India Test-Fires Its Longest-Range Missile to Counter China

India Test-Fires Longest-Range Missile to Counter Neighbor China
Agni IV missile is displayed at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi. Photograph: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

India successfully test-fired a missile capable of striking parts of northern China, taking the South Asian country a step closer to joining an exclusive club of nations possessing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The 50-ton, 17.5-meter Agni-V missile that can carry a nuclear warhead and travel 5,000 kilometers lifted off at 8:07 a.m. local time from Wheeler Island in the eastern state of Odisha today, according to Sitanshu Kar, the New Delhi-based defense ministry spokesman.

“It was an immaculate flight with all parameters achieved,” Kar said by phone. “The defense minister has spoken with the scientists, congratulating them.”

India is ramping up defense spending while seeking to resolve territorial disputes through talks with its archrivals in the region. India briefly went to war with China in 1962, while it has clashed with Pakistan at least three times. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are the only countries that have deployed missiles that can reach beyond 5,500 kilometers, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in London.

India’s rocket is aimed at “narrowing the missile gap between India and China,” according to Poornima Subramaniam, Asia-Pacific armed forces analyst at IHS Jane’s, a unit of IHS Inc. “Extensive land- and sea-launched missile development programs have become important elements in India’s nuclear strategy.”

‘Not Rivals’

Agni, which means fire in Sanskrit, is a series of missiles that India has tested since 2002. The smallest has a range of 700 kilometers aimed at fortifying the country’s borders.

China and India, which share a disputed 3,550-kilometer Himalayan frontier, “are not rivals but cooperative partners,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a regular briefing in Beijing today. China believes the two countries should “cherish the hard-won momentum of sound bilateral relations” and “make active contributions to regional peace and security,” Liu told reporters.

The Chinese media was critical of the test. An article today in the Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the People’s Daily newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party, warned India not to overestimate its military strength and accused western countries of being silent on its military buildup.

Failed Tests

India will increase total defense spending by 13 percent to $38 billion this financial year as it seeks to modernize its armed forces to keep pace with the military buildup in China, where defense outlays of more than $100 billion per year are second only to the U.S.

The world’s largest arms importer last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India is currently negotiating with Dassault Aviation SA to buy 126 warplanes in the world’s biggest fighter-jet purchase in 15 years.

Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars, two over the divided mountainous region of Kashmir, raised its military spending by 11 percent to about $5.5 billion in the year ending June 30.

Some of India’s earlier rocket tests have ended in failure. An upgraded version of its Agni-II nuclear-capable missile was unsuccessful in December 2010, while a launch of the Agni-III missile in July 2006 also failed.

South Korea today unveiled two new cruise missiles “capable of hitting any” target in North Korea after a long-range rocket test last week by the totalitarian state failed minutes after liftoff, disintegrating into 20 pieces. The botched test has fueled tensions in the region, with Japan joining the U.S. in denouncing the provocation.

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