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The Agni is the designation for India's intermediate-range ballistic missile development project, first test-fired in 1989. It is a two-stage system, with the first stage adapted from the solid-fuel SLV-3 booster (from India's civilian space research industry), and the second stage reportedly a modified Prithvi liquid-fuel missile. The Agni-I had a theoretical maximum range of 2,500 km, carrying a payload of 1,000 kg. It is small enough to be launched from both road and rail mobile launch platforms.

Succumbing to pressure from the US, India discontinued testing in 1994, after three moderately successful test firings. Formally stopped in 1995, the program was put in storage for five years until a new government took power in 1998, when the Indian military announced that the Agni-II was under development.

The Agni-II was successfully test-fired in April 1999, with a re-entry vehicle, 11 months after the Pokhran-II underground nuclear tests in May 1998. The Agni-II replaced the liquid-fueled second stage with a solid-fuel version, and can be prepared for launch within 15-30 minutes, as compared to almost 6 hours for the Agni-I. It also incorporates an advanced terminal navigation and guidance system which allows small course corrections while in flight, increasing accuracy almost threefold. It should have a theoretical range of 2800-3000 km, able to reach deep within Chinese territory, although not enough to threaten any major cities. The range also covers much of the Middle East and Asia, from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

Pakistan responded to the Agni-II test with its own Ghauri-II test firing three days later. A second successful test firing of the Agni-II in January, 2001 in its "final operational configuration" from a mobile launcher ended the development phase, with the military announcing it was now ready for production, although three more tests are planned. The Indian Air Force was also renamed the Indian Aerospace Force, in preparation for their maintenance and operation of the Agni launch systems.

It is believed that a 200-kg boosted-fission warhead is under development for the Agni-II. Although India has denied that the Agni will ever mount a nuclear payload, the cost of each missile (between US$4.5 million to US$8 million) rules out any conventional use. There are between 5-9 Agni prototypes in existence, and it is estimated that the Indian military industry has the capability to produce up to 12 per year.

Reports as of early 1999 indicate a 3,500-km range Agni-III may be under development, and another 5,000-km variant after that, with enough range to threaten major Chinese cities, aside from India's traditional Pakistani targets.

Sourced from www.fas.org, www.defencejournal.com, and India Abroad Online (www.indiaabroadonline.com).