Bhubaneswar/New Delhi: Launching itself into an elite club of nations with the capability of hitting targets 5,000 km away, India Thursday successfully tested a long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile that can reach Beijing and Shanghai in China, and all of Pakistan.
With its launch from Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast at 8.07 a.m., India also emerged as a major missile powerhouse of the world, having developed Agni-V almost entirely indigenously over the last four years. The missile, described as “China-killer”, carries a warhead weighing more than a tonne.
With the development, India also stormed into an elite, exclusive club of nations comprising US, Russia, China, France and Britain — all UN Security Council members — that have this capability.
Reaction came in swiftly from China, where Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin downplayed the tests, saying: “China and India are both big emerging countries, we are not rivals but co-operation partners.”
However, state-run Global Times was not so cautious and said that India may have missiles that can reach most Chinese territory, but it stands “no chance in an overall arms race”. It added that New Delhi would gain nothing by stirring “further hostility”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the successful test as “another milestone” in the country’s “quest for security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science”.
He congratulated the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and other organisations, which had worked tirelessly in the endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of the country.
At the test site, there was jubilation.
“The three-stage Agni-V missile’s entire performance has been successfully demonstrated. All mission objectives and operational targets have been met,” DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat told reporters.
“India is today a nation with proven capability to design, develop and produce a long-range ballistic missile. India is a missile power now,” an exultant Saraswat said.
“It was a fantastic launch. It hit the target with high accuracy,” S.P. Dash, the director of the test range, said.
During the Thursday test, the 17.5-metre long, 50-tonne Agni-V reached an altitude of 600 km and attained a velocity of 7,000 metres per second, which enabled the missile to achieve its intended target range. The missile system can be transported by road or rail.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony spoke to Saraswat and Agni-V Project Director Avinash Chander and congratulated them for “this immaculate success”, Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.
Antony also recalled “the untiring contributions” of former DRDO chief M. Natarajan.
It was a moment that also saw the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hail the “proud milestone in the security of the nation since India has now become a missile power”.
The party’s President Nitin Gadkari said in a statement that the launch had raised India to the “elite club of nations”.
The Indian Defence Ministry had first described Agni-V as an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a statement, but soon retracted it and called the missile a long range ballistic missile (LRBM).
Agni-V’s range is 500-km short of an ICBM, for which the world standard is 5,500-km range.
China’s Dongfeng-31A ICBM has a range of 11,500 km and can easily hit targets across entire Asia and as far as Eastern Europe.
Following Thursday’s test, Agni-V will go through more tests before it is inducted into the armed forces by the end of 2014 or early 2015.
India maintains a ‘no-first-strike’ nuclear doctrine, and Agni-V and the 3,500-km-range Agni-IV missile which was successfully tested in November 2011, are to provide the country’s strategic forces ‘a second strike’ capability against a nuclear attack from its enemies.