Asia
3:06 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

India Tests Long-Range Missile Launch

Originally published on Thu April 19, 2012 4:34 pm

Transcript

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It's been less than a week since North Korea's failed rocket launch created an international furor. Well, today, India tested its own long-range missile. The new weapon is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Beijing, and the test went off with little international comment. The Indian government called the successful launch a historic event in the country's development.

As Elliot Hannon reports from New Delhi, India is beginning to pivot its military focus from Pakistan to its giant neighbor to the north.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Five, four, three, two, one, now.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

ELLIOT HANNON, BYLINE: India declared the launch of the Agni 5 missile as success and that the country had joined a new club of nations and capable of long-range nuclear strikes. Once operational, the Agni 5 will be able to carry a nuclear warhead over 3,000 miles. India's rocket test and came just days after North Korea's failed launch, but didn't spark the same international uproar.

The Indian government says the missile, which can reach as far Beijing, is a game-changer in the region, but has been quick to emphasize that the missile is meant as a deterrent.

And the development of the Agni 5, along with a string of other big ticket military purchases, shows a shift in who the country thinks it needs to deterring, says Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defense Review.

BHARAT VERMA: India faces threats from two fronts and the principal threat is China. You need to have sufficient deterrence so that you can continue as a democracy. Therefore, this missile is a very big force multiplier as a deterrence for India.

HANNON: India has been paying more attention to China, now that its long-standing confrontation with Pakistan appears to be lessening. India and China share a border that stretches thousands of miles, almost all of which is disputed. As both countries have risen economically over the past decade, China's defense spending has risen with it. That has left India playing catch-up.

Recently, India has been trying to modernize its military. Earlier this year, it signed a multi-billion-dollar deal with France for fighter jets and has spent billions more on American equipment. That upgrade in Indian military hardware, however, does not constitute an arms race, says Subash Kapila from the South Asia Analysis Group, an independent think tank in New Delhi.

DR. SUBASH KAPILA: What people see as sizable military defense expenditure are nothing more than catching up with what had been planned as part of our normal military planning.

HANNON: But it takes years for the Indian government to make purchases and even longer for them to be delivered. A leaked report from an Indian general to the prime minister said Indian forces were ill-equipped and underprepared. That led to criticism the Indian government wasn't paying enough attention to national security.

And India's growing economic interests have also helps create a sense of urgency, says Bharat Verma.

VERMA: Suddenly, everybody in Delhi is waking up to the fact that they do have a serious threat from China. And our only strategic interests are spreading.

HANNON: Upgrading India's military, however, is still thought to be a decade-long process. But with the launch of the Agni 5, it's a process India appears willing to invest in.

For NPR News, I'm Elliot Hannon in New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.