BHUBANESHWAR, India (AFP) – India tested a short range nuclear capable missile off the east coast, a defence official said, just weeks after talks with Pakistan on reducing the risk of atomic confrontation. The homegrown Agni surface-to-surface missile, with a strike range of 700 kilometres (about 435 miles), was fired from a mobile launcher at Wheeler Island off eastern Orissa state, the official said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated defence scientists for the test and said it was not a threat to any country but a step in India’s quest to become self-reliant.
“The test should not be viewed as a threat to any country. Absolutely not… it marks yet another step forward in India’s efforts to achieve self-reliance in high technology defence capabilities,” Singh told reporters.
Pakistan said it was not worried about the missile test as it was a “sovereign right” for any country to enhance its military capability.
During their June 19-20 talks in New Delhi, India and Pakistan agreed to set up a hotline to prevent nuclear confrontation, continue a ban on nuclear tests and conclude an agreement on informing each other in advance of missile tests.
The 12 metre (39 foot) high missile fired Sunday, one of the variants of the Agni series, can carry a one-tonne payload. It is powered by solid fuel which enables it to travel at 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) per second.
It can be fired from both rail-based and road-mobile missile launchers.
“This provides the missile with greater operational flexibility,” the defence official said.
The missile was first tested on January 25, 2002 and again on January 9, 2003 from the same launch site.
Early last month, Pakistan successfully test a ballistic missile, Hatf V, which has a range of 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). The missile could carry nuclear warheads deep inside India.
“Both countries (Pakistan and India) do the tests. It is a sovereign right of a country to take any measure for its defence,” chairman of Pakistan’s senate foreign relations committee Mushahid Hussain told AFP.
“We reserve the sovereign right to improve our defence capability and same right be granted to other countries,” Hussain said.
“We do not take exception to that, any other country can do it also.”
Days ago media reports in Pakistan quoted President Pervez Musharraf as saying Islamabad would conduct an “important” missile test in two months’ time.
Musharraf did not disclose details of the test but said domestic critics who believed Pakistan had decided to roll back its nuclear and missile programmes were living in a “fool’s paradise”, the Dawn newspaper said Thursday.
Indian security analyst C. Uday Bhaskar said the two countries’ tests were part of efforts to achieve “operational credibility” in relation to their missile programmes.
“A rough thumb rule is … to conduct 25 to 40 tests before a particular missile is operationally proven and becomes part of the inventory,” he said describing the tests as routine with more to follow.
Washington on Thursday expressed concern over Pakistan’s move to conduct a key missile test saying it would revive dangers posed by nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as well as of an arms race in South Asia.
Uday Bhaskar however dismissed such apprehensions saying that as India and Pakistan engaged in nuclear confidence building measures, both sides also wanted to have a “comprehensive” inventory of missiles.
“We know what we are doing … (so) a missile test should not generate that kind of anxiety anywhere,” he said.