4/19/2012 - India Extends Missile Range, Raising Fear of Arms Race
India said Thursday it had successfully launched a missile with nuclear capability and a 3,100-mile range, giving it the ability to strike Beijing and Shanghai, and heightening fears of an Asian arms race.
With the successful launching of the missile, called Agni 5, India joins a small group of countries with long-range nuclear missile capability, including China, Britain, France, Russia and the United States. “Agni” means fire in Hindi.
The launching comes amid growing international apprehension about militarization of Asia and a stepped-up strategic rivalry between the United States and China in Asia. In March, China announced a double-digit increase in military spending, while India recently became the world’s top arms buyer, bumping China from the top spot, in part because China increased domestic production.
Thursday’s launching “increases the perception of an arms race, and the reality of an arms race, in East Asia, particularly between China and India,” said Graeme Herd, head of the international security program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, which trains diplomats in peace and security.
The timing of the missile launching may be seen as particularly antagonistic, he said, coming as China’s government deals with a scandal involving one of its top officials, and after the United States has stepped up its military presence in the Pacific. “All of this, from the Chinese perspective, looks like a movement from balancing China to containing China,” Mr. Herd said, and could inspire China to strengthen its weapons stockpile further, forge closer ties with Pakistan and delve deeper into Afghanistan.
The launching was largely celebrated in India, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it “another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science.” The entire nation honors the scientists involved, he said, who have “done the country proud.”
Defense Minister A.K. Antony said India had “joined the elite club of nations,” which possess long-range missiles.
The United States appeared to warily endorse the missile’s launch. “We urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities,” said Mark Toner, spokesman for the State Department. “That said, India has a solid nonproliferation record.” India has a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons.
China’s immediate reaction to the test was subdued. At a regular news briefing Thursday, Liu Weimin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said India and China were “not rivals but cooperative partners,” according to news reports. The two countries should “cherish the hard-won momentum of sound bilateral relations, promote bilateral friendship and cooperation, and make active contributions to regional peace and security,” he said.
The missile “does not pose a threat in reality,” China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV said, in a report carried by The Associated Press. The news channel questioned the accuracy of the missile’s guidance systems and its 50-ton-plus weight, which the Chinese say would force the missile to be launched from a fixed location, making it an easy target.
The Global Times, a populist newspaper in China affiliated with the official Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily, issued a warning to New Delhi in a commentary before the launching.
“India should not overestimate its strength,” the editorial said. “Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China, that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China.”
Pakistani officials did not immediately return calls for comment on the launching. India and Pakistan have recently increased trade ties, raising hopes that the longstanding antagonism between the two may cease.
The missile’s range of more than 3,000 miles includes Tehran, parts of Eastern Europe and Manila. But the focus of the test appeared to be China, analysts said.
“Agni 5 will give India complete coverage of targets in China,” Poornima Subramaniam, an Asia-Pacific armed forces analyst at the defense consulting firm IHS Jane’s, said in an e-mail. “Agni 5 technologically narrows the missile gap between India and China, while the strategic balance between the two rivals is still tipped in China’s favor.”
The launching of the Agni 5, which occurred at 8:07 a.m. from an island off India’s east coast, is part of the country’s decades-old missile program.
India started its missile development program in 1983 and inducted the first missile in 1989. Since then the country has progressed and in November last year, it tested the Agni 4, which can hit targets up to 1,830 miles away. The last missile will soon be given to the army for operational uses; the Agni 1, Agni 2 and Agni 3 were also given to the army.
The Agni 5 weighs about 50 tons, measures nearly 56 feet long, reaches 480 miles into the sky and, at speeds of 4,200 miles per hour, travels faster than a bullet, the Indian government said. It can also be launched from a roadside mobile platform. The Agni 5 will be ready for operational use by 2014.
“We have achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve in this mission,” Avinash Chandra, mission director for the test, told the Times Now news channel on Thursday.
China has a missile that can hit targets of at least 6,000 miles away, and Pakistani officials claim to have fired missiles that travel more than 1,200 miles.
“India has two nuclear-armed adversaries and needs to create minimal deterrence,” said Wing Cmdr. Ajey Lele, an expert of strategic technologies at the government-aided Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi.
Some in India questioned spending on a sophisticated missile program as hundreds of millions of the country’s citizens continue to live in extreme poverty.
“It is ridiculous,” said Praful Bidwai, a researcher, activist, columnist and associate with Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace. We are getting into a useless arms race at the expense of fulfilling the need of poor people. The Chinese missile program is not directed to India, and the Chinese have reassured India of that, he said. “Now the India missile program is clearly directed to China.”
Earlier this week, North Korea said it was abandoning an agreement it made in February with the United States, in which it promised to suspend uranium enrichment, nuclear tests and long-range-missile tests. Last week North Korea defied international warnings and unsuccessfully launched a rocket that the United States and its allies called a provocative pretext for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that might one day carry a nuclear warhead.
On Thursday, South Korea confirmed that it had deployed a new cruise missile capable of a precision strike at a target anywhere in North Korea.