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'Missile woman' to handle ambitious Agni-V project

It's indeed rocket science. And Tessy Thomas is going great guns at unravelling all its complexities. Though women and nuclear-capable

Tessy Thomas played a crucial role in the successful firing of the 3,500-km range Agni-III missile. (Agency Photo)
ballistic missiles usually don't go together, Thomas is systematically breaking all glass ceilings in the avowedly male bastion of `strategic weapons'.

Thomas has now been appointed the project director (mission) of India's most ambitious missile, Agni-V, with a strike range of 5,000-km, which is slated to be tested for the first time next year.

Thomas, 46, was made the project director of the new advanced version of the 2,500-km Agni-II missile last year after she played a crucial role in the successful firing of the 3,500-km range Agni-III missile as an associate project director, as reported by TOI earlier.

Now, she has added another feather to her cap by being assigned to Agni-V, the test-firing of which will propel India towards having potent ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capabilities, largely the preserve of the Big-5 countries till now.

Thomas, contacted by TOI on Tuesday, was reluctant to talk till she `had clearance from the top'. Overall Agni programme director, Avinash Chander, however, was full of praise for her. "She is one of the key members of the entire Agni programme,'' he said.

"The designer for the missile guidance systems, among other things, she is one of the most dedicated scientists in our team. She finds solutions to problems,'' he added.

A B.Tech from Thrissur Engineering College, Calicut, and M.Tech from Pune-based Defence Institute of Advanced Technologies, Thomas is an expert on `solid system propellants' which fuel the Agni missiles.

Based at the Advanced Systems Laboratory in Hyderabad, Thomas has been associated with the Agni programme for around two decades now. Her fascination for `rockets' began with the Apollo moon missions when she was in school at Alappuzha in Kerala.

The dream turned to reality when this `missile woman' was assigned to the Agni programme soon after joining DRDO in 1988 by the original `missile man', former President APJ Abdul Kalam. There are around 20 other women scientists working on the Agni programme but Thomas is the first to become a project director of an Agni system.

The work on the solid-fuelled Agni-V basically revolves around incorporating a third composite stage in the two-stage Agni-III, along with some advanced technologies like ring laser gyroscope and accelerator for navigation and guidance.

The endeavour is to ensure that Agni-V, for which the government has sanctioned around Rs 2,500 crore, is also a canister-launch missile system to ensure it has the requisite operational flexibility to be fired from any part of the country. It will be slightly short of true ICBMs, which have ranges in excess of 5,500 km, but enough to take care of existing `threat perceptions'.

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