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India will test-fire a new missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads across much of Asia and the Middle East within the next few months, a news report said Wednesday quoting a top defense scientist.
A first test of the Agni III missile failed in July last year, but scientists have fixed a fault in its heat shield and it will be relaunched again "very soon," the head of India's state-run Defense Research and Development Organization, M. Natrajan, said, according to the Press Trust of India.
"We have now come up with a flexible heat shield. All other parameters of the missile would remain the same," the report cited Natrajan as saying.
Natrajan did not give an exact timeframe for the test. "It may be in May or June or even earlier," he said.
India's current crop of missiles have been largely intended to confront neighboring archrival Pakistan. The Agni III, in contrast, is India's longest-range missile, designed to reach 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) - putting China's major cities well into range, as well as targets deep in the Middle East.
It is also said to be capable of carrying up to a 300 kiloton nuclear warhead.
India and China have engaged in decades of mutual suspicion and fought a 1962 border war. But relations have warmed considerably in recent years as the two Asian giants have boosted trade and economic ties.
India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee met his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday to discuss business, trade and energy security among the three Asian powers.
India's homegrown missile arsenal already includes the short-range Prithvi ballistic missile, the medium-range Akash, the anti-tank Nag and the supersonic Brahmos missile, developed jointly with Russia.
Natrajan, who is also a scientific adviser to India's defense department, also said that the DRDO may carry out a second test of its interceptor missile before testing Agni III.
In November India said it had carried out its first successful test interception of a ballistic missile, using a second missile to shoot down an incoming rocket.