India test-fires ICBM that puts all of China in striking distance

NEW DELHI - India successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday (Jan 18) that puts all of China within striking distance, the country's Defence Ministry said in a tweet.

The nuclear-capable Agni-V is the country's most advanced ICBM and has an operational range of 5,500km-5,800km. The missile was fired from Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha in the morning, reported CNN.

The ministry dubbed the successful test a "major boost" to the country's defence capabilities. The country is believed to have about 120-130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The missile is 17.5m long and weighs 50 tonnes, with a top speed of Mach 24. It has been tested five times since 2012, with the most recent launch occurring in December 2016. That launch had drawn the ire of both China and Pakistan.

The launch may have been incremental from a technological perspective, but it could have serious geopolitical ramifications, said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT who studies nuclear proliferation.

"It's range has been long known, and India needs it to be able to retaliate against China's eastern seaboard's high value targets," Mr Narang said.

Relations between India and China have been strained in recent times over a border dispute in the Himalayan region of Doklam.

Mr Narang said the timing of the launch was interesting, though he pointed out that it was possible the launch date was scheduled far in advance.

Referring to Doklam, Mr Narang told CNN it was "hard to not wonder whether this test and its timing were meant as a signal to China on that end".