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India Tests-Fires Nuclear Capable ICBM

New Delhi (January 19, 2018): India has successfully test-fired a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the country’s Defense Ministry said.

The nuclear-capable Agni-V is believed to be India’s most advanced ICBM. It was fired Thursday morning India time from Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha, the ministry said in a tweet.

It called the test a “major boost” to the country’s defense capabilities. India is estimated to have around 120 to 130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists, compared to several thousand for the US. Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT who studies nuclear proliferation, said Thursday’s test did not demonstrate any “new capability, (this) was simply a developmental test before India inducts it into operational service.”

Narang said it’s possible India’s armed forces were testing the canister the missile is launched out of, as well as its ejection, flight performance and accuracy — a “regular technical test in that regard.”The Agni-V has been tested five times since 2012, with the most recent being in December 2016. While Thursday’s test may have been incremental from a technological perspective, it could have serious geopolitical ramifications.

Relations between Beijing and New Delhi have been strained following a protracted border dispute in late 2017 over the Himalayan region of Doklam.Given the lingering tensions from the Doklam standoff, Narang said the timing of the launch was very interesting, though he added it was likely scheduled far in advance of Thursday’s test date.

Referring to Doklam, Narang said it was “hard to not wonder whether this test and its timing were meant as a signal to China on that end.”

At home, the launch also coincided with two major events, a state visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and one of India’s flagship geopolitical conferences: the Raisina Dialogue 2018.

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