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India postpones long-range missile test

April 18, 2012


India's Agni-III missile. — File Photo

NEW DELHI: Bad weather forced India to postpone Wednesday the first trial of a new long-range nuclear-capable missile that could strike anywhere in China, officials said.

The state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had hoped to launch the 50-tonne Agni V on Wednesday evening, but will now look to a possible test on Thursday or Friday.

“Due to heavy lightning in the region, the Agni V's launch is postponed for safety reasons,” DRDO spokesman Ravi Gupta said in a statement mailed to AFP from the test site in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

Indian defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar also confirmed the last-minute delay to the trial of the missile, which has a range of 5,000-kilometres (3,100-miles).

“A fresh assessment will be done by a team of scientists tomorrow and they will take a decision (on when another attempt might be made),” Kar told AFP.

The DRDO had originally set a three-day window for the trial, extending from Wednesday to Friday.

A successful launch of the indigenous Agni V would be a major step for India, which is spending billions of dollars on an extensive military modernisation programme.

Earlier versions of the Agni -- which means “Fire” in Sanskrit -- are capable of striking targets across traditional rival Pakistan and deep into China, but the Agni V extends that reach to Chinese military installations in the far northeast.

It would also leave India knocking at the door of a select club of nations with inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with ranges of up to 8,000km.

Currently only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- possess a declared ICBM capability.

The Agni-V stands 17-metres (56 feet) high and can carry a one-tonne nuclear warhead.

India boosted military spending to $40 billion in its last budget, and is the world's largest importer of military hardware with Jane's Defence Weekly forecasting its total purchases between 2011 and 2015 will top $100 billion.

India has fought three wars with arch-rival Pakistan since independence in 1947, but China is now viewed as the main focus of India's military concerns.

The disputed border between India and China has been the subject of several rounds of inconclusive diplomatic talks since the 1980s after the two nations fought a brief, bloody war in 1962.