"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: India

Last Reviewed: 
March 2022


India possesses an arsenal of about 160 plutonium-based nuclear warheads developed outside of the NPT, as it is not a signatory to the treaty. It is actively seeking to expand its nuclear capabilities, including current development of ICBM and SLBM capabilities, and deployed its first ballistic missile submarine in August 2016. India’s warheads are believed to be stored in a disassembled state, greatly increasing the time required to deploy nuclear weapons, though it remains to be seen whether its nuclear posture and policy will shift with the development of the sea-based leg of its nuclear triad. Though Washington has pushed for increased inclusion of India in nonproliferation regimes in recent years, India still does not allow for international inspections at all of its nuclear facilities and maintains fissile material that could be developed into nuclear weapons, while some Indian entities continue to be sanctioned for nonproliferation violations. China and other countries blocked India’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers group in January 2017.


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Bilateral Talks with Pakistan
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Cooperation Agreements
  • Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

Has developed nuclear weapons outside the treaty.

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Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Only supports the treaty in the context of general nuclear disarmament.

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Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)


*Stated it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17.

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CPPNM 2005 Amendment

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Chemical Weapons Convention



Biological Weapons Convention



International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism


*Stated it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 1, Article 23.



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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards



Australia Group


Missile Technology Control Regime


Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member, but 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 (IAEA).

Wassenaar Arrangement


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

IAEA approved India’s additional protocol on March 3, 2009. India ratified it in June 2014.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism


Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation


Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant.

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and offered to host IAEA courses on physical security of nuclear facilities.

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

India developed nuclear weapons outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). As of March 2022, India is estimated to have an arsenal of about 160 nuclear warheads. India’s warheads have plutonium cores and are believed to be stored separately from their delivery systems.

India is working to expand its fleet of ground-launched ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and has several long-range ballistic missiles in development, including the Agni-V, a road- and rail-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Indian Navy likely introduced its first ballistic missile submarine, the INS Arihant, into service in late 2016, after it completed sea trials earlier that same year and quietly launched its second INS Arihant-class submarine, the INS Arighat, in November 2017, with the submarine on track to be commissioned sometime in 2021. India has conducted nuclear tests on three occasions, though it claimed the first one was a “peaceful” nuclear explosion. One test involved two simultaneous explosions while another involved three synchronized blasts.

Delivery Systems

Ballistic Missiles

The Indian Armed Services deploys nuclear-capable short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles under the control of its Strategic Forces Command (SFC). The Agni Missile series is the mainstay of its ground-launched nuclear forces. Many of India’s ballistic missiles have been developed as part of its ambitious Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), managed by the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). India is focused on developing longer-range ballistic missiles, including an ICBM, as well as the sea-based leg of a nuclear triad.

Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (range <1,000 km):

  • Prithvi-I – has an estimated range of 150 km. Uncertainty surrounds whether or not this missile is nuclear capable or conventional. It may have been fitted with a range of small nuclear warheads. This system may be replaced with the Prahaar short-range missile system.
  • Prahaar – is under development. It is believed to be able to carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. Its first successful test in July 2011 revealed an operational range of 150 km. This missile could be a replacement for the Prithvi-I.
  • Prithvi-II – is estimated to have a range of 250-350 km. US NASIC has estimated the range as 250 kilometers but Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists assumes the range has probably been increased to about 350 kilometers (217 miles) as also stated by the Indian government. It can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. It is unclear if the Prithvi-II is still deployed as a nuclear-capable missile, given the development of the Agni series. The Prithvi-II failed some initial tests, but recent tests (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016) have been deemed successful.
  • Prithvi-III – began development in 2000. It has an estimated range of 350+ km. When development is complete, it will be able to carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead.
  • Dhanush - The naval version of the Prithvi-III is known as the Dhanush. Unlike the Prithvi-III, the Dhanush is liquid-fueled and ship-launched. The Dhanush was first successfully tested on Oct. 5, 2012 and has been successfully tested on three more occasions in 2013, 2015, and 2016.
  • Shaurya – hypersonic land-based variant of the nuclear-capable K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile; can carry a single conventional or nuclear warhead. A September 2011 test revealed a flight speed of 7.5 Mach and a range of 700 km. However, given the weight of its payload, the Shaurya’s range can be extended to well over 1,000 km, meaning it can achieve medium-range. The Shaurya has been listed as a hybrid missile. Although it is a ballistic missile, it is capable of maneuvering like a cruise missile and utilizing its air fins to cruise at sustained hypersonic speeds.

Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (between 1,000-3,000 km):  

  • Agni-I – range between 700-1,200 km; can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. As of 2020, an estimated 20 launchers are deployed in western India near Pakistan and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates, as of 2015, the India possesses a total of 80-100 Agni-I missiles. Although its minimum range would classify the Agni-I as a short-range ballistic missile it can greatly extend its range by reducing its payload, thus earning it medium-range status.
  • Agni-II – an improved variant of the Agni-I; maximum range of 2,000 km + (some speculate it could, with modification, achieve a range of 3,500 km); can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. Around 10 launchers are estimated to be deployed in northern India as of 2015.The IISS’s 2015 estimates place India’s total number of Agni-II missiles at 20-25. The Agni-II's operational status is unclear, but it may have been inducted in 2011, and was last tested in November 2019.

Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (between 3,000-5,500 km):

  • Agni-III - approximate range of 3,200 km; can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. As of 2015, there are likely fewer than ten launchers. Entered military service in 2012, after performing successfully in three tests (July 2006, April 2007, and May 2008). In 2014, the Indian Ministry of Defense announced that the Agni-III was “in the arsenal of armed forces” and it was successfully test-fired in April 2015. However, a night trial of the Agni-III was attempted in December 2019 and was reportedly a failure.
  • Agni-IV- road- and rail-mobile missile; 3,500-4,000 km range; carries a single nuclear or conventional warhead. The Agni-IV is not believed to be operational and some speculate that the missile was designed as a technology demonstrator between the Agni-III and Agni-V rather than for operational deployment. The Agni-IV has been successfully test-fired on numerous occasions, most recently in January 2017. The Ministry of Defense announced after a successful 2014 test that the missile was ready for induction and production.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (>5,500 km):

  • Agni-V – under development; has a range of over 5,200 km (China claiming an operational range of 8,000 km, others claim 5,000 km [only intermediate-range]); can carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. Despite various claims to the contrary, the Agni-V is not believed to have the capability to carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads. Some claimed the missile was intended to be operationalized in 2017. The Agni-V has been tested successfully a number of times, first in 2012 and then in 2013, 2015, December 2016 and most recently in January 2018.
  • Agni-VI – nuclear-capable ICBM reportedly under development; a follow-up on the Agni-V. The Agni-VI may be armed with MIRVs, though confirmation of this does not exist. The government's Press Information Bureau website claimed in December 2016 that it will have a range of 8,000-10,000 km, though some experts express doubts over those range estimates, believing the Agni-VI may have a range closer to 6,000 km.
  • Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)


  • The Indian Navy has developed two sea-based delivery systems for nuclear weapons: a submarine-launched system and a ship-launched system (as detailed above).
  • After three decades of development, India deployed its first indigenously built ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the INS Arihant, in August 2016, though this has not been publicly confirmed. Development of the submarine began in 1984 and deployment of the submarine marks the successful completion of India’s triad. The first extensive sea trials of the INS Arihant began in December 2012 and it was announced in February 2016 that the submarine was fully-operational. This submarine is the first of the new nuclear-powered Arihant-class submarine. India reportedly launched its second Arihant-class submarine, the Arighat, in November 2017, with the submarine set to be commissioned sometime in 2021.. India has commissioned the construction of another 2 Arihant-class submarines, set to enter service before 2024. The Arihant is equipped with 12 launch tubes designed for the K-15 SLBM or can alternatively hold four K-4 SLBMs (which are not yet deployed). The submarine will require modification to carry the K-4.
  • India is reportedly developing a next-generation SSBN, known as the S-5 class. Initial photos indicate it may have 8 or more launch tubes, compared to the four K-4 capable tubes on the Arihant class. The S-5 class may enter service in the late 2020s.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • India is currently developing its SLBM capabilities with its K-series missiles, a high-priority project of the DRDO. Against international pressure to curb its missile program, few details are available on these missiles as the SLBM program remains a tightly kept secret. India stores its warheads and delivery systems separately, but it remains unclear how India’s command and control structure will adapt to the submarine launched ballistic missiles, which require the warhead to be mated to the delivery system.
  • K-15 (Sagarika) - is a nuclear-capable SLBM under development. Once development is complete, it will be India's first SLBM. The K-15 is believed to have a 700 km range and no MIRV capabilities. The K-15 was first tested in 2004 and again in 2007, 2008 (10 total tests between 2004-08), 2013 and most recently in November 2015. It is the first of India’s K-series missiles.
  • K-4 - under development. Has been successfully flight tested at a range of 3,500 km in 2016. Some cite it can carry a conventional or nuclear payload. The first undersea launch of the K-4 was conducted in March 2014. There are claims that a K-5 missile is also under development. The K-5 missile would have a range of over 5,000 km (a high estimate of 10,000 km) with a capacity to carry 4 MIRVs. The K-5 would be the first MIRV equipped missile in India’s nuclear arsenal.


Cruise Missiles

  • BrahMos – is a nuclear-capable land-attack cruise missile jointly developed between Russia and India. Its developers list its flight range at 290 km, however, most sources place its range at 300-500 km depending on which variant or launch platform is used. India conducted a test launch of an extended range version of the BrahMos in March 2017 that, according to sources, will be able travel approximately 600 km. It can carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. The first successful launch of the BrahMos took place on June 12, 2001. BrahMos variants are capable of being launched from land-based, ship-based, submarine-based, and now air-launched systems.
  • Brahmos-II – is under development; a hypersonic version of the supersonic BrahMos. Due to Russia’s signatory status in the MTCR (limiting its ability to help other countries develop missiles with ranges over 300 km), the original striking-range of the BrahMos-II was planned at 290 km. However, now that India was inducted into MTCR in June 2016, the range of the BrahMos missiles are anticipated to be extended to 600 km. Lab tested in 2012, the Brahmos-II is expected to enter service in the late 2020s.
  • Nirbhay – under development; nuclear-capable land-attack cruise missile; estimated range of 800-1,000 km; can carry a single conventional or nuclear payload, although doubt surrounds its nuclear capability. Three of the last five tests (March 2013, October 2015, and December 2016) experienced difficulties and failed. It was successfully tested in October 2014 at a range of 1,000 km but crashed during a subsequent test in 2015. Following this test, it was announced that the first Nirbhays would be delivered in 2017. The missile was successfully tested again in November 2017. Four versions are reportedly being considered for development: land, air, ship, and submarine.

Strategic Bombers

  • India’s Mirage 2000H, a French plane (also utilized by French nuclear forces until 2018), is known to be nuclear-capable and can deliver gravity-based nuclear bombs.
  • It is likely that the Jaguar IS fighter-bombers have been modified to deliver nuclear payloads, with two of the four squadrons suspected of having a secondary nuclear mission.
  • In June 2016, India’s Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jet (a Russian aircraft) completed its first flight equipped with the nuclear-capable BrahMos and 40 of these aircraft are expected to be modified to carry the BrahMos.
  • India plans on upgrading its aging air force with newer aircraft that can potentially take over the air-based nuclear strike role. The prime contender is the French Rafale fighter jet. In September 2016, India signed an agreement with France for the delivery of 36 Rafale fighters by 2019 (down from its original plan to purchase 126 planes). India received the first five Rafale fighters in July 2020, followed by subsequent batches in late 2020 and another in early 2021. The delivery of all 36 aircraft will likely be completed by the end of 2022.

Fissile Material


  • All of India’s nuclear weapons are plutonium-based.
  • According to material posted by the International Panel on Fissile Materials in 2020, India has approximately .6 ± .15 metric tons of plutonium available for nuclear weapons—enough to produce over 100 additional warheads—and up to another 6.9± 3.5 metric tons of reactor grade plutonium in spent fuel, which could be reprocessed for weapons use.
  • Much of its weapons-grade plutonium has been produced at its CIRUS reactor (shut down in 2010), and the Dhruva heavy-water reactor.
  • India has plans to build 6 fast-breeder reactors which would dramatically increase the speed at which India produces plutonium for its nuclear energy program. Two prototypes were expected to be fully functional by October 2017, however India has experienced a number of setbacks, with the Department of Atomic Energy now hopeful that the fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam would be operational by the end of 2021.
  • 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 reactors under safeguards.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • India produces HEU—but not to weapons grade—to fuel the reactor cores for its nuclear submarine program. It is believed to be enriched to 30–45 percent uranium-235.
  • According to material posted by the International Panel on Fissile Materials in 2016, India’s HEU stockpile is approximately 4.4 +/- 1.6 tons enriched to about 30% uranium-235. India enriches uranium at the RMP facility, which is being expanded.
  • India is planning to build an enrichment facility at Chitradurga for civilian and military purposes The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) are all present in Chitradurga.

Proliferation Record

  • Under the U.S. “Atoms for Peace” initiative, India was a recipient of training and technological transfers intended for peaceful purposes but put to use in its nuclear weapons program. 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 (NSG) to more severely restrict global nuclear trade.
  • The U.S. helped secure a waiver for India on export restrictions of nuclear materials, causing some to allege that U.S. strategic interests lead Washington to turn a blind eye to proliferation concerns in India.
  • India’s modernization programs and general militarization has resulted in active commercial arms deals and exchanges of military technology with other countries. This has not been limited to the purchase of French and Russian fighter jets and is further exemplified by the joint Russian-Indian development of the BrahMos cruise missile.
  • Indian entities have been placed under nonproliferation sanctions numerous times. Beginning with the Indian Space Research Organization in 1992, the last entity, as of April 2017, to be placed under these sanctions was Balaji Amines in 2006 (sanctions lifted in 2008) under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.  
  • India is not a signatory to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Nuclear Doctrine

Indian nuclear planning has been largely based on an unofficial document released in 1999 by the National Security Advisory Board known as the draft nuclear doctrine. This document calls for India’s nuclear forces to be deployed on a triad of delivery vehicles of “aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets,” designed for “punitive retaliation.” Indian officials say the size of their nuclear stockpile is based on maintaining a “credible minimum deterrent” and that its abilities must enable an “adequate retaliatory capability should deterrence fail.”  However, India’s ability to retaliate with speed remains an inhibitor that they supplement by “assuring” retaliation, despite delays.  Although India reiterated 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.However, given the offensive restructuring of India’s nuclear forces, there has arisen recent debate whether or not India may be considering a “preemptive nuclear counterforce” doctrine.  

The expansion of India’s nuclear arsenal to the sea is expected to result in a shift in its nuclear doctrine. 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 time required to deploy the weapons. However, it remains to be seen how this command and control practice will adapt to India’s new submarine nuclear forces and whether or not this will result in a shift in its nuclear posture.

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Biological Weapons

  • India ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1974 and there is no evidence that suggests it has an offensive biological weapons program.
  • The Indian biotechnology private sector is highly sophisticated and the government conducts biodefense research through the DRDO.

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Chemical Weapons

  • India ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1996 and supports the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). India hosted the OPCW 12th Regional Meeting of National Authorities in Asia in 2014.
  • In 1992 India signed the India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons for the “complete prohibition of chemical weapons.” Upon signing, both India and Pakistan declared that they did not possess chemical weapons—India lied. However, in 1999 and 2000, Pakistan accused India of launching chemical weapons into Pakistan, an accusation India has denied.  
  • In 1997, India declared 1,044 metric tons of sulfur mustard stockpiles. India completed destruction of its stockpile on schedule in 2009, becoming the third country to completely destroy its chemical weapons.
  • The State Department’s 2010 compliance report confirmed that “India completed destruction of its CW stockpile and that India is in compliance with its obligations under the CWC.” 

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Bilateral Talks with Pakistan

  • India-Pakistan non-Attack Agreement, entered into force in January 1991.
  • In 1992 India signed the India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons for the “complete prohibition of chemical weapons.”
  • After their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan and India volunteered to abstain from nuclear testing.
  • Established a hotline to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war and agreed to exchange advance notifications of ballistic missile flight tests.
  • In 2007, the fifth round of talks regarding the review of nuclear and ballistic missile-related confidence building measures took place as part of the Composite Dialogue Process.

Nuclear Security Summits
In April 2010, India attended the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC where participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. India has also attended the 2012 NSS in Seoul, the 2014 NSS in The Hague, and the 2016 NSS held again in Washington, DC where attendees developed action plans for five global organizations to continue the work of the summits.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community, India has been a regular and active participant in the CD. India favors negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty that is “effectively verifiable,” which is a condition opposed by the United States. At the CD (and elsewhere), India has consistently called for general nuclear disarmament by all states.

Nuclear Cooperation Agreements

India has nuclear cooperation agreements with a number of states: the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, Namibia, South Korea, Mongolia, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, and Japan.

In 2014, India and Australia signed a civil nuclear agreement enabling the sale of Australian uranium to support India’s growing nuclear energy needs.

Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement
The United States signed a controversial agreement with India to repeal most U.S. and multilateral civilian nuclear trade restrictions on India. In 2006, Congress amended its own domestic legislation to allow nuclear trade with India to proceed. The two governments later concluded a “123 Agreement” (the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement), which was approved by Congress and signed into law in October 2008 after India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that September. However, current NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections, such India and Pakistan. The United States has pushed for India to become a member of the NSG, but in January 2017, China and other countries blocked India's membership bid on the grounds that India has not yet signed the NPT.  

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