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India to test 5000-km Agni-V missile within year

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India aims to test a new nuclear-capable missile with a 5000-km (3,100-mile) range, a top military scientist said on Wednesday, a move that could complicate security in a volatile region.

Nuclear-capable Agni-III missile takes off in its third flight launch system at Wheeler Island, 12 km (7 miles) from the coast of Orissa May 7, 2008. India successfully tested the Agni-III missile, which has a 3000-km range, at the weekend and is ready to bring it into the military. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence/Handout/Files

The missile would effectively bring most of China within India’s range, as well as more potential targets to the west and east than its existing weaponry.

“Agni-V is out of the drawing board. We are aiming for a flight trial within a year,” V.K. Saraswat, India’s chief military scientist told reporters.

India successfully tested the Agni-III missile, which has a 3000-km range, at the weekend and is ready to bring it into the military.

Any addition to India’s military capability is viewed with suspicion by rival Pakistan and usually touches off tit-for-tat efforts by Islamabad.

India’s announcement comes at a time when it is trying to improve relations with Pakistan and has sought to restart a dialogue it broke off blaming the 2008 Mumbai attack on Pakistani-based militants.

Relations between India and Pakistan have a direct bearing on international efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where the two countries have long fought a proxy battle for influence.

The United States remains wary of any spike in tensions between the South Asian rivals because that could give Islamabad an excuse to cite a threat from India on its eastern border, and divert focus from fighting the Taliban on its western border.

Last week, Indian and Pakistani officials met in New Delhi to decide the agenda for high-level bilateral talks India has proposed be held later this month.

But analysts said Agni-V may have more to do with India’s concerns about China’s rising military might. The world’s two most populous countries are seen locked in a fight to lead Asia, and a long-festering border dispute between them often threatens to snowball.

“The message is that the situation vis-a-vis China is very fragile, and India is trying to reinforce its deterrent capability,” said Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic affairs at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research.

“Indirectly, India is cautioning China against any military misadventure.”

Saraswat said Agni-V had a 1.5 tonne nuclear warhead payload.

“You can reduce the payload and (further) increase the range,” he said.

Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Jerry Norton