India Tests Missile Capable of Reaching Beijing

Days after the failed launch of North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket, India has successfully tested a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads as far as Shanghai or Beijing. The new Agni-V—”Fire-V” in Hindi—has a range of 5,000 km, compared with the 3,500 km reach of its immediate predecessors. The Indian government, however, insists that the missile is intended strictly as a deterrent. From The Associated Press:

The head of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, Vijay Saraswat, said the missile was launched at 8:07 a.m. from Wheeler Island off India’s east coast ….

“India has emerged from this launch as a major missile power,” he said ….

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States urges all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities.

“That said, India has a solid non-proliferation record,” he told a news briefing. “They’re engaged with the international community on non-proliferation issues.”

Global Times met the impending launch with an implicit accusation of Western double standards, and a cattily patronising tone towards India.

… India apparently is hoping to enter the global intercontinental missile club, despite intercontinental missiles normally having a range of over 8,000 km ….

… India is still poor and lags behind in infrastructure construction, but its society is highly supportive of developing nuclear power and the West chooses to overlook India’s disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties. The West remains silent on the fact that India’s military spending increased by 17 percent in 2012 and the country has again become the largest weapons importer in the world ….

China understands the Indian desire to catch up with China. China, as the most appropriate strategic target for India, is willing to take India as a peaceful competitor.

The cited 17% growth in 2012 is considerably higher than China’s own planned increase of 11.2%, but some analysts believe that the Chinese defence budget as a whole is understated by around a third. The stated “normal” ICBM range of 8,000 km, on the other hand, appears exaggerated for rhetorical effect: others set the bar at a more modest 5,500 km, still just outside the Agni-V’s reach. But The Diplomat suggested that, in any case, Indian ambitions of “true” ICBM ownership were less clear-cut than the Global Times made out.

There’s a something of a debate in India … on whether the country should seek to enhance the Agni-V to extend its range past the largely symbolic 5,500 kilometer marker. Former President APJ Kalam, who’s often referred to as the “Missile Man of India” for the pivotal role he played in developing New Delhi’s ballistic missiles as an aerospace engineer at DRDO, has suggested he wouldn’t be in favor of doing so.

“An ICBM with 5,000-km range was enough as the potential enemies were well within this range,” Kalam told a group of university students last November. When a student asked him if an ICBM with a longer range should be developed, Kalam simply replied that India didn’t face threats from the transatlantic community, The Tribune reported.