India successfully conducted its fourth, and final, pre-service test of its Agni III IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) on February 7th. The fifty ton, two stage, solid fuel missile reached an altitude of 350 kilometers before heading down towards its target. A 2006 test was a failure, but tests in 2007 and 2008 were successful, as was the latest one.
Over a year ago, India began preparations for putting the Agni III into service. This missile has a 3,500 kilometer range. Currently, the Agni series consists of the Agni I, with a range of 700 kilometers, and the Agni II, with a range of 2,500 kilometers. The missile is two meters (79 inches) in diameter and 17 meters (53 feet) long.
The Agni III had some technical, and diplomatic problems, over the last four years. The technical difficulties were resolved. Indian diplomats, however, were upset over the fact that Agni III exists mainly for use against China. India is trying to develop better relations with China, and Indian diplomats argued for the cancellation of the Agni III project. At first, the government agreed, then quietly resumed work on the Agni III. Work is also underway on the Agni V, which would allow targets in Russia, Europe (Italy and points east), Japan and Africa to be hit. It's unsure what point the Indians are trying to make here.
The Agni I and II are sufficient to cover India's main enemy, Pakistan. The Agni III and V are both multi-stage, solid fuel missiles that can carry a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead. India makes no secret of the fact that Agni III is meant to deter aggression from China.