India Test Fires Nuclear-Capable ICBM, Poses Major Threat To China

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On Thursday, India successfully conducted the “first pre-induction trial” of its over 5,000-km range Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), reported The Times of India.

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The nuclear-capable ICBM paves the way for India to join an “elite” group of countries who can strap a nuclear bomb to an ICBM and fling it across the globe. More importantly, the development has dramatically changed the calculus of war and nuclear deterrence balance of power between India and China, putting most of China’s critical assets, including the coastal cities in range.

The ICBM, called Agni-V, was launched on Thursday from Abdul Kalam Island, off Odisha State in eastern India, flying for about 19-minutes with a range of 3,000 miles.

The Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “We have successfully launched nuclear-capable ballistic missile Agni-V today.”

According to The Times of India’s sources, “The country’s most formidable missile will undergo one more such pre-induction trial within this year before it is inducted into the Agni-V regiment already raised by the tri-Service Strategic Forces Command (SFC) with the requisite command and control structures.”

With the Agni-V, India is now a member of the “nuclear club” of countries with ICBMs with a range of over  5,000km such as the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. The motive behind India’s development of the long-range ICBM is to deter the threat of an aggressive and expansionist China, which already has an arsenal of ICBMs.

The Times of India provides further insight on the nuclear capabilities of the Angi-V:

The over 50-tonne Agni-V, designed to carry a 1.5-tonne nuclear warhead, has been tested four times in “developmental or experimental trials” earlier. The missile was tested in an “open configuration” in April 2012 and September 2013, while it was test-fired from hermetically sealed canisters mounted on transport-cum-tilting launcher trucks in January 2015 and December 2016.

“The missile’s flight performance was tracked and monitored by radars, range stations and tracking systems all through the mission. All mission objectives were successfully met. This successful test of Agni-V reaffirms the country’s indigenous missile capabilities and further strengthens our credible deterrence,” said a defense ministry official.

The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) called Strategic Nuclear Command of India already has regiments of the Prithvi-II (350-km), Agni-I (700-km), Agni-II (2,000-km) & Agni-III (3,000-km) missiles, which are meant to deter Pakistan. On the other hand, the Agni-IV (4,000-km) and Agni-V (over 5,000-km), have been developed to keep China in check.

“Though the missile could theoretically hit Beijing, India’s missile technique is far below the standard,” Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

While China has criticized India’s development of the Angi-V, India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, celebrated on Twitter that the launch “makes every Indian very proud” and will “boost our strategic defense.”

The Indian National Congress party wrote on Twitter, “This is the culmination of a multi-decade effort under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme started in 1982 by the then Prime Minister, Smt Indira Gandhi.”

We expect that an angry verbal Chinese response, most likely in the Global Times, is imminent.

Full press statement on the fifth flight test of the Agni-V ICBM.

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