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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: India
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Updated: February 2015

This profile summarizes the major arms control agreements, regimes, initiatives, and practices that India subscribes to and those that it does not. It also describes the major weapons programs, policies, and holdings of India, as well as its proliferation record. This profile is one of a series focused on the arms control record and status of key states, all of which are available on the Arms Control Association’s Website at http://www.armscontrol.org.

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Biological Weapons Convention



Chemical Weapons Convention



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

-Only supports the treaty in the context of general nuclear disarmament.[1]

- - -

- - -

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

-Has developed nuclear weapons outside the treaty.

- - -

- - -

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

-Party to all protocols.



Outer Space Treaty



Ottawa Mine Ban Convention

-Employs landmines for border defense.

- - -

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

- - -


CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -


International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism



*India stated that it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17

*India stated that it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 1, Article 23

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Australia Group: Not a member.

Missile Technology Control Regime: Not a member, but India pledged in July 2005 to adhere to the regime’s guidelines.

Nuclear Suppliers Group: Not a member, but India vowed to “harmonize” its export controls with those advocated by the voluntary 45-member group. India is prohibited from importing key nuclear materials and technologies from group members because New Delhi does not subject its entire nuclear enterprise to safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Wassenaar Arrangement: Not a member.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: IAEA approved additional protocol on March 3, 2009. India ratified it in June 2014.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Not a participant.

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Not a participant.

Proliferation Security Initiative: Not a participant. A senior U.S. official indicated to Arms Control Today that the initiative does not target Indian transfers because it is a U.S. ally.[2]

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673: India has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and offered to host IAEA courses on physical security of nuclear facilities.

Major Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

Biological Weapons:

The Indian biotechnology private sector is highly sophisticated and the government conducts defensive biological weapons research. No evidence points to an offensive weapons program.

Chemical Weapons:

In 1997, India declared 1,055 metric tons of chemical weapon stockpiles. India completed destruction of its stockpile on schedule in 2009. Indian industry exports precursor and dual-use chemicals and the armed forces operate an active chemical weapons defense program.

Conventional Weapons Trade:

India is a leading buyer of conventional arms. Between 1999 and 2006, India totaled $22.4 billion in arms sales agreements, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service. That total made India first among all developing arms buyers during that period.[3] India became the leading global arms importer in the period from 2007 to 2011, accounting for ten percent of total arms imports. This trend is expected to continue, with an announced increase of 17 percent in defense spending for the fiscal year 2012-2013.[4]

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview:

India is estimated to have an arsenal of 80 to 100 warheads with plutonium cores.[5] India is working to expand its fleet of ground-launched ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including development of an ICBM, the Agni-V which is currently being tested, and is developing a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability.

Delivery Systems


  • Ballistic Missiles: India has an active and advanced ballistic missile sector and the Indian Armed Services have deployed nuclear-capable short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

    Prithvi is a tactical short-range ballistic missile developed by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and deployed by India's Strategic Forces Command. Prithvi I is the Army variant. Development of the Prithvi I began in 1983, the first test flight was in 1988, and it officially entered service in 1994. Its maximum range is 150 km. Prithvi II is the Air Force variant. It was first test-fired in 1996. It is similar to the Prithvi I, but with an extended range of 250 km. Prithvi II has been tested numerous times with some failures initially, but recent tests in 2012, 2013, and 2014 have all been deemed successful.

    The Agni missile is a family of medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles under development in India. The Agni-1 has a range between 700-1250 km and is deployed by the Strategic Force Command of the Indian Army. While the Agni-1 is fully operational and deployed, the status of the Agni-2 is less certain, although it has been tested successfully several times. Agni-III performed successfully in its three tests (July 9, 2006, April 12, 2007, and May 7, 2008) and has a range of 3,500 km. It entered military service in 2012 and is currently in production. The Indian Government reported that the missile's circular error probable lies in the range of 40 meters, which would make the Agni-III the most accurate strategic ballistic missile of its class in the world (a highly accurate ballistic missile increases the "kill efficiency" of the weapon, allowing Indian weapon designers to use smaller yield warheads while increasing the lethality of the strike). [5] The Agni-IV missile has a range of 4,000 km and has been successfully test-fired several times, most recently on January 20, 2014. Agni-V is an intercontinental ballistic missile meant to hit targets further than 5,500 km away and has been tested successfully several times, including a canister test in January 2015. The Agni-VI is an ICBM reported to be in the early stages of development. It would have a strike-range of 8,000 to 10,000 km with MIRVed warheads.

  • Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles: The Indian Navy has developed two sea-based delivery systems for nuclear weapons, a submarine-launched system and a ship-launched system.

    When India’s nuclear-capable submarine is operational, it is planned to equip it with K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The K-4 has a range of 3,000 km and the capability to carry two warheads. The maiden flight of the K-4 was on May 13, 2014 and experts were pleased to note that the test-flight was successful. [6] The K-14 is intended to be India’s main SLBM, replacing the Sagarika (K-15) short-range missile and taking the place of the Agni-III SL, which was initially intended to be a submarine variant of the Agni-III, but the project ran into problems in attempting to miniaturize the Agni-III.  

    The ship-launched system is based around the short-range Dhanush (“bow of God” in Sanskrit), or Prithvi III, ballistic missile (a naval variant of the Prithvi missile adapted for ships). Its range is around 350 km. The Dhanush missile was successfully test-fired in November 14 2014 and reportedly hit the intended target with high precision.

  • Cruise Missiles: India has worked with Russia to produce the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile. The missile has an estimated range of roughly 300 kilometers. The land- and ship-launched versions are already in service and the air- and submarine-launched versions are in the testing phase. With speeds of Mach 2.5 to 2.8, it is the world's fastest cruise missile. [7]

    India successfully tested its Nirbhay (“dauntless/fearless” in Sanskrit) missile, a long-range, subsonic cruise missile, on October 14, 2014 (the missile had previously been tested in March 2013, but that test-flight was deemed only partially successful). [8] The missile has a range of 1000 km, is capable of being launched from multiple platforms on land, sea, and air, and will be deployed by the Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force.


  • Since 1984 India has been developing a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant, as a third platform for nuclear warhead delivery. India launched the INS Arihant, its first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, on July 26, 2009, but the submarine is not operational, as it has yet to leave the harbor for sea trials.[9] The submarine going out to sea is critical for testing the success of coupling India’s homegrown nuclear submarine program with its homegrown submarine-launched ballistic missile program. If everything proceeds smoothly, it is planned that in early 2015 the Arihant will receive the SLBMs it is meant to carry. [10] The Indian newspaper, The Hindu, called the introduction of nuclear-armed submarines a “doctrinal headache” due to the questions it poses to India’s nuclear doctrine. [11] It seems that it remains unclear how the submarines will be deployed once they are operational and how India’s command and control structure will adapt to the submarines.

Strategic Bombers

  • India’s only known nuclear capable aircraft is the Mirage 2000H.  This plane has a range of 1850 km and is capable of carrying up to 6300 kg of explosive.  It can only deliver gravity-based nuclear bombs.  It is also believed that the Jaguar IS Shamsher and the Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat aircrafts have been modified to deliver nuclear payloads. [12] In 2012 India selected the Rafale fighter jet to replace its aging fleet of Mirage 2000 planes, but the exact details of the contract are still being worked out.

Nuclear Weapons

Indian officials say the size of their nuclear stockpile is based on maintaining a “credible minimum deterrent.” Although India stated in January 2003 that it would not use nuclear weapons against states that do not possess such arms and declared that nuclear weapons would only be used to retaliate against a nuclear attack, the government reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical weapons attacks.

India’s nuclear warheads are believed to be stored in a disassembled state, with the fissile core kept separate from the warhead package.  This practice greatly increases the the time required to deploy the weapons.

India has conducted three nuclear weapon tests, although it claimed its first test was a “peaceful” nuclear explosion. In addition, one test involved two simultaneous explosions and another involved three synchronized blasts. The first test occurred May 18, 1974, and the last took place May 13, 1998.

Fissile Material

India produces highly enriched uranium (HEU), but not to weapons grade levels. Its HEU production is intended to fuel the reactor cores for its nuclear submarine program and it is believed to be enriched to between 30 and 45 percent. India's HEU stockpile is estimated at approximately 2 tons.

India continues to produce fissile material for weapons purposes and refused to cease such production as part of a proposed U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation deal. New Delhi has approximately 520 kilograms of plutonium available for nuclear weapons - enough for 100 to 130 warheads - and up to another 11.5 metric tons of reactor grade plutonium in spent fuel, which could be reprocessed for weapons use.[13] Some analysts estimate that India could increase its production of fissile material for weapons if it succeeds in securing foreign nuclear fuel shipments because such a move would free up more Indian domestic resources currently divided between the military and civilian sector for building bombs.[14] India agreed in 2006 to allow 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors to be monitored by the IAEA, and has since updated its plan to include an additional four for safeguards.

Proliferation Record

India’s first nuclear test was of a device derived partially from Canadian and U.S. exports designated for peaceful purposes. That test spurred the United States and several other countries to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group to more severely restrict global nuclear trade.

The George W. Bush administration has sanctioned several Indian entities for transferring technologies and know-how to Iraq and Iran that could contribute to chemical or biological weapons programs. Independent analysts also allege that India’s procurement system for its own nuclear programs could leak or reveal nuclear know-how to other states or non-state actors.[15]

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

India has concluded bilateral confidence-building measures with Pakistan. After their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, the two rivals volunteered to abstain from nuclear testing. They also have established a hotline to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war and agreed to exchange advance notifications of ballistic missile flight tests.

At the 65-member Conference on Disarmament, India favors negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty that is “effectively verifiable,” which is a condition opposed by the United States. At that Geneva forum and elsewhere, India has consistently called for general nuclear disarmament by all states.

In March 2006, India pledged to subject more of its nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards as part of a U.S.-Indian initiative to exempt India from current U.S. and multilateral nuclear trade restrictions. In 2008 India negotiated a limited agreement with the IAEA, which resulted in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) removing the ban on nuclear trade with India. Since then India has negotiated nuclear cooperation agreements with countries including the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, Namibia, South Korea, Mongolia, Canada, Argentina, and Kazakhstan.

The Obama administration in a November 2010 statement expressed its support for India's membership in four export control groups, inclduing the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australian Group, and the Wassanaar Agreement. Membership in the NSG requires membership and compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - which India is still not party to - a factor that has impeded India's admittance to the group. Discussions in June 2012 within the NSG about India's potential membership have remained inconclusive. In January 2015, during a visit to India, President Obama announced a "breakthough" on the 2006 US-India Nuclear Deal.

On September 5, 2014 India and Australia signed a civil nuclear agreement, which enables the sale of Australian uranium to support India's growing nuclear energy needs. India is the first customer to get Australian uranium without being a signatory of the NPT.

-Updated by Jennifer Ginsburg


1. Embassy of India, “Nuclear Non-Proliferation, http://www.indianembassy.org/policy/CTBT/embassy_non_proliferation.htm.

2. Boese, Wade, “The Proliferation Security Initiative: An Interview with John Bolton,” Arms Control Today, December 2003, p. 37.

3. Natural Resources Defense Council, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2007,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2007, p. 74.

4. Speier, Richard, “U.S. Space Aid to India: On a “Glide Path” to ICBM Trouble?” Arms Control Today, March 2006, p. 13.

5."AGNI-III launched successfully". Press Information Bureau, Government of India. 12 April 2007. Archived from the original on 2 December 2007. Retrieved 2014-11-18.

6. The Diplomat, “India Inches Closer to Credible Nuclear Triad With K-4 SLBM Test, May 13, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/india-inches-closer-to-credible-nuclear-triad-with-k-4-slbm-test/

7. Pravda, "India places two-billion-dollar order for Russian missiles," August 20, 2008, english.pravda.ru/russia/economics/20-08-2008/106153-russian_missiles-0/

8. The Hindu, "India successfully test-fires cruise missile 'Nirbhay,'" October 20, 2014, www.thehindu.com/news/national/indigenously-developed-cruise-missile-nirbhay-testfired/article6509942.ece

9. The India Express, “Contrary to Claims, Arihant Not Ready For Sea Trials,” June 18, 2014. http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/Contrary-to-Claims-Arihant-not-Prepared-for-Sea-Trials/2014/06/18/article2286134.ece

10.The Hindu, “Arihant propels India to elite club, but with a headache,” June 4, 2014. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/arihant-propels-india-to-elite-club-but-with-a-headache/article6079477.ece

11. Ibid.

12. SIPRI Yearbook 2013, (Oxford: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012),  p 313

13. Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris, Indian nuclear forces, 2012, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July 2012.

14. Mian, Zia, A. H. Nayyar, R. Rajaraman, and M. V. Ramana, Fissile Materials in South Asia: The Implications of the U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal, International Panel on Fissile Materials, September 2006, 36 pp.

15. Albright, David, and Basu, Susan, Neither a Determined Proliferator Nor a Responsible Nuclear State: India’s Record Needs Scrutiny, Institute for Science and International Security, April 5, 2006, 4 pp.

Posted: July 12, 2013