India is beginning to develop a new, longer range nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) local media reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.
A scientist with the Defense Research and Development Organization, India’s military technology agency, told The New Indian Express that DRDO is secretly developing a missile with an initial range of 6,000 km (3,728 miles). Currently, India’s longest range ballistic missile is the Agni-V, which has a range of about 5,000 km.
The same source said that the missile that is under development as the Agni-VI, but which will ultimately be called Surya, could eventually be extended to have a range of 10,000 km (6,213 miles).
Earlier this week DRDO chief Avinash Chander had said that India was capable of developing a missile with a range of 10,000 km within two and a half years if necessary. He also suggested that Delhi was not interested in utilizing this capability.
“Range is the least problematic area,” Chander said, according to The Times of India. “We have the full capability to go to any range…it's just a question of additional propellant and larger motors. But, as of now, we don't see the need for a higher range.”
The reports comes just days after DRDO successfully tested the Agni-V for the second time. The first test was back in April of last year. The Agni-V allows India to hold many of China’s largest cities under threat from its nuclear arsenal for the first time. As such, it is often called the "China killer" by India’s media.
Although the Indian media often refers to the Agni-V as an ICBM, its range of 5,000 km is slightly less than the international standard for an ICBM, which is 5,500 km. Thus, Surya will technically be India’s first ICBM.
As previously reported, India has been working on equipping the Agni-V with multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV) that would give it the ability to carry multiple nuclear warheads on a single missile. The scientist who spoke with The New Indian Express on Wednesday said that Surya would be made slightly heavier in order to carry even more nuclear warheads.
“While Agni-V can carry up to three nuclear warheads, the next missile in the series can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, capable of hitting multiple targets,” the DRDO scientist said, according to The New Indian Express.
The same report suggested that the Surya will be ready for testing within three years.
This indicates that development of the missile may be encountering difficulties. The first reports of the Agni-VI’s existence from earlier this year suggested that development would take just two years. Those initial reports also said that the Agni-VI’s initial strike range would be between 8,000 and 10,000 km, instead of the 6,000 km reported on Wednesday.