni-V was developed and this has led to speculation that its successor could be ready.

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