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"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."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: India
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Last Reviewed: 
August 2023

 

India possesses an estimated arsenal of 164 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 to form a more mature nuclear triad, including the current development of ICBM and SLBM capabilities. 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 new delivery systems. 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. China and other countries blocked India’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in January 2017.

 

Contents

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

 

Signed

Ratified

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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2002*

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -

2007

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1996

Biological Weapons Convention

1973

1974

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.

2006

2006*

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

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

Member

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

Partner

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Member

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 2023, India is estimated to have an arsenal of about 164 nuclear warheads for deployment in a nascent nuclear triad. India’s warheads have plutonium cores and are believed to be stored separately from their delivery systems.

India is currently expanding its fleet of ground-launched ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, modernizing its nuclear-capable fleet of aircraft, and working to put its submarine-based deterrent into operation. 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

Land-Based 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, with four types of mobile land-based Agni missiles currently deployed.

· 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 Organization (DRDO).

· In recent years, Delhi has focused on developing solid-fueled ballistic missiles such as the Agni-P, the Agni-IV, and the Agni-V international ballistic missile (ICBM). These new missiles can be stored in a sealed, climate-controlled tube, which can significantly reduce the time required for preparation and launch.

For more information on India’s ballistic missiles, see the Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories factsheet.

 

Sea-based Missiles/Dual-Capable Fighter Aircraft

· 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 India’s Jaguar IS fighter-bombers were been modified to deliver nuclear payloads, with two of the four squadrons suspected of having a secondary nuclear mission. However, the Jaguars are now slated for retirement over the next 15 years.

· 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 this missile.

· India has been upgrading its aging air force with newer aircraft capable of taking over the air-based nuclear strike role. In September 2016, India signed an agreement with France for the delivery of 36 Rafale fighters (down from its original plan to purchase 126 planes)—after delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the full shipment of aircraft was completed in 2022. The Rafale serves a nuclear mission for the French Air Force and can take over that role for the Indian armed forces in the future.

 

Cruise Missiles

· The BrahMos is a nuclear-capable land-attack cruise missile jointly developed between Russia and India. Its developers list a flight range of 290 km, however, most sources place its range at 300-500 km depending on which variant or launch platform is used. India reportedly conducted a test launch of an extended-range version of the BrahMos in March 2017 that will be able to travel approximately 600 km. It can carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. BrahMos variants can be launched from land-based, ship-based, submarine-based, and air-launched systems, and have been in service since 2005. In 2022, a BrahMos missile was accidentally fired into Pakistan.

· The Brahmos-II, a hypersonic version of the supersonic BrahMos, is currently under development as a joint venture with Russia. 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, BrahMos missiles are anticipated to have an extended range of 600 km. A technology demonstrator was test-fired in 2020, with flight trials planned for after 2025.

· The Nirbhay is an indigenous, nuclear-capable land-attack cruise missile currently under development by India. It has an estimated range of 800-1,000 km and can carry a single conventional or nuclear payload, although doubt surrounds its nuclear capability. The Indian Ministry of Defense has moved to acquire 300 Nirbhay missiles for all three armed forces branches, and with the most recent testing in 2021 only a partial success, three more tests are slated before the missile enters service.

 

Fissile Material

 

Plutonium

  • All of India’s nuclear weapons are plutonium-based.
  • According to material posted by the International Panel on Fissile Materials in 2023, India has approximately 0.7 ± .15 metric tons of plutonium available for nuclear weapons—enough to produce over 100 additional warheads—and up to another 8.5 ± 4.9 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.
  • In 2005, India planned 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 completed by 2024.
  • India agreed in 2006 to allow 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors to be monitored by the IAEA. The IAEA has since signed agreements to safeguard 20 of India’s reactors, most recently in December 2019.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • India produces non-weapons grade HEU 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 2023, India’s HEU stockpile is approximately 4.5 ± 2 tons enriched to about 30% uranium-235. India enriches uranium at the RMP facility, which is being expanded.
  • India is currently constructing an enrichment facility for civilian and military purposes at Challakere, Karnataka, deemed the “nuclear city” due to the presence of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO), and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) there.

 

Proliferation Record

  • Under the U.S. “Atoms for Peace” initiative, India was a recipient of training and technological transfers intended for peaceful purposes but leveraged for 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 in 2008, 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 have 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.
  • 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.” 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, recent debate has centered on whether India may be considering a “preemptive nuclear counterforce” 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 other technologies that enable higher readiness and flexibility.

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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 the destruction of its stockpile on schedule in 2009, becoming the third country to completely destroy its chemical weapons.

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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.
  • Talks have stalled since 2019 over tensions in Kashmir, though the U.S. has supported Pakistani efforts to resume dialogue.

 

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 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 as 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.