India said it is developing an advanced version of its most sophisticated nuclear-capable missile.

India's Defense Minister George Fernandes said the new surface-to-surface missile being developed by Indian scientists, the Agni III. will have a longer range than the missiles India now possesses.

India has already tested two versions of the nuclear-capable Agni missile. Agni means "fire" in Hindi.

Agni II has a range of about 2,000 kilometers, while the new missile could have a range of more than 3,000 kilometers. Analysts say it will be capable of carrying a one ton nuclear warhead and could hit targets deep in Pakistan and in China.

Mr. Fernandes told the Press Trust of India news agency that scientists hope to test the Agni III by the end of this year.

Several western countries have been urging India to abandon its development of Agni missiles, saying they are worried about a nuclear arms race between archrivals India and Pakistan.

But Mr. Fernandes said India feels it needs a long-range missile "as part of the country's policy of deterrence."

The defense minister said the Agni I and Agni II missiles are already in production and are "available for deployment."

Besides the Agni, India's arsenal includes several other missiles capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.

India conducted nuclear tests in 1998, prompting Pakistan to do the same. Within the past year, both countries have carried out a series of missile tests to fine tune delivery systems for their nuclear weapons.

Last year, a 10 month military standoff sparked global fears that the neighbors would use their nuclear weapons.

India has fought three wars with Pakistan and a brief war with China. In recent years, relations with Beijing have improved significantly, but tensions continue to run high between New Delhi and Islamabad over Indian charges that Pakistan sponsors terrorism in India.