India may have again successfully test-fired the 2,000-km range Agni-II missile on Sunday but the actual mettle of defence scientists will be on trial in four critical tests slated over the next few monthsAs per the presentation given to the Cabinet Committee on Security last Thursday, these will be the sea trials of nuclear submarine INS Arihant and the test-firing of its K-15 missile, another test of the two-tier ballistic missile defence (BMD) system and, to cap it all, the second firing of the over 5,000-km Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), say sources.
None of these weapon systems, however, is anywhere close to actually being inducted into the armed forces. Yes, the scientists have done well in developing such extremely complex systems. But all the big talk of India gate-crashing into “super-exclusive” clubs of nuclear submarines, SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles), ICBMs or BMD systems is meaningless at this stage.
As per the fresh timelines, the country’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant, is now finally getting ready to begin its long-awaited sea trials next month. Since it was “launched” at Visakhapatnam in July 2009, the submarine has been undergoing harbour-acceptance trials on “shore-based steam” till now.
Now, after its miniature 83 mw pressurized light-water reactor goes “critical”, INS Arihant will have to undergo extensive “sea-acceptance trials” for well over a year, as also test-fire the 750-km range K-15 SLBMs. India’s long-elusive nuclear weapon triad will be completed only after INS Arihant becomes fully-operational around end-2014.
Then, DRDO plans to test the three-stage Agni-V, which will bring the whole of China within its strike envelope, around June. Tested for the first time in April 2012, Agni-V will require at least three more “repeatable” tests before it can glide into the production phase for eventual induction by 2015-2016. “An over 6,000-km range Agni-VI is also being planned,” said a source.
DRDO is also hoping for the eighth “successful” test of its BMD system, designed to track and destroy incoming ballistic missiles both inside (endo) and outside (exo) the earth’s atmosphere, “within the next 30-40 days”. This missile shield has not been tested in an integrated mode, with both endo and exo interceptors together, till now.
But DRDO is confident the BMD Phase-I system, which is supposed to intercept enemy missiles with a 2,000-km range, can be ready for deployment by 2014-2015. The Phase-II will tackle 5,000-km range missiles.