19 Apr 2012

India boosts nuclear weapons capability

9:23 pm on 19 April 2012

India has launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead more than 5000km within range of targets in China and Europe.

The scientist in charge of the launch from an island off India's east coast says it was successful. It is not clear if the missile reached the full extent of its range, which would have brought it down near Indonesia on Thursday.

Analysts say the locally-developed Agni-V missile "family" is to be the cornerstone of India's missile-based nuclear deterrent.

Named for a Hindi and Sanskrit word meaning "fire", the missiles are among the country's most sophisticated weapons.

In 2010, India successfully test-fired Agni-II, an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of more than 2000km.

Defence analyst Rahul Bedi told the BBC that a successful test flight of the Agni-V missile, which is capable of delivering a single 1.5-tonne warhead deep inside China's territory, will strengthen India's nuclear deterrence once it comes into service by 2014-15.

It is 17.5m tall, solid-fuelled, has three stages and a launch weight of 50 tons. It has cost more than 2.5 billion rupees ($NZ587 million) to develop.

Only the United Nations Security Council permanent members - China, France, Russia, the United States and Britain along with Israel - are believed to have such long-range weapons.