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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

India Proceeds With Missile Tests

Speaking in Bangalore on 1 March, India's chief military scientist, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said that the ongoing successful development of the Prithvi (Earth) surface-to-surface missile meant that "India has emerged as world number one in missile technology... Software for Prithvi has boosted India's capabilities to be on top in this range of missiles." The missile's range is thought to be 250 kilometres (155 miles). Kalam referred glowingly to a 23 February test-firing of the missile, which he said conclusively demonstrated India's capability to "divert a missile's path after launch to pinpoint a desired target." However, he reportedly suggested that further work was needed to complete the missile's development. It has so far been tested 16 times since 1982. It is expected to be deployed with both the Army and Air Force. The 23 February test was reportedly of the Air Force version.

Earlier (26 January), Kamal had described the forthcoming February test as the beginning of "the final phase of flight trails" for the missile. He also announced that "final trials" of two short-range missiles - the surface-to-air Akash, and the anti-tank Nag - would take place between February and April ("the testing season").

On 24 February, Pakistan reacted with anger to the test of the Prithvi, which it suspects of being capable of delivering a weapon-of-mass-destruction (WMD) warhead. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson:

"The Prithvi missile, which is specifically meant to target Pakistan, will exacerbate tensions and threatens a new arms race in the region which Pakistan earnestly wishes to avoid."

On 17 February, Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's recently deposed Prime Minister, told the Parliament that "Pakistan will give its response to Prithvi this year."

The test was defended by India's Foreign Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral (23 February):

"This is not the first time we are doing this. We have done it in the past and it is indicative of our advanced technology... Such tests are in the open and they are not a secret."

Reports: India on final stages of missile development - official, Agence France-Presse International News, 26 January; Pakistan will acquire nuclear response this year - Bhutto, Agence France-Presse International News, 17 February; Bhutto's nuclear threat seen as political weapon, Agence France-Presse International News, 17 February; India test-fires controversial missile, shrugs off criticism, Agence France-Presse International News, 23 February; Pakistan slams test-firing of Prithvi missile by India, Agence France-Presse International News, 24 February; India has world-class missile technology - project chief, Agence France-Presse International News, 1 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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