INDIAN NUCLEAR FORCES 2017
India continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal, with at least four new weapon systems now under development to complement or replaceexisting nuclear-capable aircraft, land-based delivery systems, and sea-based systems. India is estimated to have produced enough plutonium for150–200 nuclear warheads but has likely produced only 120–130. Nonetheless, additional plutonium will be required to produce warheads for missiles now under development, and India is reportedly building two new plutonium production facilities. India’s nuclear strategy, which has traditionallyfocused on Pakistan, now appears to place increased emphasis on China.
India continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal with development of several new nuclear weapon systems. We estimate India currently operates seven nuclear-capable systems: two aircraft, four land-based ballistic missiles, and one sea-based ballistic missile. At least four more systems arein development. The development program is in a dynamic phase, with long-range land- and sea-based missiles emerging for possible deployment within the next decade.India is estimated to have produced approximately 600 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium (International Panel on Fissile Materials2015
sufficient for 150–200 nuclear warheads; however, not all the material has been converted into nuclear warheads. Based on available information about its nuclear-capable delivery force structure and strategy, we estimate that India has produced 120–130 nuclear warheads . Itwill need more warheads to arm the new missiles it is currently developing. In addition to the Dhruva plutonium production reactor near Mumbai, India reportedly is building two new plutonium production reactors (International Panel on Fissile Materials2015.
While India has traditionally been focused on deterring Pakistan, its nuclear modernization indicates that it is putting increased emphasis on its future strategic relationship with China.That adjustment will result in significantly new capabilities being deployed over the next decade that may influence how India views nuclear weapons’ role against Pakistan.
According to one scholar,we may be witnessing what Icall a ‘decoupling’ of Indian nuclear strategy between China and Pakistan. The force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it, according to this scholar, to pursue more aggressive strategies – such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’ – against Pakistan.
This issue was highlighted in 2016 during yet another border dispute between Indian and Pakistan. India haslong adhered to a nuclear no-first-use policy, even though the policy was weakened by India’s decision to potentially use nuclear weapons in response to chemical or biological attacks (such use would be first use even it were in retaliation). Yet amid the 2016 dispute with Pakistan, then-Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar indicated that India should not “bind” itself to that policy
Although the Indian government laterexplained that the minister’s remarks represented his personal opinion, the debate highlighted the conditions under which India would consider using nuclear weapons.
Fighter-bombers were India’s first and only nuclear strike force until 2003, when the first nuclear-capable ballistic missile was fielded. Despite considerable progress since then in building a diverse arsenal of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, bombers continue to serve a prominent role as a flexible strike force in India’s nuclear posture. We estimate that three or four squadrons of Mirage 2000H and Jaguar IS/IB (and possibly also MiG-27) aircraft, at three bases, are assigned nuclear strike missions against Pakistan and China.The Mirage 2000H Vajra (“divine thunder”) fighter-bombers are deployedwith the 1st and 7th squadrons of the 40th Wing at Gwalior (Maharajpur) Air Force Station in northern Madhya Pradesh. We estimate that one (or potentially both) of these squadrons has a secondary nuclear mission.
Indian Mirage aircraft also frequently operate from the Nal (Bikaner) Air Force Station in western Rajasthan.The French-supplied Mirage 2000 has served a nuclear strike role in the French Air Force for many years (the two-seated Mirage 2000N). The Indian Mirage 2000 is undergoing upgrades toextend its service life and enhance its capabilities; the modernized version is called Mirage 2000I.The Indian Air Force also operates five squadrons of Jaguar IS/IB Shamsher (“sword of justice”) aircraft at three bases.
These include the 5th and 14th squadrons of the 7th Wing at Ambala Air Force Station in northwestern Haryana, the 16th and 27th squadrons of the 17th Wing at Gorakhpur Air ForceStation in northeastern Uttar Pradesh, and the 224th squadron of the 33rd Wing at Jamnagar Air Force Station in southwestern Gujarat. We estimate that two of the squadrons at Ambala and Gorakhpur (one at each base) are assigned a secondary nuclear strike mission.
Jaguar aircraft also frequentlyoperate from the Nal (Bikaner) Air Force Station in western Rajasthan.The Jaguar, designed jointly by France and Britain, was nuclear-capable when deployed by those countries. The so-called Darin III precision-attack and avionics upgrade of half of India’s Jaguar fleet achieved initial operationalcapability in November 2016 and Air Force operations were approved in December 2016 (Ministry of Defence2017