India, on Sunday, successfully test-fired, for the second time, an intercontinental surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead within a strike range of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), as the country tries to offset the growing arsenal of its nuclear-armed neighbors, China and Pakistan.
The missile, which is capable of reaching as far as China and Europe, is an upgraded version of the indigenously built Agni series powered by solid rocket propellants, and India maintains that the missile is not developed as a threat to any nation, but as a deterrent against aggression.
“A major milestone, this second successful test of Agni 5 has demonstrated the maturity, repeatability and robustness of the system,” the Defense Research and Development Organization, or DRDO, said, in a statement. “The Agni 5 missile, in its operational form is designed to be stored and launched from the canister, enhancing its storage, operational readiness, transportability, response time and shelf life.”
The missile took off at 8:50 a.m. on Sunday (11:00 p.m. EDT on Saturday) from the DRDO’s launch pad on Wheeler Island, off the country's eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal, to travel on a pre-defined path before reaching its destination, according to the statement.
Agni-V, which is 17-meters long, 2-meters wide and weighs 50 tons, is capable of delivering a payload of a 1-ton warhead and follows earlier versions in the series -- Agni-I (which has a range of 700 kms), Agni-II (more than 2,000 kms), Agni-III (3,500-5,000 kms) and Agni-IV (2,500-3,500 kms).
The repeat launch of the Agni V missile followed reports that India and the U.S. are close to striking four major defense deals worth nearly $5 billion, in addition to defense contracts worth $8 billion that have already been finalized.
Sources in India’s defense ministry, who spoke to the Times of India on Thursday, said preparations were in the final stages for the purchase of six more C-130J “Super Hercules” aircraft (worth $1.2 billion), 22 Apache attack helicopters ($1.4 billion), 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers ($885 million) and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters ($1 billion).
“The deals should be inked within this financial year despite budgetary constraints. The C-130J deal, for instance, is likely to go to the Cabinet Committee on Security in October-November,” a defense ministry official told the Times of India.
The report added that India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony will hold talks regarding the contracts with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who is due to arrive in India this week.