New Delhi: In a major setback, the first night trial of the 3,500 km range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Agni-III, carried out by the Strategic Forces Command, the tri-service unit that oversees operations and security of nuclear weapons, failed after being tested at a defence base off the Odisha coast Saturday evening.
Officials are now studying the reasons for the failure of the missile that has been inducted into the Indian military.
“We will have to analyse all information gathered to really say what happened,” a top government official told ThePrint when asked why the test failed.
This was the first night test of the missile, capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads weighing up to 1.5 tonnes; a successful test would have validated the technical parameters set for the user and its readiness to handle the weapon during night hours.
As in all tests carried out by the user, the test missile was randomly picked from the lot it has been equipped with.
While the Strategic Force Command (SFC) conducted the trial as part of its training, the DRDO provided logistic support.
The New Indian Express reported that the missile “tumbled” into the sea after first phase separation.
“The missile travelled around 115 km into its initial flight trajectory when things went awry. It deviated from the flight path forcing the mission team to terminate it midway,” the daily said quoting sources.
It added that the flight trajectory of the missile was set for nearly 2,800 km.
‘Manufacturing defects may have caused failure’
The surface-to-surface missile carrying a dummy payload blasted off from an auto-launcher at the Abdul Kalam Island in full operational configuration at about 7.15 pm Saturday.
Though the exact fault behind the ‘failure’ is yet to be established, the daily said preliminary investigations attributed it to manufacturing defects.
“Starting from the launch to the first phase separation, everything was smooth in accordance with the mission plan,” a source said. “But suddenly it started behaving abnormally. It could be possibly due to metallurgical defects.”
While developmental trials of missiles are expected, the failure of a nuclear missile already inducted into the military is a concern.
Incidentally, the first test of the Agni-III in 2007 had failed, but it was still in developmental phase back then.
Agni-III missile is equipped with advanced high accuracy navigation system and is guided by what the DRDO says is an innovative guidance scheme.
When the SFC had carried out a successful test of the missile in 2013, an official statement from the government had said, “Such successful training launches clearly indicate our operational readiness to meet any eventuality as also establishes the reliability of this deterrent component of India’s Strategic arsenal”.