The maiden launch of the Agni-II Prime missile from the Wheeler Island, off the Orissa coast, on Friday failed.
Within moments of takeoff from a specially designed truck at 10.05 a.m., the missile plunged into the Bay of Bengal following a deviation in its trajectory. As the consoles in the Block House showed that the mission failed, gloom engulfed missile technologists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The two-stage, surface-to-surface missile has a range of about 2,500 km. The 17-tonne missile is 20 metres long, capable of carrying nuclear warheads of one tonne.
The DRDO originally planned to test-fire Agni-II Prime on Thursday. But rain off the State’s coast forced it to put off the launch.
V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, told The Hindu: “During the liftoff, a control problem could have occurred.” He said the failure was nothing unusual. “We have to check many things. We have to check whether there was any component failure,” said Dr. Saraswat, who is also DRDO Director-General and missile technologist himself.
The DRDO had built Agni-II Prime, earlier called Agni-II+, to fill the gap in the range between Agni-II and Agni-III. While Agni-II has a range of more than 2,000 km, Agni-III can target places more than 3,000 km away. All the three were strategic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Agni-II Prime was an improved version of Agni-II, boasting several new technologies. While both stages of Agni-II were made of metal casing, the second stage of Agni-II Prime was made of fibre reinforced plastic (FRP), or composite casing. The FRP reduced the missile’s structural weight, enabling it to carry more propellants, and to have a better range than Agni-II’s.
Agni-II Prime also had a better stage separation system, efficient propulsion, high-energy propellants, more efficient batteries to provide better power supply and sophisticated retro rockets. It had a good configuration which meant the user (the Army) could move it around easily.
Meanwhile, the DRDO is preparing to launch an interceptor missile from the Wheeler Island between December 18 and 20. It will intercept in mid-flight another ballistic missile that takes off from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur, near Balasore, also off Orissa. The interception will take place at an altitude of 15 km, in what is called the endo-atmosphere.