World News

India Tests Ballistic Missile, Posing New Threat to China

Posted January 18, 2018 10:12 a.m. EST

NEW DELHI — India tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons on Thursday, paving the way for membership to a small list of countries with access to intercontinental missiles and putting most of China in its reach.

The ballistic missile, called Agni 5, was launched from Abdul Kalam Island, off Odisha state in eastern India on Thursday morning, traveling for around 19 minutes and 3,000 miles. In a statement, the Indian Ministry of Defense said that all objectives of the mission had been “successfully met.”

The firing of the Agni-5 comes months after the official end of a standoff between China and India over a remote sliver of land in the Himalayas, a squabble that lasted for more than two months and that was one of the worst border disputes between the countries in 30 years. The launch also comes during a tense period in India’s troubled relationship with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor.

Nitin A. Gokhale, an independent national security analyst in New Delhi, said India did not previously have a missile capable of hitting “high-value targets” in China. But Thursday’s successful launch of the Agni 5 has changed the calculus, he said, putting most of China, including major eastern coastal cities such as Shanghai, in reach.

“If there are hostilities, and if there are contingencies, then India has something which can deter China or at least make China think twice,” he said.

The Agni 5 — Agni means fire in Hindi — is about 55 feet long and was developed in India. It is the most advanced missile in the Agni series, with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles and a payload of 1.5 tons, which is enough to transport a fusion-boosted fission weapon, a type of nuclear device.

Coming after four previous tests, Thursday’s firing of the Agni 5 took India closer to incorporating the missile into its Strategic Forces Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

Once that induction process is complete, India will join an elite group of countries with access to intercontinental ballistic missiles, a list that includes China, Russia and the United States, experts say.

China has criticized India’s development of the Agni 5 in the past. After an early test of the missile, Du Wenlong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Science, told the Global Times that the Agni 5 had a strike range of about 5,000 miles, rather than 3,000 miles. He said the Indian government had deliberately played down its range “to avoid causing concern to other countries.”

Indian politicians and defense analysts said they were elated by the missile test, with the country’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, writing on Twitter that the test-firing “makes every Indian proud” and “will boost our strategic defense.”

The Indian National Congress party said the launch was “the culmination of a multi-decade effort” started by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to shore up the country’s arsenal of missiles.

Saurav Jha, the editor in chief of the Delhi Defense Review, wrote in an editorial that the development of the Agni 5 “marks the arrival of India as a missile power.”