India successfully test-fired a new long-range missile on Thursday capable of delivering a one-tonne nuclear warhead anywhere in regional rival China and countries outside Asia. Here are key reasons why the missile is important for India:
The successful test leaves India knocking at the door of a select club of nations with inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with ranges of up to 8,000 kilometres. Currently only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- possess a declared ICBM capability.
India views the 50-tonne Agni V, with a range of 5,000 km, as a key boost to its regional power aspirations and one that narrows -- albeit slightly -- the huge gap with China's technologically advanced missile systems.
While the shorter-range Agnis I and II were mainly developed with traditional rival Pakistan in mind, later versions with a range of 3,500 km are perceived as China-centric deterrents.
"The Agni V can strike targets across China, potentially freeing up other short- and intermediate-range missiles for use against Pakistan and much of west and south-central China," IHS Jane's analyst Poornima Subramaniam told AFP. "Extensive land- and sea-launched missile development programmes have become important elements in India's nuclear strategy, and in that context the Agni V is a significant development," said Subramaniam.
Shannon Kile, an expert on nuclear weapons at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think-tank, told AFP Agni V was partly a "prestige" development, supporting India's aspirations to be global player. At the same time, its increased range "will also give Indian defence force planners greater leeway about where missile launchers can be placed," Kile said.
India is keen to play a larger role on the global stage and has long angled for a permanent seat on the Security Council, says Reuters in its report on the missile launch. In recent years it has emerged as the world's top arms importer as it upgrades equipment for a large but outdated military.
"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," Harsh Pant, a defence expert at King's College, London, told Reuters. He describe the launch as a "confidence boost".
India lost a brief Himalayan border war with Chinain 1962 and has ever since strived to improve its defences. In recent years the government has fretted over China's enhanced military presence near the border. It is buying more than 100 advanced fighter jets, likely Rafales built by France's Dassault, in one of the largest global arms deals.
The Agni-V is a solid-fuel, three-stage missile designed to carry a 1.5-ton nuclear warhead. It stands 17.5 mm tall, has a launch weight of 50 tonnes and was built at a reported cost of $486 million. It can be moved across the country by road or rail and can be used to carry multiple warheads or to launch satellites into orbit.
The missile will need four or five more trials before it can be inducted into India's arsenal at some point in 2014 or 2015, officials said.
China is far ahead of India in the missile race, with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in India. Currently, the longest-range Indian missile, the Agni-III, has a range of only 3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles) and falls short of many major Chinese cities.
(With inputs from AFP, Reuters and AP)