India on April 19 successfully test-fired a long-range missile capable of targeting parts of northern China and eastern Europe, bringing the emerging South Asian power into an elite club of nations with intercontinental defense capability.
The Agni-V, an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to hit a target up to 5,000 km (3,100 mi.) away, was launched from Wheeler Island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha at 8:07 a.m. local time, according to V.K. Saraswat, chief of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
“India is today a nation with proven capability to design, develop and produce a long-range ballistic missile,” Saraswat says. “India is a missile power now. The three-stage Agni-V missile’s entire performance has been successfully demonstrated. All mission objectives and operational targets have been met.”
A nuclear tipped three-stage missile, Agni-V was developed by DRDO at a cost of more than 2.5 billion rupees ($48.4 million). It is 17.5 meters (57-ft.) tall with a launch weight of 50 tons, is powered by solid-rocket propellants, and can be transported by road.
The missile was test-fired from a mobile launcher at launch complex-4 of the Integrated Test Range. The test-firing was originally scheduled for April 18, but had to be postponed at the last moment due to rain and heavy lightning.
The successful test inches India closer to a category of sophisticated nations – including the U.S., China, Russia, the U.K. and France – with the capability of deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in London.
“Agni-V is a game changer and a technological marvel,” says Saraswat, who is also the scientific adviser to India’s defense ministry. “It is a weapon which can perform multiple functions.”
Uday Bhaskar, an analyst at the National Maritime Foundation, a New Delhi-based research group, calls the missile a “significant development” and says it will neutralize any possible threat coming from China.
While China has plans to increase its military spending by 11% this year, India intends to raise its military expenditures by 13%, according to India’s federal budget released on March 16. India’s total spending will rise to nearly $38 billion.
“The most important aspect is that India would have done this on its own effort because this entire missile program was developed at a time when India was under severe technological restrictions [from] 1978 onwards,” Bhaskar says. “So, in that aspect, it would be a reflection of India’s technological profile in a very complex aspect of military technology which is designing and being able to control missiles at these ranges and speeds.”
Ravi Gupta, a senior scientist and DRDO spokesman, says India’s missile program is not directed against any country.
“India has a no-first-use policy. The missiles are purely for the purpose of deterrence, to meet our present-day threat perceptions determined by our defense forces and security agencies,” Gupta says.
Agni, meaning fire in Hindi and Sanskrit, is a rocket family India has tested since 2002.
In 2010, India successfully test-fired Agni-II, an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of more than 2000 km (1,250 mi.).
India has tested several missiles in the past few years as part of its missile program, which began in the 1960s.