Howard Gethin/LONDON

India test fired a new, longer-range version of its Agni intermediate range ballistic missile, designated Agni II, on 11 April. The launch has intensified the sub-continent's arms race, prompting a retaliatory test of Ghauri and Shaheen missiles by neighbouring Pakistan.

The 2,200km (1,200nm)-range solid fuel missile lifted off from Inner Wheeler Island, 16km from Balasore, Orissa. "We have added a new dimension to our defence capability," says defence minister George Fernandes.

In response, Pakistan fired a 2,300km-range Ghauri missile on 14 April and a shorter-range Shaheen (Eagle)the following day. The Shaheen test, near Karachi, was the first firing of the solid fuel type, which has a range of 600km and a 1,000kg (2,200lb) warhead.

Agni II has significant technological improvements compared with the original model, according to Indian Defence Research Development Organisation officials, including new re-entry technology for its 1,000kg warhead.

Agni I was test fired in 1989, 1992 and 1994. Two planned test launches in May 1989 were held up by technical problems. The latest test had been planned for earlier this year but was also delayed by technical issues.

Agni II's range covers all of Pakistan, but more significantly can strike China, which also has a history of tense relations with India. Indian politicians recently said it was concerns over China that led to India's development and test of deployable nuclear weapons.

Source: Flight International