India has stormed into an elite club of nations with the capability to hit targets 5,000 km away, with the successful test of the much-anticipated Agni-V long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, described as "China killer".
With its launch from Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast at 8.07 am on Thursday, India also emerged as a major missile powerhouse of the world, having developed Agni-V almost entirely indigenously over the last four years.
Only the US, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom have missiles in their arsenal that can hit targets 5,000 km and beyond.
"The three-stage Agni-V missile's entire performance has been successfully demonstrated. All mission objectives and operational targets have been met," India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief V.K. Saraswat told reporters at the test site.
"India is today a nation with proven capability to design, develop and produce a long-range ballistic missile. India is a missile power now," a jubilant Saraswat said.
"It was a fantastic launch. It hit the target with high accuracy," S.P. Dash, the director of the test range, told IANS.
During the test, the 17.5-metre long Agni-V reached an altitude of 600 km and attained a velocity of 7,000 metres per second, which enabled the missile to achieve its intended target range.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the successful Agni-V long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile test as "another milestone" in the country's "quest for security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science".
"I congratulate all the scientific and technical personnel of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and other organisations who have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country," Manmohan Singh said in his message to Saraswat.
"Today's (Thursday's) successful Agni-V test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science. The nation stands together in honouring the scientific community," Singh said.
But the Agni-V test received an adverse reaction from China, where state-run Global Times said in an article on its op-ed section that India may have missiles that can reach most Chinese territory, but it stands "no chance in an overall arms race".
It added that New Delhi would gain nothing by stirring "further hostility".
The article, 'India being swept up by missile delusion', said India apparently is hoping to enter the global intercontinental missile club, despite intercontinental missiles normally having a range of over 8,000 km.
Soon after DRDO announced the success of Agni-V, India's Defence Minister A.K. Antony spoke to Saraswat and Agni-V Project Director Avinash Chander and congratulated them for "this immaculate success", defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.
Antony described the development as a major milestone in the country's missile programme and said "the nation is indeed proud" of its defence scientists. He also recalled "the untiring contributions" of former DRDO chief M. Natarajan.
At best, Thursday's test of Agni-V is only a demonstration of India's capability to launch an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Agni-V's range is 500-km short of an ICBM. According to the website of American Federation of American Scientists and Britannica.com, the range of an ICBM is 5,500 km and above.
In fact, Saraswat himself has clarified in November 2011 that India was "not developing" an ICBM and that Agni-V is an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).
"We are not developing any ICBM. Our threat perception today is not requiring development of any ICBM," he said then.
"Agni-V will take us to a level of 5,000-km plus class of missile systems which meets all our threat requirements," he said then, noting that the technology for IRBM and ICBM is the same.
China's Deng Fong-31A Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) has a range of 11,500 km and can easily hit the entire Asia and reach targets in Russia and most part of eastern Europe.
Following Thursday's test, Agni-V will go through more tests before it is inducted into the armed forces by the end of 2014 or early 2015.
But this missile provides India the capability to hit targets deep inside China and the entire Pakistan territory.
India maintains a 'no-first-strike' nuclear weapons policy and Agni-V and the 3,500-km-range Agni-IV missile, which was successfully tested in November 2011, are deterrents against a nuclear attack from its enemies.