In file photo, the long range ballistic Agni-V missile is displayed during Republic Day parade, in New Delhi. Image Credit: AP

NEW DELHI: India has successfully conducted its first test flight of a domestically developed missile that can carry multiple warheads, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday.

The missile is equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, Modi said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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India has been developing its medium- and long-range missile systems since the 1990s.

In 2021, India successfully tested Agni-5, a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles). Agni missiles are long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

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Modi lauded Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of the indigenously developed Agni-5 missile equipped with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.

The Prime Minister praised the achievements of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists for their successful execution of Mission Divyastra.

What’s MIRV Technology?
Developed initially in the early 1960s, a Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) payload enables ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, each capable of targeting different objectives.
While primarily associated with intercontinental ballistic missiles, this concept extends to various missile types.
While primarily associated with intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with thermonuclear warheads, the concept extends beyond strict limitations. An intermediate variant, the Multiple Reentry Vehicle (MRV) missile, disperses multiple warheads without individual targeting.

The PM posted on X: “Proud of our DRDO scientists for Mission Divyastra, the first flight test of indigenously developed Agni-5 missiles with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.”

The inclusion of Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology in the Agni-5 missile enhances its effectiveness in delivering multiple warheads to different targets with precision, thereby augmenting India’s deterrence capabilities and strengthening national security.

An MIRV payload involves a single missile carrying four to six nuclear warheads, each programmed to hit a separate target.

According to government sources, the project director is a woman and has a significant women’s contribution. With the test of Mission Divyastra, India has joined the select group of nations that have MIRV capability.

This system is equipped with indigenous Avionics systems and high-accuracy sensor packages, which ensure that the re-entry vehicles reach the target points with the desired accuracy. The capability is an enunciator of India’s growing technological prowess, sources added.

What are MIRV's benefits?

The strategic implications of MIRV technology are several, as it enhances first-strike proficiency and complicates the calculus of mutual assured destruction. With the ability to deploy multiple warheads from a single missile, nations can achieve a broader spread of targets, making missile defense systems less effective and more costly to maintain.

Deployment of MIRV can enhance first-strike proficiency for strategic forces and also provide greater target damage for a given thermonuclear weapon payload.

Moreover, as it can release multiple warheads, it serves the purpose of a cluster munition, as it reduces the number of missiles and launch facilities required.

With the MIRV, the effectiveness of an anti-ballistic missile system that relies on intercepting individual warheads is also reduced.

India is now a part of the elite club. America, Britain, France, China and Russia are among the countries that already use MIRV missiles, while Pakistan tested it in 2017, according to Washington-based non-profit advocacy group, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

What are Agni V Missiles?

Jointly developed by the DRDO and Bharat Dynamics, the Agni-V stands as a testament to India’s technological prowess. The Agni-5 happens to be the most advanced missile in the Agni series, because of its navigation and guidance, warhead and engine. The missile has been made in a manner that after reaching the peak of its trajectory it will head down to the earth’s surface, towards the target, with increased speed due to the gravitational pull.

The other Agni series missiles in India’s armoury are the Agni-1 with 700km range, Agni-2 with 2,000km range, Agni-3 and Agni-4 with 2,500km to over 3,500km range.