India on Thursday carried out the inaugural trial launch of its longest-range nuclear-ready ballistic missile, a weapon that could hit major metropolitan centers in neighboring China and parts of Eastern Europe, Reuters reported (see GSN, April 18).
India's defense chief proclaimed the maiden flight of the Agni 5 from Wheeler Island was "immaculate" and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heralded the launch as "another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness."
The three-stage, solid-fueled Agni 5 has a top flight distance of about 3,100 miles and was developed almost completely in India. The missile has near-ICBM capabilities and is aimed largely at deterring an attack from China, rather than India's longtime rival Pakistan, according to Reuters. New Delhi said it will be a minimum of two years before the missile is ready for induction into the military.
The only other nations to possess longer-range missiles are nuclear powers China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In a landmark 2008 atomic cooperation deal with Washington, India gained tacit acceptance of its possession of nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Unlike last Friday's unsuccessful long-range rocket firing by pariah state North Korea, the international community expressed little concern about the Indian launch, which had been in the works for some time.
NATO on Wednesday said it did not view India as a danger and the U.S. State Department pointed to New Delhi's "solid" track record on nonproliferation.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing and New Delhi should "work hard to uphold friendly strategic cooperation."
"China and India are large developing nations," ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said. "We are not competitors but partners."
Still, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper warned in an editorial published prior to Thursday's test that "India should not overestimate its strength."
New Delhi has a proclaimed a no-first-use policy even as it continues to develop the full triad of nuclear deterrence -- the ability to deliver warheads via land, air and sea (see GSN, April 4).
Defense expert Uday Bhaskar said the South Asian country was not seeking to match China's nuclear capabilities. Beijing possesses operational missiles that can travel at least twice the distance of the Agni 5.
"As and when Agni 5 moves from technological proficiency to assured, credible and proven operational induction -- maybe by 2014 -- India will move towards acquiring that elusive mutuality it seeks with China," Bhaskar wrote in a Reuters analysis.
The success of the test could encourage Indian defense officials to call for a more concerted ICBM development effort with the goal of creating missiles that can reach targets in the Western Hemisphere.
"Policy-wise it becomes more complicated from now on, until Agni 5, India really has been able to make a case about its strategic objectives, but as it moves into the ICBM frontier there'll be more questions asked," King's College defense analyst Harsh Pant said in London (Jatindra Dash, Reuters, April 19).
India on Thursday carried out the inaugural trial launch of its longest-range nuclear-ready ballistic missile, a weapon that could hit major metropolitan centers in neighboring China and parts of Eastern Europe, Reuters reported.