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Monday, July 10, 2006

India tests nuclear-capable missile

Mon, 10 Jul 2006, 01:24

BHUBANESHWAR, India: India test-fired its longest-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile for the first time Sunday, but it failed to hit its target, defence officials and sources said.

The Agni-III missile, which defence sources say has a range of 4,000 kilometres (2,480 miles), was launched from Wheeler Island in the eastern state of Orissa, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

They said the missile developed problems after a successful take-off.

"The missile after lift-off went vertically to a distance of 12 kilometers when the second booster failed to fire, resulting in non-separation of that stage," one defence official said, asking not to be named.

"The missile crashed into the sea without hitting the target."

The Indian defence ministry, however, refused to comment on whether the missile had failed its first test.

"All I can say is that the take-off was successful. It would take us 48 hours to analyse all the data," defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told AFP.

In May Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had said the Agni-III, India's longest-range ballistic missile, was ready but that the country was observing "self-imposed restraint" before testing.

Opposition parties criticised the announcement, saying testing was being delayed because of pressure from the United States. New Delhi and Washington reached a landmark deal in March that will see sanctions lifted on India's access to civilian nuclear technology.

Sunday's test launch comes just four days after North Korea sparked an international outcry by test-firing seven missiles.

A highly-placed Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) source earlier Sunday said the Indian test was "successful".

He said scientists had detected a snag in the booster rocket system of the Agni-III two weeks ago and had delayed its test. "Now we have papered over the problem and hence the launch window was chosen as Sunday," he said.

The Agni (Fire) is one of five missiles being developed by the DRDO under its Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme launched in 1983. The others are the Prithvi, the surface-to-air Trishul (Trident), multi-purpose Akash (Sky), and the anti-tank Nag (Cobra).

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since independence in 1947, routinely notify each other of missile tests.

"We were informed about it," said Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam in Islamabad.

"It is a ballistic missile test and we have agreement on pre-notification of ballistic missile tests," she said. "We have no other reaction."

The two countries came to the brink of a fourth war in the summer of 2002 following a December 2001 attack on India's parliament by suspected Pakistan-backed militants. Islamabad denied any role in the attack.

But in January 2004 they began a peace process that has led to a ceasefire in the divided Himalayan state of Kashmir, the cause of two of the wars.

In May 1998 India conducted five nuclear tests, citing China as a security threat. The tests were matched two weeks later by Pakistan which India says has received Chinese assistance for its nuclear programme, a claim denied by Beijing.

But tensions between China and India have lessened in the past two years. There have been direct military talks and the reopening last week of a famed Silk Road pass in the Himalayas, the first direct border trade between the Asian giants since a frontier war 44 years ago.

C. Uday Bhaskar, deputy head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, said India's nuclear and missile programmes should not be seen as country-specific.

"Countries acquire strategic capabilities that are generic in nature. Our programme is not predicated on a single point threat. It is always in relation to the international strategic environment," Bhaskar said.
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