India to test nuclear missile
New Delhi - India is planning to test launch a new nuclear missile that for the first time would give it the capability of hitting the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
The government has hailed the Agni-V missile, with a range of 5 000km, as a major boost to its efforts to counter China's regional dominance and become an Asia power in its own right. The test launch was expected to come as early as Wednesday evening.
"It will be a quantum leap in India's strategic capability," said Ravi Gupta, spokesperson for India's Defence Research and Development Organisation, which built the missile.
China is far ahead of India in the missile race, with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in the country. Currently, the longest-range Indian missile, the Agni-III, has a range of only 3 500km and falls short of many major Chinese cities.
India and China fought a war in 1962 and continue to nurse a border dispute. India has also been suspicious of Beijing's efforts to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean in recent years.
"While China doesn't really consider India any kind of a threat or any kind of a rival, India definitely doesn't think in the same way," said Rahul Bedi, a defence analyst in New Delhi.
Government officials said the missile should not be seen as a threat.
"We have a declared no-first-use policy, and all our missile systems, they are not country specific. There is no threat to anybody," Gupta said. "Our missile systems are purely for deterrence and to meet our security needs."
The launch window for the missile test, which is being conducted on Wheeler Island off India's east coast, opens on Wednesday evening and closes on Friday, Gupta said.
The Agni-V is a solid-fuel, three-stage missile designed to carry a 1.5-ton nuclear warhead. It stands 17.5m tall, has a launch weight of 50 tons and was built at a reported cost of $486m.
"Agni-V is a game-changer and a technological marvel," VK Saraswat, scientific adviser to the defence minister, was quoted as telling The Hindu newspaper.
The missile could also be used to carry multiple warheads or to launch satellites into orbit.