India announced today that it had successfully test launched a new nuclear-capable missile that would give it, for the first time, the capability of striking the major Chinese cities of Beijing and
The government has hailed the Agni-V missile, with a range of 3,100 miles, as a major boost to its efforts to counter China's regional dominance and become an Asian power in its own right.
The head of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation, Vijay Saraswat, said the missile was launched from Wheeler Island off India's east coast.
It rose to an altitude of more than 370 miles, its three stages worked properly and its payload was deployed as planned, he told Times Now news channel.
"India has emerged from this launch as a major missile power," he said.
The window for the launch opened last night, but the test had to be postponed because of weather conditions.
Avinash Chandra, mission director for the test, said that when the launch took place this morning the missile performed as planned.
"We have achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve in this mission," he told Times Now.
The Agni-V is a solid-fuel, three-stage missile designed to carry a 1.5-ton nuclear warhead.
It stands 57 feet tall, has a launch weight of 50 tons and was built at a reported cost of 25 billion rupees (486 million US dollars).
It can be moved across the country by road or rail and can be used to carry multiple warheads or to launch satellites into orbit.
The missile will need four or five more trials before it can be inducted into India's arsenal at some point in 2014 or 2015, Indian officials said.
China is far ahead of India in the missile race, with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in India.
Currently, the longest-range Indian missile, the Agni-III, has a range of only 2,100 miles and falls short of many major Chinese cities.
India hailed the test as a major step in its fight to be seen as a world power.
"India has today become a nation with the capability to develop, produce, build long-range ballistic missiles and today we are among the six countries who have this capability," Mr Saraswat said.
India and China fought a war in 1962 and continue to nurse a border dispute. India has also been suspicious of Beijing's efforts to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean in recent years.
"While China doesn't really consider India any kind of a threat or any kind of a rival, India definitely doesn't think in the same way," said Rahul Bedi, a defence analyst in New Delhi.
India already has the capability of hitting anywhere inside arch-rival Pakistan, but has engaged in a splurge of defence spending in recent years to counter the perceived Chinese threat.
The Indian navy took command of a Russian nuclear submarine earlier this year, and India is expected to take delivery of a retrofitted Soviet-built aircraft carrier soon.
The new Agni, named for the Hindi word for fire, is part of this military build-up and was designed to hit deep inside China, Mr Bedi said.
Government officials said the missile should not be seen as a threat.
"We have a declared no-first-use policy, and all our missile systems, they are not country specific. There is no threat to anybody," said Ravi Gupta, spokesman for the Defence Research and
Development Organisation, which built the missile.
"Our missile systems are purely for deterrence and to meet our security needs."