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India Test-Fires First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

India has successfully test-fired its first nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from a test range off the coast of its south-eastern state of Odisha. The flight lasted about 20 minutes before the missile landed in the Indian Ocean.

Agni-V, a three-stage solid-fueled missile with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), was originally scheduled to be launched on Wednesday. It was postponed to Thursday because of bad weather.

The missile, capable of reaching deep into China and as far as Europe, was designed by scientists of India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The 17.5-meter tall missile weighs about 50 tons and has the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing more than a ton.

With the successful test-firing of Agni-V on Thursday, India joined an elite club of nations possessing such long-range missiles. The other nations known to have such missiles are China, Russia, France, the US and UK, and Israel is thought to posses them.

The three-stage missile, which is estimated to have cost more than 2.5 billion Indian rupees ($480 million) to develop, will be inducted into the Indian Army after it successfully completes several more tests. It is expected to come into service by 2014-15.

India had earlier successfully test-fired three other variants of Agni missiles as well as the two-stage 'Brahmos' supersonic cruise missile that has a flight range of up to 290 kilometers. It has already inducted Brahmos as well as Agni I, II and III, having ranges of 700, 2000 and 3500 kilometers, respectively, into its armed forces.

Earlier this month, India had formally inducted a Russian-made nuclear-powered Nerpa attack submarine into its navy. The Russian submarine is being leased to India under a $900-million contract for ten years.

India had previously operated a Soviet nuclear submarine until 1991. With the induction of Nerpa this month, India rejoined China, Russia, the US, the UK and France as an operator of nuclear submarines after a 20-year gap.

India is also developing an indigenous nuclear submarine, the Arihant. It is expected to be inducted into the country's navy sometime this year. Russia has promised to train Arihant's crew when the vessel becomes operational.

India has been attempting to enhance its military capabilities for deterring Pakistan and China from posing any threats to the country's security. It is currently the biggest arms importer among developing countries.

Nuclear-armed India had fought three wars with Pakistan, of which two were over the disputed region of Kashmir, since the two nations gained independence from Britain in 1947. India accuses Pakistan, also a nuclear power, of supporting and sheltering Kashmiri separatists, but Pakistan denies the allegation.

India also fought a war with China in 1962 and the two nations have since exchanged fire along their disputed border at least on two occasions.

by RTT Staff Writer

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