Login/Logout

*
*  

ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

India

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: India

December 2017

Updated: December 2017

India possesses an arsenal of 120-130 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.

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.

- - -

- - -

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

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

- - -

- - -

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.

- - -

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*

Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a 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.

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

India developed nuclear weapons outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). India is estimated to have an arsenal of 120-130 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) that is expected to be in service by 2017. 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. 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 Krtistensen 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-fuelled 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 2015, 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 missilesAlthough 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 April 2013.

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.  
  • 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 claim the missile is 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, and most recently in December 2016.
  • 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. 

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • 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).
  • It is believed that, after three decades of development, India has finally deployed its first indigenously built ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the INS Arihant, in August 2016, though this has not been publically 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 has commissioned the construction of another 3 Arihant-class submarines of which one, the INS Aridhaman, is near completion and another is under construction.The Arihant is equipped with 12 launch tubes designed for the K-15 SLBM or can alternatively hold four K-4 SLBMs when they become deployable; the submarine will require modification to carry the K-4.

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 6,000 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. Flight tested in 2012. 
  • 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 even this test did not meet expectations. 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), 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).   

Fissile Material

Plutonium

  • All of India’s nuclear weapons are plutonium-based.
  • According to material posted by the International Panel on Fissile Materials in 2016, India has approximately .59 ± .2metric tons  of plutonium available for nuclear weapons—enough to produce over 100 additional warheads—and up to another 5.1± 3 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 are expected to be fully functional by October 2017.
  • 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 3.2  1.1 tons. 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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.” 

Back to Top

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.  

Back to Top

 

 

 

 

Country Profiles

Country Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: December 11, 2017

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

A June 22-23 plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ended inconclusively on the controversial question of parti­cipation by India and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Meeting chairman Benno Laggner of Switzerland said in a statement on June 23 that he intends to continue the discussion at an “informal meeting” in November.

The NSG, with 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that transfers do not contribute to weapons proliferation. Laggner said diplomats, meeting in Bern, Switzerland, discussed “technical, legal, and political aspects” of NSG participation by non-NPT states. China and others have objected to India’s and Pakistan’s membership bids, which were submitted last year. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has sought to reach agreement on membership criteria for non-NPT states. NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections. In 2008 the NSG agreed to exempt India from that provision, and in 2010, the United States endorsed India’s bid for NSG membership.—DARYL KIMBALL

Posted: July 10, 2017

India Tests Two Missiles

India Tests Two Missiles

India conducted two missile tests last month, with the super­sonic Brahmos cruise missile recording a success but the Agni-2 ballistic missile test aborted. The tests were on May 2 and 4, respectively.

The Brahmos, jointly developed by India and Russia, has several variants. The May 2 test was a land-attack version with a range of 450 kilometers, which is longer than the 290-kilometer range of the original system. The missile was launched from a mobile launcher and tested in steep-dive mode. Indian officials said the test was a success and noted that the missile hit its target with the desired precision. The nuclear-capable Agni-2 is a two-stage, solid-fueled system. It is capable of delivering a 1,000 kilogram payload over a range of 2,000 kilometers. An Indian official was quoted in The Times of India as saying “things went awry” during the May 4 test after half a kilometer and was aborted. The Agni-2 is deployed, but has not been tested for several years.—DANIELLE PRESKITT

Posted: May 31, 2017

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions

 

Relations between India and Pakistan may “deteriorate further in 2017” given Islamabad’s “failure to curb support to anti-India militants,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 23 in discussing the U.S. intelligence community’s worldwide threat assessment. “Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbors,” he said. Easing of tensions, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, “will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan” and progress in Pakistan’s investigation of the January 2016 cross-border attack on India’s Pathankot air base.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: May 31, 2017

Is India Shifting Nuclear Doctrine?

Is India Shifting Nuclear Doctrine?

May 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre and Kelsey Davenport

A key tenet of India’s nuclear doctrine, the commitment not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, is being called into question based on comments from former senior Indian officials.

It is unlikely that India is formally abandoning its no-first-use policy, but indications that New Delhi may be relaxing this commitment could have damaging implications for stability in the region.

India displays its nuclear-capable Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2013. Credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty ImagesShortly after first testing nuclear weapons in 1998, the Indian government said that the country “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” This commitment was included in India’s nuclear doctrine in 2003. Under current doctrine, India reserves the option to use nuclear weapons under limited circumstances: if it is attacked with biological or chemical weapons or if a weapon of mass destruction is used against Indian forces outside Indian territory.

Comments from former Indian officials, including former Strategic Forces Commander Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal, former Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, and retired National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, have led some experts to conclude that India would consider nuclear first use in a third circumstance, as a pre-emptive counterforce attack if India has reason to believe that Pakistan is preparing a first strike against it.

India’s doctrine may have the flexibility to allow for pre-emptive counterforce strikes designed to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal before Islamabad could retaliate, some experts think based on remarks from Menon and Nagal.

Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ignited the debate at the Carnegie Endowment’s International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington on March 20 when he stated that India, not Pakistan, may be the first to launch nuclear weapons in the event of a South Asian conflict.

He highlighted elements of Menon’s 2016 book, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, which identified the rationale for India shifting away from countervalue targeting, such as cities, to counterforce targeting, such as military assets, based in part on Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons. Narang argued that India’s no-first-use policy has “far greater flexibility” than generally recognized and that India could strike first if it considers a Pakistani strike to be imminent.

This assessment is supported by several well-known South Asian defense analysts, including Ajai Shukla, a journalist and retired Indian army colonel. Shukla wrote in an April 10 article in The Business Standard, an Indian newspaper, that the traditional South Asian nuclear exchange scenario, in which India responds to a Pakistani first strike with a countervalue second strike targeting Pakistani cities is not realistic. If India had reason to believe that Pakistan was preparing to launch a first strike, an Indian pre-emptive counterforce strike, targeting the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, would be more strategic, he wrote.

Others contend that India is not technically prepared for this shift in doctrine and that there is little evidence to prove it is taking place. Rajesh Rajagopalan, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arms Control Today in an April 18 email that he does “not see any indication of any official shift to change Indian doctrine beyond” the hints offered by former officials.

If India were to move toward a counterforce strategy, a “clear indicator of the shift” would be “expressions of concern about the imbalance of nuclear forces with Pakistan” and steps to increase the size of India’s nuclear arsenal, because New Delhi would require “significant superiority in Indian nuclear forces over Pakistan,” Rajagopalan said.

In addition to a larger nuclear arsenal, India would need to develop more accurate missiles and effective tracking of Pakistani systems to technologically carry out a pre-emptive counterforce strike. “India does not have the surveillance capacities needed to monitor Pakistan’s nuclear forces after they are dispersed, as they presumably would be in a crisis,” Rajagopalan said. This puts a pre-emptive counterforce attack in a crisis “clearly beyond India’s capacities,” he said.

Narang acknowledged that India does not have the requisite capabilities to launch a pre-emptive counterforce strike but that it is in the process of developing them. India has taken steps over the past several years to build a ballistic missile defense system and improve the accuracy of its own missiles. (See ACT, March 2017.)

Regional Impact

Although it is unclear if India’s nuclear doctrine is shifting, debate over the flexibility of India’s no-first-use pledge could provoke changes in Pakistan and China that further destabilize the region.

Pakistan has retained a more ambiguous policy on first use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-armed states and has indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating so-called red lines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any threshold for use.

In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India. Pakistan’s development of a short-range, tactical nuclear missile, the Nasr, supports the strategy of using nuclear weapons against superior conventional forces.

If Pakistan were concerned that India might conduct a counterforce first strike, that could provoke Islamabad to use nuclear weapons first in an escalating conflict, rather than risk losing the option for use.

Rajogopalan said any change in India’s doctrine may have a limited impact on Pakistan because Islamabad believes that India already has a first use doctrine. But Pakistan “may move toward a nuclear force that is in a constant state of readiness, instead of keeping its nuclear forces disassembled,” he said.

Pakistan, like India, is thought to store warheads separately from delivery vehicles. Moving to higher-alert status and mating warheads with delivery systems allows for quicker use, but increases the risk of inadvertent launch.

Further, Islamabad may choose to accelerate the expansion of its deterrent and its options for delivering nuclear weapons. Pakistan is already taking steps to counter India’s ballistic missile defense system by developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles and looking at a sea-based deterrent to mirror India’s recently deployed ballistic missile submarine. (See ACT, March 2017.)

China has consistently declared a no-first-use policy. Most recently in 2015, Beijing said that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

It is unlikely that Beijing would move away from its no-first-use policy based on discussions in India about doctrine, but India’s steps could push China toward other measures, such as launch-on-warning or higher-alert status for its nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2016.) In a 2009 defense white paper, China declared that its nuclear missiles are “detargeted” in peacetime and “not aimed at any country.”

A more assertive Indian doctrine and the growing nuclear and missile capabilities in New Delhi could prompt Beijing to consider changes in its practices, particularly if the United States is seen as strengthening India as a regional counterbalance to China.

Posted: May 1, 2017

India, Pakistan Escalate Missile Rivalry

Missile advances may destabilize an already dangerous region.

March 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India and Pakistan are pursuing the development of new nuclear-capable missiles that risk further escalating tensions in South Asia and increasing the chance of a nuclear exchange.

Pakistani protesters shout anti-Indian slogans during a demonstration in Peshawar on October 4, 2016, after Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across their border. (Photo credit: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)In the past several months, both countries have tested and refined systems for deployment. Although their nuclear ambitions and advancing capabilities should not be considered in isolation or solely as bilateral, there is an action-reaction dynamic between the two states that drives their advances. China is also a factor, particularly in India’s military planning, as New Delhi pursues longer-range ballistic missiles that are more relevant to deterring Beijing than Islamabad. 

This creates a complex nuclear geometry in Asia, in which developments intended to provide stability often have the opposite effect. Indeed, some of the recent developments raise serious concerns about control of nuclear missiles in the field and an increased risk of an unauthorized nuclear attack. 

Sea-Based Capabilities 

Pakistan’s Jan. 9 test-firing of a sea-launched cruise missile, the first for that missile, is one of Islamabad’s responses to India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent and advancing ballistic missile defense system. The missile was tested from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean and hit its target with “precise accuracy,” according to a statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the Pakistani military.

The nuclear-capable missile, known as the Babur-3, has an estimated range of 450 kilometers. It is a variant of the ground-launched Babur-2 cruise missile, which has an estimated range of 700 kilometers and was last tested in December 2016. The Babur-3 gives Islamabad “a credible second strike capability, augmenting deterrence,” the military statement said. 

That judgment might be premature, given that the Babur-3 was tested from an underwater mobile platform and is not likely ready for deployment on Pakistan’s diesel submarines. But Pakistan’s decision to pursue a sea-based deterrent is not a surprise. Evidence, such as Pakistan’s decision to stand up a Naval Strategic Force Command in 2012, pointed toward its pursuit of a sea-based deterrent. 

India was not cited by name as the reason for pursuing a sea-based deterrent, but the Pakistani military statement alluded to Indian developments as a motivation, saying that the missile is a “measured response to nuclear strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan’s neighborhood.” The reference likely included India’s recent deployment of a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched ballistic missile to ensure the survivability of its deterrent and complete New Delhi’s nuclear triad. 

India’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant, completed sea trials in 2016 and is widely believed to have been inducted into the Indian navy. The Arihant-class submarines can carry India’s nuclear-capable K-4 or K-15 ballistic missiles. 

In the days following the Babur-3 test, India announced it would test-fire a K-4 ballistic missile, but there has been no subsequent announcement of a test taking place. The K-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile assessed to have a range of approximately 3,500 kilometers, as opposed to the K-15, which has a range of approximately 750 kilometers. The K-15 reportedly was tested twice in March 2016 and is now in production. 

The decisions by India and Pakistan to pursue sea-based nuclear weapons systems, although presented in terms of strengthening deterrence, raises concerns about the actual impact on stability in the region. 

Both countries currently are believed to keep warheads separated from missiles. Sea-based deterrents, however, require mating the warheads and missiles prior to deployment. If India and Pakistan view their submarine forces as the survivable leg of the nuclear deterrence forces, waiting to deploy a submarine until a crisis scenario is not an attractive option.

This raises questions about the management of the nuclear warheads at sea and the reliability of the communications systems. If submarine commanders have the ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles, it could increase the chances of an unauthorized or accidental launch. 

New Land-Based Capabilities

The concern about delegating command-and-control authority also applies in the case of some ground-based systems, such as Pakistan’s short-range tactical ballistic missile, the Nasr. The Nasr has a range of approximately 60 kilometers, and the ISPR has described the system as filling a gap to “deter evolving threats,” which includes India’s conventional military superiority. 

To use the Nasr as a deterrent against conventional attacks, it may be necessary in certain situations to transfer command and control of these tactical nuclear weapons to commanders on the ground. Some experts view the development of the Nasr, with possible pre-delegation of authority, as potentially destabilizing and increasing the likelihood of use against a conventional attack by India. 

Pakistan also tested a second new system in January, a medium-range ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). The ISPR said that the Jan. 24 test was a success and that the missile, called the Ababeel, has an estimated range of about 2,000 kilometers, “the capability to engage multiple targets with high precision,” and the ability to evade radar. The missile will ensure the “survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missile defense environment.”

Pakistan conducts its first successful test firing of the nuclear-capable Babur-3 cruise missile January 9 from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean. The missile, intended for submarine deployment, was fired from an underwater, mobile platform. (Photo credit: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations)

Pakistan’s development of the Babur-3 and MIRV capability on the Ababeel comes as India makes advances with its ballistic missile defense system. The Indian Ministry of Defence announced Feb. 12 that it “successfully conducted a test wherein an incoming ballistic missile target was intercepted by an exo-atmospheric interceptor missile off the Bay of Bengal.” The statement described this as an “important milestone in building its overall capability” to defend against incoming ballistic missile threats. 

MIRV-capable and cruise missiles, however, can make it more difficult for missile defenses to intercept incoming warheads. The Babur-3 “features terrain hugging and sea skimming flight capabilities to evade hostile radars” and air defenses, the ISPR said in its statement.

India’s Missile Developments

While Pakistan is orienting its new delivery systems based on developments in India, India is considering China as it deploys new ballistic missiles. 

India’s pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles further destabilizes the region’s complicated strategic geometry. These missiles, primarily the Agni-4 and Agni-5, are clearly directed toward China. 

For example, the Agni-5, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers, is not necessary for targeting Pakistan. But it does put all major Chinese cities within India’s range. India tested the Agni-5 in December 2016 and the Agni-4 on Jan. 2. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The Agni-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that has an estimated range of 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, January/February 2012.

China often does not respond to Indian ballistic missile tests, but the most recent Agni-5 launch drew a quick, negative response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman the next day. Hua Chunying recalled a UN Security Council Resolution in 1998 that urged India and Pakistan not to pursue nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, after both countries tested nuclear devices, and said China takes the position that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries.”

During the Chinese New Year, Beijing posted a video of its new medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-16. This system, first displayed in September 2015, is assessed by the Pentagon in an annual report on China’s military in 2016 as improving China’s ability to strike at “regional targets.”

Although it is doubtful that China’s decision to display the missile again is directed at India alone, it does highlight China’s regional nuclear capabilities that likely concern India.

Posted: March 1, 2017

India Tests Long-Range Missile

India conducted a successful fourth flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile, a nuclear-capable system likely to reach intercontinental-ballistic-missile classification. 

January/February 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India conducted a successful fourth flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile, a nuclear-capable system likely able to reach the range for classification as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 

According to a press release from the Indian Defence Ministry, the Dec. 26 launch tested the full range of the Agni-5 and successfully achieved all mission objectives. The release said that the flight test “further boosted the indigenous missile capabilities and deterrence level of the country.” 

The Agni-V missile is displayed during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2013. (Photo credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)The Agni-5 is a road-mobile, three-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile believed to be capable of carrying a 1,500 kilogram warhead an estimated 5,000-5,800 kilometers. The threshold for ICBM classification is 5,500 kilometers. 

The Indian Defence Research and Development Organization, which developed the Agni-5, will not give an exact range for the system, but has said publicly that it is more than 5,000 kilometers. That distance would put within range all of China, a nuclear-armed neighbor that New Delhi views as a threat. The two fought a brief border war in 1962 and have continuing territorial disputes.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, at a Dec. 27 press conference cited nonbinding UN Security Resolution 1172, which in 1998 called on India and Pakistan to “cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Beijing maintains that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries,” Hua said. 

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs rebutted the implication that India was not complying with the UN resolution and said India “abides by all” applicable international obligations. 

The missile was tested from Dr. Abdul Kalam Island, off the eastern coast of India in the Bay of Bengal. The first Agni-5 test took place in 2012, and the most recent before the December launch was in January 2015. (See ACT, March 2015; May 2012.)

Posted: January 9, 2017

NSG Membership Proposal Would Undermine Nonproliferation

Six years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged his support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the nuclear technology control organization established in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapon test blast, which used plutonium produced with nuclear technology from Canada and the United States. According the official NSG website , India’s 1974 test explosion “demonstrated that peaceful nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused.” NSG membership currently requires that the state is a member in good standing with the nuclear...

India Stays Silent on First Nuclear Sub

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. 

December 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. If so, India will have taken the last necessary step to possess a nuclear triad, the ability to launch nuclear weapons from air, land, and sea. 

The Indian government neither confirmed nor denied reports of the commissioning of the INS Arihant, a nuclear-powered submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles. It can be equipped with 12 750-kilometer-range K-15 missiles or four 3,500-kilometer-range K-4 missiles. A K-4 missile launched from the northern Indian Ocean could reach China and Pakistan. The K-15 has been operational since July 2012, but the K-4 is estimated to require further testing before deployment. 

An Indian Kalvari-class attack submarine is escorted by tugboats in Mumbai on October 29, 2015. Recently, India is believed to have put its first Arihant-class ballistic missile submarine into active service. (Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s submarine program began in 1984. The Arihant is the first of three ballistic missile submarines to be developed under the Advanced Technology Vessel program; the second, the INS Aridhaman, is scheduled to be delivered in 2018. India began development of the Arihant in 2009 and started testing it in December 2014. Sea trials were completed in February. In a March 19 interview with Arms Control Today, an Indian official claimed that the submarine would be ready to be commissioned at any time in the following month. (See ACT, April 2016.)

But the Indian government has made no announcement about commissioning the Arihant. The defense ministry did not confirm or deny that the submarine had been commissioned in August, reported The Diplomat on Oct. 19. When asked about the Arihant, the ministry and the Indian navy refused to comment on the grounds that the submarine program is a strategic and classified project, according to an Oct. 18 Times of India article. “There will soon be an opportunity to talk about it,” Vice Admiral GS Pabby stated in response to questions about the submarine at an Oct. 18 event, reported Hindu Business Line.

Several members of India’s defense community welcomed the news reports that the Arihant had begun active duty, citing the gap between India’s submarine fleet and those of other nuclear powers. As of 2015, India possesses 15 submarines while rival China has more than 50 conventional submarines and four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. 

The implications of India’s acquisition of a ballistic missile submarine are a “mixed bag,” Shane Mason, a research associate in the Stimson Center’s South Asia program told Arms Control Today on Nov. 15. Although such submarines are the most survivable leg of the triad and could enhance deterrence, they may create command and control challenges for India and give Pakistan an incentive to pursue its own sea-based leg of the nuclear triad, Mason said. 

In India, nuclear command and control traditionally has been directed by the political sector, not the military. “The practice of sea-based deterrence will be a new one for India and will upend the country’s tradition of strict civilian control of nuclear forces,” Mason said.

Posted: November 30, 2016

India to Deploy Missiles Near China

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the deployment of supersonic cruise missiles along the country’s northeastern border with China...

September 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the deployment of supersonic cruise missiles along the country’s northeastern border with China, a move that Beijing’s army denounced as destabilizing the region and increasing the likelihood of confrontation. 

Brahmos missiles are seen during the rehearsal parade for India's Republic Day in New Delhi on January 20, 2007. [Photo credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images]Modi chairs the Cabinet Committee on Security that in early August cleared the deployment, which includes about 100 Brahmos cruise missiles, five mobile launchers, and a command post. The missiles will be located in the region of Arunachal Pradesh, the border of which is disputed by China.

The Brahmos cruise missile, jointly developed by India and Russia, is estimated to carry a 300-kilogram warhead over a range of 290 kilometers. The missiles, which have a reported maximum speed approaching Mach 3, are likely to be armed with conventional warheads, although they could be paired with a miniaturized nuclear warhead. 

The official publication of China’s People’s Liberation Army, the PLA Daily, said Aug. 22 that India’s decision to deploy the Brahmos “exceeded its own need for self-defense and poses a serious threat to China’s Tibet and Yunnan provinces.”

Posted: September 1, 2016

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - India