India on Thursday achieved a major advance in its military capability. The country successfully test fired a new long range missile capable of delivering a one-tonne nuclear warhead in China and Europe.
The successful test of Agni V was witnessed by hundreds of Indian officials and scientists. According to Bloomberg, the 50-ton, 55-foot and three-stage Agni V was launched at about 8:05 a.m. local time from Wheeler Island in the eastern state of Orissa. The rocket has a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) and India considers it a key element in its aspiration to regional military influence.
MSNBC reports television aired images of the rocket, nicknamed "China killer" by the Indian media, blasting off.
India's prime minister Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister A.K. Antony, congratulated India's scientists who made the successful launch possible. Defense Minister Antony described the launch as a "major milestone in India's missile program." According to the Prime Minister, "Today's launch represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science."
With the successful test, India is set to join the exclusive club of nations with inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capability. At the moment, only five members of the UN Security Council possess ICBMs. The countries include, Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. ICBMs have a minimum range of 5,500 kilometers.
MSNBC reports Agni V is expected to become fully operational as early as 2014.
According AFP, V.K. Saraswat, head of India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) that constructed the missile, said: "I am announcing the successful launch of Agni V...making history and making our country proud in the area of missile technology."
In spite of the widespread media reference to China in the description of India's new missile capability, DRDO spokesman Ravi Gupta, said that Agni V was not targeted at any country. He said the missile is a "non country-specific" deterrent. But analysts say that the most important military implication for India and the region is that India's missile reach now extends over the entire Chinese mainland. Bloomberg reports that Poornima Subramaniam, Asia-Pacific armed forces analyst at IHS Jane's, said the rocket is aimed at "narrowing the missile gap between India and China....Extensive land and sea-launched missile development programs have become important elements in India’s nuclear strategy.”
The word "Agni" means "fire" in Sanskrit. The short-range versions, Agni I and II, were developed in response to the arms race with Pakistan, India's traditional regional rival. A team of 800 scientists and technicians developed Agni V over a period of three years. According to AFP, they used "new materials and technology to build motors capable of increasing the propulsion and speed of the new missile."
A retired Air Force officer Kapil Kak of the Center for Air Power Studies in India, detailing the significance of Agni V, said: "Firstly you have a phenomenal range and so every single significant city....will come within its range. Secondly, it has a very, very high speed compared to previous missiles... But the key issue is that this missile can be pushed to 8,000 kilometers. The significance there is that India then demonstrates the capability to make an ICBM."
There has been no official reaction from China, but according to AFP, the state-run Chinese Global Times warned, in an editorial published on Thursday, that India should not "overestimate its strength."
The editorial said: "India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China." MSNBC reports the Chinese Global Times also criticized the West. In an editorial published before the launch, delayed a day because of bad weather, Global Times grumbled: "The West chooses to overlook India's disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties."
NATO has responded to Chinese criticism on Wednesday, saying that it does not consider India a threat. The U.S. State Department also said, in statement, that India's non-proliferation record was "solid," but urged restraint.
China and India, each with a population of more than a billion, have longstanding strained relations that go back to a bloody border conflict in 1962. According to AFP, while India's achievement is significant, China's missile system is still far more advanced that India's. China's military arsenal is much larger and more advanced than India's. Yet Agni V is very strategic for India. Monika Chansoria, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies, said: "What this missile does is enable India to upgrade its present strategic posture towards countries like China from one of dissuasion to one of credible deterrence."
Shannon Kile, a nuclear weapons expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said Agni V was partly a "prestige" development for India, supporting its aspirations to be global player." According to Harsh Pant, defense expert at King's College, London, who described the launch as "confidence boosting" for India, "It is one of the ways of signaling India's arrival on the global stage, that India deserves to be sitting at the high table.
India's latest achievement follows its induction of a new nuclear-powered submarine vessel leased from Russia. Bloomberg reports India will increase total defense spending by 13 percent to $38 billion this financial year, in the effort to modernize its armed forces and keep pace with China whose defense spending of more than $100 billion a year is second only to the U.S.