Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nuclear India moves closer to missile defence shield

India announced a final successful test of the surface-to-air Akash missile before starting mass production under an ambitious plan to build a national missile defence shield.

The missile blasted off from the Chandipur-on-Sea testing site, 200 kilometres (125 miles) northeast of Orissa state capital Bhubaneswar and hit an unmanned flying target, defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told AFP.

"The Akash missile has successfully hit the bull's eye for the fifth time in a row in the past 10 days and the last trial successfully took place today," he said.

The 700-kilogram (1,540-pound) Akash, meaning "sky" in Hindi, can track 100 targets simultaneously with onboard radar, move at 600 metres (yards) a second and deliver a 55-kilogram warhead across 27 kilometres (17 miles) in 50 seconds.

"The missile system has been configured to be part of a futuristic network centric operation," the defence ministry said in a separate statement.

Akash will join forces with a radar-based interceptor missile project which is planned to be ready within three years and provide the national missile defence shield, missile scientists say.

New Delhi government officials report that the Indian-made interceptor missiles have performed better than Patriot air-defence batteries manufactured by US defence group Raytheon.

Friday's final Akash test came a week after India announced plans to increase its nuclear prowess with a ballistic missile capable of hitting targets up to 6,000 kilometres (3,800 miles) away.

India has built a range of ballistic and cruise missiles as a deterrent to the arsenal of China which gave India a bloody nose during a 1962 bitter border war. The border dispute remains unresolved.

The missile development project is also intended to counter the acquisition of newer missiles by rival Pakistan which carried out tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests after India conducted a series of atomic detonations in 1998.

They have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since their 1947 independence and came close to a possible nuclear conflict following an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 by gunmen Delhi said were backed by Islamabad.

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