India has test-launched its first long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, significantly upgrading the emerging Asian nation’s military capabilities. It has the capacity to target major Chinese cities and Europe.
The Agni-V missile has a range of 5,000 km and is able of carrying a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead. It can also be used to launch satellites into orbit. India’s military reportedly spent US$486 million on building the ballistic missile which stands at 17.5 meters high and weighs in at 50 tons.
According to Indian media the missile was launched just after 8am local time from WheelerIsland off India’s east coast. It rose to an altitude of 600 kilometers and successfully completed the three stages of its flight before releasing its payload.
The Agni-V will undergo four or five more trials and is expected to join India’s military arsenal before 2015.
The government had earlier hailed the missile project as a major step towards regional dominance, counterbalancing China.
“India has today become a nation with the capability to develop, produce, build long-range ballistic missiles and today we are among the six countries who have this capability,” said Vijay Saraswat, head of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization.
It was originally planned to test-fire the missile on Wednesday, but the launch was delayed due to weather conditions.
India has dramatically increased its military budget by 66 percent over the last decade, investing almost $49 billion in 2011. While China, which India regards as its most significant regional threat spent around $142 billion last year.
In 2010, India successfully launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile Agni-II, which has a range of more than 2,000 km.
Only the United States, Russia, China, France and the UK currently possess operational intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Political analyst, Professor Sreeram Chaulia believes India’s new capabilities will certainly help to keep a balance of power in Asia.
“India feels that it is in a neighborhood where it cannot take anybody’s intensions for granted, and therefore it needs to help itself through these kinds of nuclear tests,” he said.
He pointed out that India felt vulnerable, especially with regard to China, and while the two may have a smooth relationship economically, “there are tensions and there are lingering mistrusts that go back over fifty years.”
Deepak Tripathi, a journalist and expert on Asia added that concern about another neighbor, Pakistan, is on the table as well: “The aim is to stay ahead of Pakistan, but as close behind China as possible.”
An important aim for India with this launch is also to be taken more seriously on a global scale, Tripathi stressed.