World News

India tests-fires Agni-V, a nuclear-capable ICBM

Posted January 18, 2018 3:09 a.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2018 4:50 a.m. EST

— India has successfully test-fired its Agni-V long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, the Indian Defense Ministry said in a tweet Thursday.

The nuclear-capable Agni-V is believed to be India's most advanced ICBM missile. It was fired Thursday morning India time on Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha.

The ministry called the test a "major boost" to the country's defense capabilities.

India is believed to have about 120 to 130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

"This is not a new capability, so this was simply a developmental test before India inducts it into operational range," Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT who studies nuclear proliferation, told CNN.

Narang said it's possible India's armed forces were testing the canister from which the missile is fired from as well as its ejection, flight performance and accuracy -- a "regular technical test in that regard."

"They've been gradually stepping up the complexity of the testing process," said Ajai Shukla, a prominent New Delhi-based defense analyst and former Indian army colonel.

The missile has been tested five times since 2012, with the most recent test prior to Thursday coming in December 2016. That launch drew the ire of India's two most important geostrategic adversaries: Pakistan and China.

The Agni-V's range distance means all of China is now in striking distance, according to Shukla.

"It's range has been long known, and India needs it to be able to retaliate against China's eastern seaboard's high value targets," Narang said.

While Thursday's test may have been incremental from a technological perspective, it could have serious geopolitical ramifications. Relations between Beijing and New Delhi deteriorated significantly in 2017 following a protracted border dispute in the Himalayan region of Doklam.

Narang called the timing of the launch very interesting, though he told CNN it's possible the launch was scheduled far in advance of Thursday's test date.

Referring to Doklam, Narang said it was "hard to not wonder whether this test and its timing were meant as a signal to China on that end."

The launch, which comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting the subcontinent, also coincided with one of India's flagship geopolitical conferences, the Raisina Dialogue 2018, with confirmation of the test occurring during a panel titled: "Nuclear Unpredictability: Managing the Global Nuclear Framework."

India, along with Pakistan and North Korea, are among the 13 countries that have not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The United States, Russia, China and North Korea all reportedly test-fired ballistic missiles in 2017. Pyongyang is barred from doing so under UN sanctions.