India prepares to test nuclear missile dubbed 'China killer'

India has been upgrading its weapons and is now the world's largest importer of arms

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The Independent Online

India is today planning to push ahead with the launch of a ballistic missile that for the first time would enable it to target not just south Asia but China and even parts of Europe.

Keen to flex its military and strategic muscles, the authorities plan to launch the Agni-V, a 3,000-mile range missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead, which a number of analysts have termed a "game-changer". It is seen as a counter to a perceived threat from China.

"This is one of the longest-range missiles we will have tested. It will enhance our deterrence capabilities," said J Jeganaathan, an analyst at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in Delhi. "It could reach Iran... beyond that."

The launch of the £300m missile by the government's technology arm, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), was due to have taken place last night but it was put off because of bad weather at the launch site on Wheeler Island, off India's east coast. Officials have said the window for the launch extends until tomorrow.

In recent years the Indian armed forces have been rapidly upgrading and modernising weapons and weapons systems in the face of what is seen as a growing threat from China, with which it fought a disastrous war in 1962. India is now the world's largest importer of arms.

The Indian Navy took delivery of a Russian nuclear submarine earlier this year and is expecting a Soviet-built aircraft carrier. India is also negotiating with a French supplier for 126 fighter jets, a deal worth at least £7bn.

Reports suggest that China is well ahead of India in terms of its missile capability. While China could, if it wished, target any Indian location, India's current missiles have a range of just 2,000 miles and would fall short of many major Chinese cities.

Yesterday, an excited Indian media broadcast maps and graphics of how the Agni-V, its name derived from the Hindi god of fire, would help balance things out and enable India to join the US, UK, China, France and Russia as those nations possessing such a long-range missile. Some media reports even termed it "the China killer".

The missile is a 60ft tall solid-fuel, three-stage missile designed to carry a 1.5-ton nuclear warhead. It is designed to be moved anywhere around the country, by either road or rail.

Ravi Gupta, a spokesman for the DRDO, told the Associated Press that the missile was seen purely as a deterrent and that India had a declared "no-first-use" policy. However, he added: "It will be a quantum leap in India's strategic capability."

Preparations for the launch of the missile come days after North Korea failed to carry out a long-range missile test. Pyongyang said the rocket was designed to put a civilian-use satellite into space but South Korea, the US and Japan have claimed it was simply cover for testing a long-range weapon. Such a test would be in breach of a UN resolution demanding North Korea suspend its missile programme.