India successfully test fired their latest and most advanced nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), according to statements made by their military on Thursday. The new platform, dubbed the Agni-V, has an estimated range of over 3,100 miles, placing all of Asia, as well as parts of Europe and Africa within its operational range; something sure to draw the attention of their diplomatic and occasional military opponent, China.

The missile’s flight performance was tracked and monitored by radars, range stations and tracking systems all through the mission. All mission objectives were successfully met. This successful test of Agni-V reaffirms the country’s indigenous missile capabilities and further strengthens our credible deterrence,” said a defense ministry official.

According to Indian officials, this week’s test was the second to last the Agni-V will undergo before being entered into operational use within India’s tri-Service Strategic Forces Command (SFC). India has already been a member of the exclusive club of nuclear powers since 1974, though they claimed at the time to only harness the power of splitting the atom for peaceful purposes. Many experts believe India did not begin weaponizing nuclear power until 1988, but with the induction of the Agni-V into their arsenal, India will now join an even shorter list of nations maintaining operational ICBM arsenals.

To date, only the U.S., Russia, China, France and the UK can boast that distinction, with North Korea potentially the latest addition to the list, depending on the questionable survivability rate of their reentry vehicles.

India’s previous nuclear missile programs have been primarily aimed at deterring conflict with Pakistan, leading to a formidable stockpile of missiles that can strike targets ranging from 200 to 2,000 miles away. This new platform, however, was clearly designed with China in its cross-hairs, mandating a large increase in strike distance in order to ensure the entirety of the Chinese nation is within reach. For their part, China also has a massive new nuclear-tipped ICBM in development, the Dongfeng-41.

To date, the Agni-V has successfully completed four test launches, with Thursday’s reaching a reported altitude of nearly 373 miles above the Earth’s surface before splashing down some 3,045 miles away in the Indian Ocean. The entire flight took the three stage rocket platform only 19 minutes. The platform utilizes a “canister” design that sees the warhead mated to the three stage rocket and then transported within the canister. This allows the Indian military to rapidly relocate their ICBMs while retaining the ability to quickly launch a response strike if another nation, like China, were ever to conduct a first-strike against India.

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Since the missile is already mated with its nuclear warhead before being sealed in the canister, it drastically cuts down the response or reaction time for a retaliatory strike… only the authorized electronic codes have to be fed to unlock and prime it for launch,” said the Indian official.

This mentality has led to many referring to platforms like India’s Agni-V as “second-strike weapons,” as they are designed, or at least marketed as, a nuclear deterrent, rather than an offensive weapon. Of course, that logic amounts to little more than a semantic argument, as the Agni-V could clearly be used to conduct a first strike against the Chinese, utilizing its mobility to hinder any foreign military’s ability to neutralize the missile before it can be launched.

 

Image courtesy of the Indian Defense Ministry