India, Pakistan Test Nuke-Capable Missiles

India test-fired a short-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon on Wednesday, and neighbor Pakistan immediately announced that it had tested a similar missile.

The nuclear-armed rivals often conduct such tit-for-tat tests of missiles capable of reaching parts of the other's territory.

India launched the surface-to-surface Prithvi missile Wednesday from the Chandipur testing range in eastern Orissa state, said Baljit Singh Menon, a defense ministry spokesman.

Menon said it was a routine test to improve the version of the Prithvi that would be used by the army, and described the launch as a "user's trial" that was "successful in every respect."

In Islamabad, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said Pakistan on Wednesday tested one of its Abdali missiles, which can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads and have a range of less than 132 miles. Khan would not say where the missile test was conducted, or whether it occurred before or after the Indian test,

"Pakistan has also test fired a missile today, but we informed India about it," Khan said.

Khan said Pakistan was taken by surprise by India's announcement that it had fired a Prithvi missile. "They didn't tell us about it beforehand," he said.

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, and came to the brink of war again last year.

The test was one of scores carried out by India's Defense Research and Development Organization to perfect the capability of the missile to carry a nuclear warhead.

The Chandipur missile testing range lies 750 miles southeast of New Delhi.

India's missile arsenal includes the Trishul, a surface-to-air missile which targets aircraft and can counter sea-skimming missiles; the intermediate-range Agni, which can reach 1,500 miles; the short-range ballistic missile Prithvi with a range of 95 miles; and the anti-tank Nag missile.

India conducted five nuclear tests in 1998, causing international consternation and provoking economic sanctions by the United States and other Western nations. India's tests were followed by nuclear tests by Pakistan.

Since then, Indian defense scientists have been engaged in developing a missile delivery system for its nuclear arsenal. They have conducted 16 trials of the army version of the Prithvi, which was first test fired in February 1988.

The Prithvi, which means Earth in the Hindi language, can carry a payload of one ton.