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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK

World: South Asia

India ready for new missile test

Many Indians are so proud of their country's nuclear missile programme that they have included it in their shrines

The Indian Defence Minister, George Fernandes, says India will soon test-fire a longer-range version of its Agni ballistic missile.

Mr Fernandes said the new Agni-II missile would use up-to-the-minute locally designed technology, but gave no details of its specification, nor testing date.

"Test firing of the Agni-II is inevitable. It will be done soon but no date has yet been finalised," he said.

The Agni-I missile has been test-launched three times since 1993 but it has not been deployed by the military.

Foreign defence experts believe the new missile could carry warheads up to 3,000km - double the range of the Agni-I.

They have expressed serious concern over both India's and Pakistan's missile programme, particularly since both tested nuclear devices earlier this year.

Cruise missile developed

[ image: George Fernandes:
George Fernandes: "Test firing of the Agni-II is inevitable"
Mr Fernandes said that India is also developing a cruise missile system called 'Sagarika'.

The missile is designed to be launched from a submarine or warship.

Correspondents say that the Indian minister's comments is the first official statement on the weapon system by India, which previously denied it planned tp build cruise missiles.

India's missile programme

India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, which started in 1983, has led to the development of an array of five missiles including Agni-I and Prithvi.

A variant of Prithvi for the airforce has been developed and scientists plan to design a ship-to-shore version.

The Indian defence minister said the government will establish a command-and-control system for its nuclear weapons.

"Once a National Security Council is in position, the question of command-and-control would be decided," said Mr Fernandes.

Mr Fernandes announced a series of military projects, including the development of an anti-missile system.

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