Indian authorities say they have successfully tested a supersonic cruise missile developed jointly with Russia. A New Delhi defense ministry spokesman said the missile was tested Sunday near Balasore in the eastern Indian Orissa state. A group of Indian and Russian scientists and officials witnessed the launch.

Officials say the missile, which travels at twice the speed of sound, can be launched from ships or submarines and also from aircraft with some modifications. The eight meter long missile has a range of about 300 km. and can carry a 200 kg. conventional warhead. It is fuelled with a solid propellant and travels on a preset path, but its course can be changed in mid-flight.

This is the second test for the missile, it was first tested last year. Both India and Russia plan to start introducing the missile into their armed forces by the end of next year after it has undergone more trials.

Atul Aneja, a defense correspondent for the Hindu newspaper, said the supersonic missile will give India's navy new capabilities.

"There is a long need of the Indian navy to acquire a capability to attack land targets from the sea, so this missile therefore becomes important that if you have a target area while the land forces can do their own attack, but you have an additional capability of launching an attack from the sea on a land target," he said. "And because it is a joint venture project, it will be cheaper and will be available in larger numbers, so your overall cruise missile capability is getting beefed up."

The missile was developed by a company formed in 1998 by Indian and Russian state defense organizations. Indian officials say there are plans to sell the missile to friendly developing countries. Sales will be approved by mutual consent. The close defense cooperation between India and Russia goes back nearly five decades. Nearly two-thirds of all Indian defense hardware is of Russian origin. This includes fighter planes, tanks and submarines. In recent years, both countries have launched several projects for joint research and development of defense equipment.

The supersonic missile is called "BrahMos," a name derived from the Indian river Brahmaputra and the Russian capital Moscow.

Defense analysts say the missile's introduction into the Indian armed forces will give India an edge over Pakistan, which does not possess a similar weapon. The missile test comes during a tense military standoff between the two countries, which have mobilized close to a million troops along their common border since December last year.