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India tests new, long-range Agni-V nuclear-capable missile

India has hailed its second test launch of a long-range missile as a success, saying it "met all the mission objectives with absolute accuracy." Once ready, the Agni-V would stretch India's theoretical nuclear reach.

An Agni-V missile took off from a test range on Wheeler Island in eastern India on Sunday, clearing the way for continued testing and eventually production.

"The missile hit its target in the Indian Ocean in 20 minutes - all desired mission objectives of this developmental test were met," Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) spokesman Ravi Gupta said. The DRDO is a department for high-tech military developments.

The surface-to-surface Agni-V flew in a maiden test last April. Gupta said there would be four or five more trials, the first likely within three months, before the missile was put into production for military use. He said the DRDO was currently working on technology to hermetically seal the missile in a canister, increasing its shelf life and improving its mobility and launch time. "The next launch would be from a canister," Gupta said.

The Agni-V has a range of about 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), extending the current maximum range of 3,500 kilometers offered by the Agni-III. India's theoretical nuclear reach already covers all of neighboring Pakistan, but analysts say the country's ballistic program is now designed to counter nearby nuclear power China. If the Agni-V's stated range figures are accurate, it should be able to reach most or all of China from India.

Fellow rising powers of more than 1 billion people, India and China fought a brief border war in 1962 and still harbor some minor territorial disagreements. Yet, according to the military, Sunday's test was a routine one that should not cause any alarm.

"We have a declared no-first-use policy. Our program is for deterrence and for peace," Gupta of the DRDO said.

"Agni" is a word meaning "fire" in both Sanskrit and present-day Hindi given to a series of Indian rockets, and can trace its way via Latin to the English "ignite."

msh/mkg (AFP, dpa, )