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Indian nuclear weapons capability

 

【Overview】

India is a non-signatory of the NPT that maintains a nuclear arsenal. The nation is pursuing the strengthening and modernization of its nuclear forces in order to establish the nuclear triad similarly to the U.S. and Russia. The long-running relationship of tension with neighboring Pakistan is in the background to this but in recent years the weight is increasingly shifting towards containment countermeasures against China, and this trend is becoming further marked due to border clashes between the Indian and Chinese armies (refer for example to O’Donell, Frank & Bollfrass, Alxander K. 2020). India has always publicly stated a no first use policy, but the creditability of this is wavering with repeated pronouncements by senior government officials hinting at a change in policy (Kristensen, Hans M. & Kile, Shannon N. 2020).

As of April 2020, the country is believed to possess 160 warheads, up 10 on the year (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2021). This estimate is based on the amount of weapons-grade fissile matter likely in India’s possession as well as the number of potentially available nuclear-capable delivery systems. The nuclear warheads are not deployed and it had appeared that they were placed in a central storage facility, but it has also been suggested that in recent years various measures have been taken to increase readiness (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020).

India’s nuclear weapons are believed to be plutonium-based. According to estimates as of the end of 2018 India possessed around 600kg of weapons-grade plutonium (International Panel on Fissile Materials 2021), and it has been reported that moves are being made to increase plutonium production by building new production facilities including a fast breeder reactor (Kristensen, Hans M. & Kile, Shannon N. 2020). Furthermore, in addition to weapons-grade plutonium, India has around 7.8 tons of reactor-grade plutonium that it has separated from heavy water reactor fuel and earmarked for potential strategic use in the future. Since it is feasible that this plutonium could be transferred to military use in the future we estimate India’s total stockpile of separated plutonium for military use as being around 8.4 tons (RECNA 2021). Given that 4-6 kg of plutonium is needed to manufacture a nuclear bomb (although this is influenced by the level of technology), this amount is the equivalent of 1,400-2,100 nuclear warheads. With higher levels of technical sophistication, however, it is possible to obtain a bomb from 2- 4kg plutonium (Union of Concerned Scientists 2004), in which case the same Indian stockpile would suggest an arsenal of 4,200 warheads. India is also increasing production of highly enriched uranium (HEU), presumably for use aboard nuclear submarines (International Panel on Fissile Materials 2021).

India’s nuclear capability consists of four types of ground-launched ballistic missile, two types of sea-launched ballistic missile, and two types of aircraft. There are also at least five more types of ballistic missiles in development (three ground-launched, one sea-launched and one air-launched). One of them, Agni-5, has a range approximating the ICBM trajectory and Agni-6 is expected to have a longer reach. It is also believed that India is planning to build a fleet of four to six Indian-manufactured SSBN (Kile, Shannon N. & Kristensen, Hans M. 2020). INS Arihant, India’s first domestically built nuclear-powered SSBN was launched in 2009 and became officially operational in February 2016. In November 2018 the Indian government announced that the Arihant had conducted its first deterrent patrol. India’s Prime Minister Modi asserted that the nation had achieved the nuclear triad, but whether or not the Arihant is actually loaded with a nuclear warhead remains unclear (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020). INS Arighat, the second SSBN, was also launched in 2017 and is planned to be commissioned in early 2021 (DefenseWorld.net 2020). The third and fourth SSBNs are expected to be launched by 2024 following delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it appears that India has started to develop the next-generation S-5 class SSBN, which will be capable of carrying more missiles than the Arihant and Arighat (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020).

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【Notes】

1) The source for information on missile / bomb, No. of warheads per weapon, range, and year first deployed is Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020, Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee 2020. The source for information on payloads is Kile, Shannon N. & Kristensen, Hans M.2015. In addition to the warheads allotted for each deployed delivery vehicle, the Agni III, IV, V and K-15 warheads are thought to have been produced (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020).

2) Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). (Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee 2020 estimated the range of SRBM as 250km, and distinguishes it from close-range ballistic missiles (CRBM) with a range of 300km or less). Single-stage. Liquid propellant. Road-mobile. The yield of the nuclear warheads is 12kt. The latest test launch was conducted on December 16, 2020 (The Economic Times 2020).

3) Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) (Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee 2020 considers it as close-range ballistic missile). Single-stage. Liquid-propellant. Road-mobile. A successor to Prithvi 1 (150km range). The latest test launch was conducted on September 20, 2018 (Molenda, Jenevieve 2018). It is also reported that India is developing a new ground-launched ballistic missile, Pranash, an advanced version of Prahaar with extended range of 200km (Hindustan Times 2020).

4) Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Two-stage. Solid-propellant. Road-mobile. The yield of the nuclear warhead is 40kt. Operational in 2007. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee 2020 estimated the number of missiles as being “fewer than 75.” The latest test launch was conducted on October 30, 2018 (NDTV2019).

5) Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). A modified variant of the Agni-I. Two-stage. Solid-propellant. Road-mobile. The yield of the nuclear warhead is 40kt. The latest test launch was conducted on November 17, 2019, which is believed to be its first night launch (INDIA TV 2019).

6) Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). Two-stage. Solid-propellant. Rail-mobile. The yield of nuclear warhead is 40kt. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee 2020 estimates that it has less than ten missiles. The latest test launch was conducted on November 30, 2019, which is believed to be its first night launch (Sputnik 2019).

7) Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). Two-stage. Solid-propellant. Road・Rail -mobile. (Road-mobile, according to some documentation (Kile, Shannon N. & Kristensen, Hans M. 2018).) The yield of nuclear warhead is 40kt. The latest test launch (the seventh) was conducted on December 23, 2018 (NDTV 2018).

8) Intermediate-range ballistic missile (Missile Defense Project 2018 estimates its range 5,000-8,000km, categorizing it as intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)). Three-stage. Solid-propellant. Road-mobile. The first test launch was conducted on April 19, 2012. The latest test launch was conducted on December 12, 2018 (The Economic Times 2018). Unlike other types in the Agni series, the Agni-5 is cased, for quicker response, in a newly developed mobile canister (launch tube), from which it is fired. While many reports allude to Indian plans to MIRV the Agni-5, Kristensen & Korda discount the scenario (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020).

9) The Agni-6, an ICBM with an extended range, is believed to be in development. The U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center sees the Agni-6 to be in design phase and estimates its strike range at 6,000km (National Air and Space Intelligence Center 2017).

10) Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Single-stage. Liquid-propellant. The yield of nuclear warhead is 12kt. The naval version of the Prithvi-2. It is launched from Sukanya-class offshore patrol vessels. Each ship carries two Dhanush missiles (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020). The latest test launch was conducted on February 23, 2018 (NDTV 2018-1).

11) Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Two-stage. Solid-propellant. The yield of nuclear warhead is 12kt. INS Arihant is capable of carrying 12 K-15 missiles (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020) Some reports allege INS Arighat is capable of carrying 24 K-15 missiles but this is unconfirmed (Kile, Shannon N. & Kristensen, Hans M. 2018). The latest test launch was conducted on January 27, 2013 (Eshel, Tamir 2013). The ground-launched model of the K-15 is called the Shourya, and it may attain nuclear capability (Missile Threat 2018-2). Shourya was successfully test launched on October 3, 2020 (Chordia, Saurav 2020).

12) Two-stage. Solid-propellant. The latest test launch was conducted on January 19, 2020 (NDTV 2020). INS Arihant can carry four K-4 missiles (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020). INS Arighat and newer vessels are believed to be capable of carrying eight missiles (Kile, Shannon N. & Kristensen Hans M. 2019). India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has declared that it also has a plan to develop SLBMs equivalent to the Agni V with an increased range of 5,000 km (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020).

13) In 2016 India concluded an agreement to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets. According to Ambassador of India to France they are scheduled for delivery in 2022 (Zeenews 2021). Since these fighter jets are deployed in nuclear missions in France it has been indicated that they may become the successors to the Jaguar IS bombers, but there has been no official announcement (Kristensen, Hans M. & Kile, Shannon N. 2020). 

14) 1 Squadron and No. 7 Squadron (possibly 9) of 40 Wing are deployed at Maharajpur Air Force Station, and 1 or 2 Squadron is thought to have a nuclear mission (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020). Upgrades continue, with the latest model known as the Mirage 2000 I.

15) Out of four squadrons (a total of 76 aircraft), two are considered to have nuclear missions (Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2018).

16) Nirbhay, an air-launched cruise missile (700-1,000km range, 450kg payload), is suspected of nuclear capability. Tests since 2013 continued to fail, with the fifth finally succeeding on November 8, 2017 (Pandit, Rajat, 2017). On February 6, 2020, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced the completion of the Nirbhay development program and also revealed a new development plan of several cruise missiles, including a successor to Nirbhay (Dahlgren, Masao 2020). The partial deployment of the Nirbhay was reported in September 2020 (Aroor, Shiv 2020). The latest launch test took place on October 13, 2020, but was unsuccessfull due to technical trouble (Raghuvanshi, Vivek 2020).

 

【Source】

Aroor, Shiv 2020: “India deploys long-range missile Nirbhay to counter Chinese threat at LAC,” India Today, 28 September 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/india-deploys-long-range-missile-nirbhay-to-counter-chinese-threat-at-lac-1726255-2020-09-28 (accessed April 13, 2021)

Chordia, Saurav 2020: “India successfully test fired hypersonic missile Shaurya.” American Military News, 9 October 2020, https://americanmilitarynews.com/2020/10/india-successfully-test-fired-hypersonic-missile-shaurya/ (accessed April 13, 2021)

Dahlgren, Masao 2020: “India Reveals New Cruise, Antiship Missiles,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 7, 2020, last modified February 7, 2020, https://missilethreat.csis.org/india-reveals-new-cruise-antiship-missiles/ (accessed April 13, 2021)

DefenseWorld.net 2020: “Indian Navy’s Arighat SSBN to be Commissioned in early 2021,” 18 December 2020, https://www.defenseworld.net/news/28581/Indian_Navy___s_Arighat_SSBN_to_be_Commissioned_in_early_2021#.YL2bL6FUuM8 (accessed April 13, 2021)

Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee 2020: “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat,” July 2020, https://media.defense.gov/2021/Jan/11/2002563190/-1/-1/1/2020%20BALLISTIC%20AND%20CRUISE%20MISSILE%20THREAT_FINAL_2OCT_REDUCEDFILE.PDF (accessed April 13, 2021)

Estel, Tamir 2013: “India’s K-15 Sagarika Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Completes Developmental Tests,” Defense Update, 27 January 2013, https://defense-update.com/20130127_k5_slbm_complete_tests.html (accessed April 13, 2021)

Hindustan Times 2020: “India to develop 200-km range tactical ballistic missile,” 7 February 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-to-develop-200-km-ranage-pranash-missile/story-eev9HZEZo2m6ADnIjSnvcP.html (accessed April 13, 2021)

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International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) 2021: “Fissile material stocks: India,” 29 April 2021, http://fissilematerials.org/countries/india.html (accessed May 10, 2021)

Kristensen, Hans M. & Kile, Shannon N. 2020: “Indian nuclear forces,” SIPRI Yearbook 2020 Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, Oxford University Press 2020, pp.362‒368.

Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2021: “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists. https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/ (accessed April 12, 2021)

Kristensen, Hans M. & Korda, Matt 2020: “Indian nuclear forces, 2020,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 76, no. 4, pp.217–225.
 
Missile Defense Project 2018-1: “Agni-5,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11 August 2016, last modified 15 June 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/agni-5/ (accessed April 13, 2021)

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Molenda, Jenevieve 2018: “India Successfully Test Fires Prahaar Ballistic Missile,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 21, 2018, last modified September 21, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/india-successfully-test-fires-prahaar-srbm/ (accessed April 13, 202)

NDTV 2020: “India Successfully Test-Fires Nuclear-Capable K-4 Missile Off Andhra Pradesh Coast: Report,” 19 January 2020, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/k-4-missile-india-test-fires-nuclear-capable-k-4-missile-off-andhra-pradesh-coast-says-report-2166498 (accessed April 13, 2021)

NDTV 2019: “India Conducts Successful Night Trail Of Agni-1 Ballistic Missile” 30 October 2019, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/india-conducts-successful-night-trail-of-agni-1-ballistic-missile-1940274 (accessed April 13, 2021)

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NDTV 2018-2: “India Successfully Test-Fires Nuclear-Capable Agni-IV Missile,” 23 December 2018. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/india-successfully-test-fires-nuclear-capable-agni-iv-missile-1966895 (accessed April 13, 2021)

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The Times of India 2020: “India successfully test fires Prithvi II ballistic missiles,” 16 December 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-successfully-testfires-two-prithvi-2-ballistic-missiles/articleshowprint/79764112.cms (accessed April 12, 2021)

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Zeenews 2021: “3 more Rafale fighter jets to land in India today after mid-air refuelling in UAE,” 31 March 2021, https://zeenews.india.com/india/3-more-rafale-fighter-jets-to-land-in-india-today-after-mid-air-refuelling-in-uae-2351737.html (accessed April 13, 2021)

 

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