India’s nuclear arsenal continues to grow, and this is bad news for Pakistan and China

This post was published in Yandex Zen. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – India, the most populous democratic country in the world, has a unique strategic position, but is surrounded by powerful opponents. As a result, its population of 1.3 billion is guarded by a nuclear arsenal of about a hundred warheads deployed on land, at sea and in the air. Despite its status as a supporter of non-alignment, the country was forced to develop its own nuclear weapons.

India’s nuclear program began in 1948, just a year after independence. The Nehru government saw nuclear power as an inexpensive source of energy for a young country. In the same year, the Indian Atomic Energy Commission was established to oversee the country’s nuclear efforts.

Due to the lack of uranium in Indian territory, the country naturally gravitated toward using plutonium instead. The first nuclear reactor in India, Apsara, was built with the help of the United Kingdom and reached critical power in August 1956.

Initially, New Delhi viewed the construction of nuclear devices not as weapons, but as what was then called “peaceful nuclear explosives,” which can be used to build harbors, produce natural gas in other major construction and mining projects.

Although this plan is functionally identical to creating nuclear weapons, it demonstrated that India is not convinced of the need for real nuclear deterrence. As one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has witnessed the hectic pace of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

However, the 1962 war with China changed everything. A limited attack on Indian territory could be much worse if both countries were involved in a total war, especially if Pakistan and China united together.

Moreover, although China was not yet a nuclear power, its nuclear status was considered inevitable, and Beijing could blackmail India, demanding territorial concessions under the threat of nuclear destruction. New Delhi embarked on a nuclear arms race.

The first nuclear test of India was conducted on May 18, 1974 at the Pokran training ground in the Rajasthan desert. The device, nicknamed the “Smiling Buddha”, had an explosive power of six to fifteen kilotons (the Hiroshima device is usually estimated at sixteen kilotons).

The test was conducted in an underground mine. India described the test as peaceful in nature, but China’s nuclear status achieved in 1964 meant that it was almost certainly conceived as a weapon.

This test led India to the so-called Nuclear Club, which previously consisted of the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China. India refrained from nuclear testing for another twenty-four years, until on May 11, 1998, three devices were detonated, and on May 13, three more.

Most of the devices had low power from two hundred to five hundred tons, which suggested that they were designed as tactical nuclear bombs, but one device was thermonuclear, which failed, although it reached an explosion power of about forty-five kilotons.

Today, India is estimated to have at least 520 kilograms of plutonium, sufficient, according to the Arms Control Association, “for the production of 100 to 120 nuclear devices.” New Delhi calls this a “reliable minimum deterrent” against the neighboring nuclear powers of China and Pakistan. In comparison, China, which also has to deal with a nuclear rival from the United States, has enough fissile material to develop 200-250 devices.

Pakistan is believed to have an arsenal of 110 to 130 nuclear devices. India is firmly committed to the first non-use of nuclear weapons, promising to never use them first in any conflict and use them only as a retaliatory strike.

As a result, India has created its own triad of land, sea and air forces equipped with nuclear weapons. The first stage of development was tactical nuclear devices for attack aircraft of the Indian Air Force. Today, India has more than two hundred twin-engine Su-30MK1 fighters, sixty-nine MiG-29 fighters and fifty-one Mirage-2000 fighters. It is likely that at least some of these aircraft were modified and trained to carry nuclear gravity bombs.

The ground-based missile segment of the triad consists of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. So, launched in the late 1990s, the Prithvi rocket initially had a range of only ninety-three miles, but its subsequent versions increased the range to 372 miles.

Despite this, Prithvi is still a solid tactical weapon, while the Agni I-V missiles with a range of 434 to 4970 miles are strategic weapons capable of hitting foreign capitals, including all of mainland China.

The third branch of the triad is new, consisting of atomic ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) Arihant class. It is planned to build four submarines, each of which can carry twelve short-range ballistic missiles K-15 Sagarik with a flight range of 434 miles or medium-range ballistic missiles K-4 with a flight range of 2174 miles. Using the Bay of Bengal as a bastion and protected by assets such as the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, missiles from Arihant class submarines can hardly reach Beijing.

The country’s policy to renounce the use of the first nuclear weapon should act in such a way as to slow down the escalation of any ordinary conflict and its transition to nuclear. As long as India’s nuclear deterrence remains reliable, it should make rational adversaries think twice before approaching the nuclear threshold.

However, the fragile relationship of the country with Pakistan, which does not have such a policy, as well as its “cold start” blitzkrieg plan against its neighbor, means that nuclear war cannot be ruled out.


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