OCT 28

Preliminary   > Science and Technology   >   Defence technology   >   Type of missiles

Why in news?

  • Agni-5 ballistic missile successfully tested in India

More about the news:

Strategic Force Command is a joint tri-services command, responsible for Indias nuclear weapons

  • Though inducted over three years ago, India’s foremost Agni 5 ballistic missile was tested for the first time by the user agency, the Strategic Forces Command, on 27th October 2021.

What is the Agni 5 missile?

  • Agni 5 is India’s long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which can hit a target with a precision that is 5,000 km away.
  • This range puts almost the entire China within the missile’s target range.
  • Though officially an Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) needs a missile to have a range of at least 5,500 km, the Agni 5 is India’s closest contender for an ICBM, as it can reach countries across other continents, including parts of Africa and Europe.
  • The nuclear capable missile can carry a warhead of around 1,500 kg and has a launch weight of 50,000 kg, making it one of the most potent missiles in the country.

History of Agni missiles:

  • India began testing the Agni series of missiles in 1989 with the first test for Agni 1, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, with a range of around 1,000 km
  • It was developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP)
  • At that time only the US, the erstwhile Soviet Union, China, France and Israel, had IRBM technology.
  • Since then, DRDO labs have continued to work on it, bringing the latest available Agni 5 to its present capability.
  • In addition to the IRBM-capable nations, only North Korea and the UK have ICBM technology at the moment.
  • The next generation of the missile, Agni VI, under development, is expected to have a range of around 8,000 km.

What is a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle that China tested?

  • China had in August 2021 tested a new hypersonic missile, which is nuclear capable, which circled the earth before moving towards its target, missing it by two dozen miles.
  • A hypersonic glide vehicle is launched by a rocket which moves in the Earth’s lower orbit, at more than five times to 25 times the speed of sound.
  • The vehicle is capable of carrying nuclear payloads, which gives the launching country the strategic capacity to attack almost any target across the world.
  • According to a report in 2017 by Rand Corporation, hypersonic missiles can travel approximately at 5,000 to 25,000 km per hour, which makes them six to over 25 times faster than modern commercial aircraft. They fly at the heights of a few tens and 100 km.
  • The mix of the high altitude, high speed and the ability to be manoeuvred makes them challenging to the missile defense systems.
  • Apart from China, the US and Russia are working on the technology.

How is it different from an ICBM?

  • Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles have existed since around World War II.
  • These missiles, meant to carry nuclear payloads, have the capacity to carry several warheads.
  • While an ICBM follows a parabolic trajectory, which mean it goes up and then comes down in a high arc—like when you throw up a ball, only much higher, further and faster—a hypersonic glide vehicle orbits the earth at a lower height, and is manoeuvrable.
  • The ability to change track or target, mid-trajectory, along with the speed, makes them tougher to track and defend against.

Add ons:

  • China developing hypersonic missile capability would mean that it, potentially, would have weapons to overwhelm America’s aerial defence systems. Though China already has ICBM missiles to attack the US, the unpredictability of hypersonic glide vehicles would give them an advantage
  • But globally the main concern is that once the technology is successfully established by even one country, it would lead to a larger race for the capability and its eventual proliferation.


With reference to ‘Agni-5’, consider the following statements:

1. It is a supersonic cruise missile

2. It is capable of carrying nuclear payloads

3. It is manoeuvrable.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1,2 and 3