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Table of Indian Nuclear Forces, 2002




MiG-27 Flogger/Bahadhur
At Ambala Air Base
Jaguar IS/IB/Shamsher
At Hindan Air Base

Prithvi I
Only deployed ballistic missile, may have nuclear role
Agni I
Tested but status unclear
Agni II
Test fired in January 2001, deployment expected soon


It is very difficult to estimate the size and composition of India's nuclear arsenal. Unofficial and semi-official estimates range from a handful to dozens, and an estimate is made here of a stockpile of between 60 and 90 nuclear warheads. India is thought to have produced enough fissile material for that many warheads and most assessments are that India is expanding its stockpile. The Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) stated that the series of five nuclear test explosions in May 1998 involved fission and fusion designs. One of the tests, with a yield of 15 kilotons, reportedly was a weapon, while the other four were various weaponized configurations. The performance of the hydrogen device and the possible use of reactor-grade plutonium in one of the other tests remain unresolved. AEC chairman Rajgopal Chidambaram stated in October 2000 that the tests were "completely successful" and provided India with "the capability to design and fabricate weapons ranging from low yield to around 200 kilotons." Construction of a new 500 Megawatt sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam is scheduled to begin soon.

On August 17, 1999 a widely publicized draft document on Indian nuclear doctrine, prepared by a 27-member National Security Advisory Board, called for the creation of a "credible minimum deterrent" to be based "on a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets." The Board's recommendations had no official standing, however, but a National Security Council was established in April 1999 to implement nuclear policy. It is unclear what progress they have made in setting up a nuclear command and control system and other responsibilities.

While the army and the air force have been working on fine-tuning their respective nuclear strategies, the Indian government has been considering a proposal by the Tri-Services Chiefs of Staff Committee to create a strategic nuclear force. The proposal followed a report by the Group of Ministers' to establish a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to act as a single point military advisor to the prime minister and management and control of nuclear weapons and strategic forces. The CDS would "exercise administrative control, as distinct from operational military control over these strategic forces," according to the report.

During 2001, including during heightened tension with Pakistan, Indian government officials have reaffirmed India's commitment to a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons. An Indian foreign ministry official told Defense News in 2002, however, that a "'no first strike' policy does not mean India will not have a first strike capability." He explained that India was "working toward having a first strike capability," but that it was a political decision how to exercise this option within the "no first strike" policy.

On May 31, 2001 the Indian Defence Ministry released a report detailing its plans to modernize its forces as well as assessing its security concerns. Not surprisingly Pakistan's support of terrorist groups headed the list. After a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 the two nations mobilized their armed forces leading to a tense situation and some bellicose words. Indian Prithvi missiles reportedly were moved to positions near the Pakistani border.

India has several types of aircraft that could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon. Considerations of range, payload and speed, however, narrow the choice to one or two types. The most likely Indian aircraft for nuclear weapon delivery are the MiG-27 and the Jaguar. The MiG-27 Flogger is a nuclear-capable Soviet aircraft produced in the 1970s and 1980s. Hindustan Aeronautics assembled, under license, 165 aircraft, which India calls the Bahadhur (Valiant or Brave). The single-seat aircraft weighs almost 18,000 kg when fully equipped and can fly to a range of approximately 800 km. It can carry up to 3,000 kg of bombs on external hard points. There are nine operational squadrons. It is not known which of the bases may host nuclear-capable aircraft but one likely candidate is Hindan, north of New Delhi. Some 50 MiG-27MLs are deployed there, less than 640 km from Lahore. A few aircraft from Squadrons 9 (Wolf Pack), 10 (Winged Daggers) or 18 (Flying Bullets) may be specially modified to carry one or more nuclear bombs.

The Jaguar IS/IB, known as the Shamsher (Sword), was nuclear-capable with the British Royal Air Force from 1975 to 1985 and with the French Air Force from 1974 to 1991. Originally a joint Anglo-French aircraft, the first 40 were supplied by British Aerospace, with the remaining 91 assembled or manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics. With a gross weight of 15,450 kg the aircraft has a range of 1,600 km with a maximum external load of 4,775 kg. There are four operational squadrons, though which bases may host nuclear-capable aircraft is not known. One likely candidate is Ambala, 525 km from Islamabad. A few aircraft from Squadrons 5 (Tuskers), 14 (Bulls) and 20 (Lightnings) may be specially modified to carry one or more nuclear bombs. In Indian Air Force organization, Hindan and Ambala are part of Western Command, located at Palam and reporting to headquarters in New Delhi.

Other aircraft such as the Su-30K and Mirage 2000H could be equipped to deliver nuclear bombs, but are probably for air defense missions. A Mirage 2000H may have been used in May 1994 to test-drop a dummy nuclear bomb, although this has not been officially confirmed. India was reported in late 1999 to have initiated preliminary talks with France about a possible purchase of up to 18 Mirage 2000D to form part of its nuclear strike force. Ten Mirage 2000 were ordered in September 2000. In December 2000 India signed a $3 billion contract with Russia for the license-production of 140 Su-30MKI aircraft at Hindustan Aeronautics over the next 17 years. Forty Su-30K fighters procured in 1996 may also be upgraded to MKI standard. Air Chief Marshal A. Y. Tipnis said prior to the deal that the indigenous Su-30MKI will "enable the Air Force to finalize its vision-2020 long term perspective planning," which involves acquiring up to 20 squadrons of multi-role aircraft over the next 15-20 years. The first Su-30MKI is scheduled to roll out in 2004. India may also lease a small number of Russian Tu-22 Backfire bombers and France has offered to supply its new Rafale aircraft.

India deploys one ballistic missile, the 150-km range Prithvi I. The short-range Prithvi (Earth) is a single-stage, dual-engine, liquid-fuel, road-mobile SRBM that began development in 1983 and was first tested in 1988. There have been 15 tests since 1988. It is nine meters long and 1.1 meters in diameter and weighs 4,000 kg. An improved version, Prithvi II, is under development with an extended range of 250 km and was test fired on March 31, 2001. Of the two versions only the Prithvi I is assessed by the CIA to have a nuclear role.

The two-stage Agni (Fire) IRBM is also under development and has been tested to a range of 1,500 km, but its status remains unclear. Three flight tests between 1989 and early 1994. The first stage uses a solid propellant taken from the satellite launch vehicle based on the U.S. Scout missile. The liquid-fuelled second stage is a shortened version of the Prithvi. The warhead section separates from the second stage during flight. In 1996 the Indian Government claimed that the project was a technology demonstration and shelved the missile but could resume it at any time.

An improved version with a longer range (over 2,000 km) is under development. The missile, designated Agni II, is 20 meters long, weighs c. 16 tons and has a 1,000 kg payload. The second flight test of Agni II took place on January 17, 2001, from a mobile launcher at the Chadipur-on-Sea missile test range in the eastern state of Orissa. The missile, which reportedly was in "operational configuration," flew 2,200 km and, according to Indian officials, landed less than 100 meters from its intended target. After the test, which occurred shortly after a state visit by the chairman of China's National People's Congress Li Peng, Indian defense minister Jaswant Singh reportedly informed the Indian Parliament that "Agni II is planned to be inducted into the armed forces during 2001-02." Agni II was first test launched in April 1999, when a missile flew 2,000 km in 11 minutes, and may have carried a nuclear warhead assembly without the plutonium core. Both road- and rail-mobile versions are under development. The development of a longer-range Agni III with a range of up to 3,500 km has not been confirmed.

Rumors persist concerning Indian plans for an ICBM program, referred to as the Surya. Most components needed for an ICBM are available from India's indigenous space program. Conversion of its Polar Space Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to an ICBM would take a year or two after a decision to do so. The latest model, the four-stage PSLV-C3 is capable of launching satellites weighing up to 1,200 kg into polar sun-synchronous orbit (570 km) or 3,500 kg satellites into low earth orbit (400 km). The first successful flight was conducted in October 1994. An attempt to develop a Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) suffered a setback in March 2001, when one of four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters caught fire and the launch had to be aborted. A GSLV capability would allow India to place permanent command and control satellites in geo-synchronous equatorial orbit.

Naval Weapons
In addition to air- and land-based nuclear-capable forces, India is working on at least two naval systems that may be equipped to carry nuclear warheads in the future. The submarine-launched Sagarika (Oceanic) SLBM, begun in 1991, is in an advanced stage of development. U.S. intelligence designates it a SLBM and states it will not be deployed until 2010 or later. Another potential candidate is the Dhanush (Bow) sea-launched ballistic missile, which has been under development since 1983 for possible completion in 2003. A test firing April 11, 2000 was only a "partial success" and may delay the program further. The 8.56-meter missile, which is a navy version of the army's Prithvi, is capable of carrying a 1,000 kg payload to a range of 250 km. It was launched from the reinforced helicopter deck of the INS Subhadra, a modified offshore patrol vessel anchored some 20 km offshore in the Bay of Bengal. Neither the Dhanush nor the Sagarika has been declared nuclear-capable by Indian authorities.

During the tense standoff between India and Pakistan in January 2002 the new naval chief Admiral Madhvendera Singh made some ambiguous comments about naval nuclear weapons in his initial news conference. "We have a triad of weapons for a second strike and one of the triad is at sea. The most powerful leg of the triad is in the navy and is hidden under water and moving." A launch platform for a navy nuclear weapon may be the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), a nuclear-powered submarine project that has been underway in various stages since at least 1985. Design and operational experience was gained from operation of a Charlie I Class cruise missile submarine (named INS Chakra) that India leased from the Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991. Full-scale work on the ATV began in 1991 shortly after the INS Chakra was returned, and construction stated in 1997. A launch-date may be scheduled for 2007 at the Mazagon Dockyard in Bombay (design has taken place in Vishakapatnam on the east coast), but technical challenges are likely to delay the ATV further. Efforts by India in 2001 to lease one or more nuclear submarines from Russia have not been completed. The ATV is thought to be partly based on the design of the INC Chakra, but the reactor is reported to be of Indian design. A land-based prototype reactor has been built and installed at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam in southern India. Vice Admiral R. N. Ganesh, who commanded the INS Chakra, was appointed as new director general of the ATV project in 2000 in an apparent attempt to jump-start the much delayed project.

last revised 11.25.02

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