India has successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile. Indian authorities say the launch sent an Agni-V, a missile with a strike range of some 3,100 miles, flying from an island off the country’s east coast in midmorning local time Thursday.
In a tweet heralding the test, Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman described it as a “major boost to the defence capabilities of our country.”
A “boost” it may be, but it is not a first: The inaugural test of the Agni-V occurred in 2012, and the country has tested this three-stage missile several times since, including a launch celebrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2016.
Still, the Agni-V has not yet officially rotated into the menagerie of missiles in the employ of India’s Strategic Forces Command, which manages the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The Federation of American Scientists estimates India has 120 to 130 nuclear weapons in its inventory, placing it among the nine countries worldwide known to possess such weapons.
Indian broadcaster NDTV comments that when the Agni-V is fully operational, the country will join a still more “super-exclusive club of countries with ICBMs or intercontinental ballistic missiles … the others are the US, Britain, Russia, China and France.”
That capacity is expected to send a message to India’s northern neighbors, Pakistan and China, which have substantial nuclear arsenals of their own and share fraught relationships with their rival to the south.
Throughout last summer, India and China stared one another down over disputed territory along their Himalayan border. Sparked by China’s decision in June to construct a road in the Doklam Plateau, a region claimed by both Beijing and the tiny Indian ally Bhutan, the friction lasted months and prompted both China and India to beef up the troop presence there.
Though both countries agreed to an “expeditious disengagement” of troops in August, intending to de-escalate the standoff, ill feelings continue to simmer. In fact, as local media reported Thursday, India’s principal opposition party registered anger that recent Chinese moves in the region — in its spokesperson’s reported words — indicate “that India’s security and strategic interests have been compromised.”
It is “hard to not wonder whether this test and its timing were meant as a signal to China on that end,” Vipin Narang, a nuclear proliferation scholar, told CNN on Thursday.
And more than seven decades after the Partition that separated Pakistan from India, relations between them have been little friendlier. On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that troops from the two countries once again “traded gunfire” in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Pakistan, for its part, continues to advance its own missile program. As NBC News reported, just over a year ago Pakistan tested its first submarine-launched cruise missile — a weapon “named after a sixteenth century Islamic Mughal warrior who invaded and conquered India.”