NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is within days of test-firing a long-range rocket capable of reaching deep into Asia and Europe, a move that would bring the emerging power into a small club of nations with intercontinental defence capabilities.
Scientists are preparing to launch the nuclear warhead-enabled Agni V, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), between April 18 and 20, a defence ministry official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Friday. The official asked not to be named.
Only the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -China, Russia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom - along with Israel, are believed to have such long distance missiles.
The launch will be closely monitored by India's nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan and by Western countries, but is unlikely to draw the kind of criticism aimed at North Korea after its own failed long-range rocket launch on Thursday.
India has a no-first-use policy and says its nuclear weapons and missiles are for defensive purposes only.
"India's missile programme is not directed against any country. The missiles are purely for the purpose of deterrence," said Ravi Kumar Gupta, a senior scientist and director at the government-run Defence Research and Development Organisation that developed the rocket.
"No first use has always been our policy," he said.
The Agni V is designed to be the most advanced version of the indigenously built Agni series, the defence ministry official said. It is powered by solid rocket propellants and can be transported by road.
India has tested several missiles in the past few years as part of its programme which started in the 1960s.
Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Catherine Evans