India launches long range missile, joins elite club of nuclear nations

India has joined the elite club of nuclear nations, a band of warhead-toting powers that boasts long range intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities. The country announced the “flawless” launch of an Agni-V missile from an island off the east coast. The Agni-V has a range of 5,000 km and took 20 minutes to reach its target in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia.

“It was a perfect launch. It met all the test parameters and hit its pre-determined target,” SP Das, test range director, told the BBC.

With the successful firing of this long range missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, India has entered the same league as the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain. It comes at the same time as the country nears the completion of a nuclear submarine, Al Jazeera reports. India claims that its nuclear program is meant solely to deter attacks.

The new missile puts Beijing and Shanghai, two of China’s major urban centres, within range of an Indian nuclear strike for the first time. As one New Delhi-based defence expert told the Wall Street Journal, this puts India on “deterrence parity” with its regional rival. Since Beijing can significantly outspend India on defence, the south Asian country looks to a strong nuclear program as an important deterrent to the possibility of war.

The Chinese media was dismissive of the missile launch. The state-run Global Times wrote that “India should be clear that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.”

The Agni-V missile, as the BBC reports, is 17.5 metres tall, weighs 50 tons when it is launched and costs about US$480 million.