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Indian nuclear forces, 2015

Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris

To cite this article: Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris (2015) Indian nuclear forces, 2015,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 71:5, 77-83, DOI: 10.1177/0096340215599788

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DOI: 10.1177/0096340215599788
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Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris

Abstract
With several long-range ballistic missiles in development, the Indian nuclear posture is entering an important
new phase. After nearly two decades of focusing on nuclear competition with Pakistan, New Delhi seems to
now be paying attention to its future strategic relationship with China. India is estimated to have produced
approximately 540 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium, enough for 135 to 180 nuclear warheads, though not
all of that material is being used. The authors estimate that India has produced between 110 and 120 nuclear
warheads. The countryÕs fighter-bombers still constitute the backbone of its operational nuclear strike force,
but it has made considerable progress in developing credible land-based ballistic missiles as well. They include
the Agni-4, which will be capable of delivering a single nuclear warhead more than 3,500 kilometers, and
therefore able to strike Beijing and Shanghai from northern India. In 2014, India conducted its first ever sea
trial of a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine.

Keywords
China, defense, ICBM, India, nuclear weapon, Pakistan, SLBM, SSBN

ndiaÕs drive to develop a nuclear triad has been converted into nuclear war-

I reached an important milestone in


2014 with the first nuclear-powered
ballistic missile submarine deploying on
heads. Based on available information
about its nuclear-capable delivery vehi-
cles, we estimate that India has produced
its initial, brief, sea-trial voyage. Now, 110 to 120 nuclear warheads. It will need
with several long-range ballistic missiles more than that to arm new missiles it is
in development, the Indian nuclear pos- developing. In addition to the Dhruva
ture is entering an important and dy- plutonium production reactor near
namic new phase. After nearly two Mumbai, India plans to construct a
decades of concentrating on competition second reactor near Visakhapatnam, on
with Pakistan, IndiaÕs nuclear outlook now the east coast. An unsafeguarded proto-
seems to be focused more toward its type fast breeder reactor is also under
future strategic relationship with China. construction 650 kilometers (km) south
India is estimated to have produced at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic
approximately 540 kilograms (kg) of Research (IGCAR) near Kalpakkam,
weapon-grade plutonium (IPFM, 2013: which will significantly increase IndiaÕs
21), sufficient for 135 to 180 nuclear war- plutonium production capacity once it
heads; however, not all of the material becomes operational.
78 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 71(5)

Aircraft
the Indian government to consider redu-
Despite IndiaÕs considerable progress in cing the number to 36 for now (Tran and
developing credible ballistic missiles, its Raghuvanshi, 2015).
fighter-bombers still constitute the back-
bone of IndiaÕs operational nuclear
Land-based missiles
strike force. Two or three squadrons of
Mirage 2000H and Jaguar IS/IB aircraft India has four types of land-based nuclear-
are thought to provide India with a flex- capable missiles that appear to be oper-
ible capability to conduct nuclear strike ational: the short-range Prithvi-2 and Agni-
operations deep into Pakistan and China. 1, the medium-range Agni-2, and the inter-
The Indian Air ForceÕs Mirage 2000H mediate-range Agni-3. At least two other
fighter-bombers, which are undergoing longer-range Agni missiles are under devel-
upgrades to extend their service life opment: the Agni-4 and Agni-5 (see Table 1).
and enhance their capabilities, are de- It remains unclear how many of these
ployed at Maharajpur (Gwalior) Air missile types India plans to keep in its
Force Station with Squadrons 1 and 7 of arsenal. Some may serve as technology
the 40th Wing; we estimate that one of development programs for longer-
the squadrons has a secondary nuclear range missiles. Although the Indian gov-
mission. The French-supplied Mirage ernment has made no statements about
has served a nuclear strike role in the the future composition of its land-based
French air force for many years. missile force, intermediate-range and
India also has four operational squad- medium-range missiles could poten-
rons of Jaguar IS/IB aircraft; two of the tially be discontinued, with only short-
squadrons may be assigned a secondary and long-range missiles deployed in the
nuclear strike mission. The Jaguar, future to provide a mix of strike options
designed jointly by France and Britain, against near and distant targets. Other-
was nuclear-capable when deployed by wise India appears to plan a very diverse
those countries. An upgrade of IndiaÕs and expensive missile force.
Jaguar fleet is scheduled for completion The Indian ballistic missile force
in December 2017 (Government of India, remains dominated by the short-range
2012). The domestically manufactured, Prithvi system. Initially, the 150 km range
Soviet-origin MiG-27 Flogger fleet, Prithvi-1 was thought to be nuclear, but it
sometimes rumored to have a nuclear appears that the system might be con-
strike mission, is also undergoing an ventional and being replaced with the
upgrade (Government of India, 2012). Prahaar short-range missile system. The
The original nuclear aircraft are aging, Indian government stated in 2013 that the
and India may be searching for a modern Prithvi-2 missile was the first to be devel-
fighter-bomber that could potentially oped under the countryÕs prestigious
take over the air-based nuclear strike Integrated Guided Missile Development
role. One potential candidate is the Program (IGMDP) for ÒIndiaÕs nuclear
Rafale, produced by France, which uses deterrenceÓ (Government of India, 2013).
the aircraft in such a role. After initially The Prithvi-2 can deliver a nuclear or
announcing plans to buy 126 Rafale conventional warhead to a range of 250
fighter-bombers from France, however, kilometers (155 miles). After test launches
the high cost appears to have caused in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the Indian
Kristensen and Norris 79

Table 1. Indian nuclear forces, 2015

NATO NUMBER OF YEAR RANGE1 WARHEAD X YIELD NUMBER OF


TYPE
DESIGNATION LAUNCHERS DEPLOYED (KILOMETERS) (KILOTONS) WARHEADS

Aircraft
Vajra Mirage 2000H ~32 1985 1,850 1 x bomb ~32
Shamsher Jaguar IS/IB ~16 1981 1,600 1 x bomb ~16
SUBTOTAL ~48 ~48

Land-based ballistic missiles


Prithvi-2 N.A. ~24 2003 250 1 x 12 ~24
Agni-1 N.A. ~20 20072 700+ 1 x 40 ~20
Agni-2 N.A. ~8 20113 2,000+ 1 x 40 ~8
Agni-3 N.A. ~4 2014? 3,200+ 1 x 40 ~4
Agni-4 N.A. N.A. (2016) 3,500+ 1 x 40 N.A.
Agni-5 N.A. N.A. (2017) 5,200+ 1 x 40 N.A.
SUBTOTAL ~56 ~564

Sea-based ballistic missiles


Dhanush N.A. 2 (2013) 350 1 x 12 2
K-15 (Sagarika) (12) (2017) 700 1 x 12 (12)
K-4 N.A. N.A. ? ~3,000 1x? N.A.
SUBTOTAL (14) (14)

TOTAL ~106 (118)

1 Range listed is unrefueled combat range with drop tanks.


2 Agni-1 first began induction with the 334th Missile Group in 2004 but did not become operational until 2007.
3 Agni-2 first began induction with the 335th Missile Group in 2008 but did not become operational until 2011.
4 The missile and warhead inventory may be larger than the number of launchers, some of which can be reused to fire additional missiles.
5 The number in parenthesis includes 12 warheads possibly produced for the first SSBN for a total stockpile of roughly 118 warheads.

government reported the range as 350 km the Agni-1 is thought to be focused on tar-
(see, for example, Government of India, geting Pakistan, and an estimated 20
2012), but the US National Air and Space launchers are deployed in western India,
Intelligence Center (NASIC) lists the possibly with the 334th Missile Group.
range as 250 km (NASIC, 2013: 13). The The two-stage, solid-fuel, rail-mobile
350-km range version is sometimes Agni-2 is an improvement on the Agni-1,
called Prithvi-3 and has been converted and can deliver a nuclear or conventional
to the ship-launched Dhanush missile. warhead more than 2,000 km (1,243
Given its small size (9 meters long and 1 miles). The missile possibly began being
meter in diameter), the Prithvi is difficult introduced into the armed forces in 2004,
to spot in satellite images and therefore but technical issues delayed operational
little is known about where it is deployed. capability until 2011. Fewer than 10
The two-stage, solid fuel, road-mobile launchers are thought to be deployed in
Agni-1 missile became operational in 2007, northern India, possibly with the 335th
three years after its introduction into the Missile Group. Targeting is likely focused
armed forces. The short-range missile is on western, central, and southern China.
capable of delivering a nuclear or conven- The Agni-3, a two-stage, solid-fuel,
tional warhead to a distance of approxi- rail-mobile, intermediate-range ballistic
mately 700 km (435 miles). The mission of missile is capable of delivering a nuclear
80 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 71(5)

warhead 3,200-plus km (1,988-plus India is modifying the Agni-5 launcher


miles). The Indian Ministry of Defence to carry the missile in a sealed canister. The
declared in 2014 that the Agni-3 is Òin new canister design Òwill reduce the reac-
the arsenal of the armed forcesÓ (Indian tion time drastically . . . just a few minutes
Ministry of Defence, 2014: 86), and the from Ôstop-to-launch,ÕÓ according to Avi-
Indian militaryÕs Strategic Forces Com- nash Chander (Pandit, 2013b), the Agni pro-
mand conducted its third user trial on gram engineer who headed IndiaÕs Defence
April 16, 2015 from the Wheeler Island Research and Development Organisation
Test Range. If the Agni-3 is operational, from 2013 until he was sacked by the gov-
there are probably fewer than 10 launch- ernment of new Prime Minister Narendra
ers. Several years ago an army spokes- Modi in January 2015Ñthe same month the
person remarked that Òwith this missile, organization launched the Agni-5 from a
India can even strike ShanghaiÓ (Indo- canister launcher for the first time. The
Asian News Service, 2008), but this missile Òwas in its deliverable configur-
would require launching the Agni-3 ation that enables launch of the missile
from the northeastern corner of India. within a very short time as compared to
India is also developing the Agni-4 mis- an open launch,Ó the organization later
sile, a two-stage, solid fuel, rail-mobile stated (Defence Research and Develop-
intermediate-range ballistic missile cap- ment Organisation, 2015: 4).
able of delivering a single nuclear war- Moreover, unlike previous Agni-5
head 3,500-plus km (2,175-plus miles). flight tests that took place from rail-
The Indian Ministry of Defence lists the mobile launchers, the January 2015 flight
range as 4,000 km (2,486 miles) (Indian test appeared to use a new road-mobile
Ministry of Defence, 2014). Following the launcher with the canister erected by
final development test on January 14, 2014, four hydraulic arms from a six- or
the Ministry declared that Agni-4 Òserial seven-axle trailer towed by a three-axle
production will begin shortlyÓ (Indian truck. Although the Defence Research
Ministry of Defence, 2014: 86). A second and Development Organisation released
flight test conducted on December 2, 2014 a video of the 2015 launch, the frame did
was the ArmyÕs first Agni-4 launch (Indian not show the new road-mobile launcher
Ministry of Defence, 2014). The missile (Defence Research and Development
will undergo a small number of induction Organisation, undated a), unlike videos
tests before it becomes operational. of the 2012 and 2013 launches that clearly
Although the Agni-4 will be capable of showed the rail-mobile launchers
striking targets in nearly all of China (Defence Research and Development
from northern India, including Beijing Organisation, undated b, undated c).
and Shanghai, India is also developing Despite widespread speculation in
the longer-range Agni-5, a three-stage, news media articles and on social media
solid-fuel, rail-mobile, intercontinental that the Agni-5 will be equipped with mul-
ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of deli- tiple warheadsÑeven multiple independ-
vering a warhead more than 5,000 km ently targetable reentry vehicles
(3,100-plus miles). The extra range will (MIRVs)Ñthere is good reason to doubt
allow the Indian military to establish that India can or will add multiple war-
Agni-5 bases in central and southern heads or MIRVs to its arsenal in the
India, further away from China. near future.1 There are no reports of
Kristensen and Norris 81

MIRV technologies being flight-tested, construction (Deccan Herald, 2014), and


and loading multiple warheads on the India might have plans to build three,
Agni-5 would reduce its extra range, although rumors about six are probably
which was a key reason for developing mistaken. A base for the SSBNs is rumored
the missile in the first place. The Agni-5 to be under construction near Rambilli on
is estimated to be capable of delivering a IndiaÕs east coast (Pandit, 2013a).
payload of 1.5 tons (the same as the Agni-3 The utility of the K-15 is very limited; it
and -4), and IndiaÕs first- and second- would not be able to target Islamabad,
generation warheads, even modified ver- only southern Pakistan, and would have
sions, are relatively heavy compared with to sail very close to the countryÕs coast
warheads developed by other nuclear to do so. Moreover, the K-15 would not
weapon states that deploy MIRVs. It be able to target China at all, unless the
took the Soviet Union and the United SSBN sailed through the Singapore Strait
States hundreds of nuclear tests and deep into the South China Sea. Due to
many years of effort to develop reentry these circumstances, the Arihant SSBN/
vehicles small enough to equip a ballistic K-15 SLBM weapon system should be
missile with a MIRV. Moreover, deploy- seen as a technology development pro-
ing missiles with multiple warheads gram intended to develop a more capable
would invite serious questions about the missile, rather than as a credible and
credibility of IndiaÕs minimum deterrent secure means of retaliation. In March
doctrine; using MIRVs would reflect a 2014, India was said to have test-launched
strategy aimed at quickly striking many a K-4 SLBM from a submerged launch
targets, and would also run the risk of trig- platform, apparently to a range of more
gering a warhead race with IndiaÕs adver- than 3,000 km. The Arihant would prob-
saries. It remains to be seen whether ably require modification to carry the K-4.
ChinaÕs decision to equip some of its IndiaÕs third sea-based missile is the
silo-based ICBMs with MIRVs will trig- Dhanush, a 400-km (249-mile) single-
ger a similar development in India. stage, liquid-fuel, short-range ballistic
missile designed to launch from the
back of two specially configured Suka-
Naval nuclear weapons
nya-class patrol vessels (Subhadra and
India is developing two naval nuclear Suvarna). The utility of the Dhanush as
weapon systems: a nuclear-powered bal- a strategic deterrence weapon, however,
listic missile submarine (SSBN) and a is severely limited by its short range; it
ship-launched ballistic missile. would have to sail very close to the Paki-
After three decades of development, stani or Chinese coasts to target facilities
IndiaÕs first SSBN, the Arihant, finally in those countries, making it highly vul-
sailed on sea trials in 2014.2 The reactor nerable to counterattack.
on the Arihant first went critical in
August 2013 (Indian Ministry of Defence,
Cruise missiles
2014: 38). The Arihant is equipped with 12
launch tubes designed to launch the 700- There are also unconfirmed rumors that
km (435-mile) range K-15 (Sagarika) sub- India is developing a nuclear-capable
marine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). cruise missile, the Nirbhay. Neither the
A second SSBN is possibly under Indian government nor the US
82 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 71(5)

intelligence community has yet men- Indo-Asian News Service (2008) Agni-III not targeted
at any particular country: Army. India Today,
tioned the missile having any nuclear May 8. Available at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/
capability.3 The Nirbhay has been story/Agni-IIIþnotþtargetedþatþanyþparticular
flight-tested several times, most recently þcountry:þArmy/1/7972.html.
on October 17, 2014, to a range of about IPFM (2013) Global fissile material report 2013: Increas-
ing transparency of nuclear warhead and fissile
1,000 kilometers (621 miles). material stocks as a step toward disarmament.
International Panel on Fissile Materials. Available
Notes at: http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr13.pdf.
Kristensen HM (2013) IndiaÕs missile modernization
1. For a review of rumors and statements about beyond minimum deterrence. FAS Strategic Secur-
Indian MIRVs, see Kristensen (2013). ity Blog, October 4. Available at: http://fas.org/
2. For more on the history of the Arihant, see blogs/security/2013/10/indianmirv/.
Norris and Kristensen (2010). National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC)
3. India would also need a smaller, lighter war- (2013) Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat. NASIC-
head if it were to develop a nuclear-capable 1031-0985-13. Available at: http://fas.org/blogs/
cruise missile. For more on this, see Norris security/2013/07/nasic2013.
and Kristensen (2010). Norris RS and Kristensen HM (2010) Indian nuclear
forces, 2010. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 66(5):
76”81. Available at: http://bos.sagepub.com/con-
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5.mp4.
Defence Research and Development Organisation
Hans M. Kristensen is the director of the
(undated c) Agni 5 launched successfully. Video Nuclear Information Project with the Federa-
of event that occurred on April 19, 2012. Available tion of American Scientists (FAS) in Washing-
at: http://drdo.gov.in/drdo/English/index.jsp?pg ton, DC. His work focuses on researching and
=videoplay.jsp&vn=video/AGNI%20A5-02.mp4. writing about the status of nuclear weapons and
Government of India (2012) Upgradation of aircraft. the policies that direct them. Kristensen is a co-
Press Information Bureau, April 30. Available at: author of the world nuclear forces overview in
http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=82793. the SIPRI Yearbook (Oxford University Press)
Government of India (2013) Prithvi does it again. Press and a frequent adviser to the news media on
Information Bureau, October 8. Available at:
nuclear weapons policy and operations. Inqui-
http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=99911.
ries should be directed to FAS, 1725 DeSales St.
Indian Ministry of Defence (2014) Annual Report
2013”14. Available at: http://mod.nic.in/writer- NW, Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20036, USA;
eaddata/AnnualReport2013-14-ENG.pdf. (202) 546-3300.
Kristensen and Norris 83

Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow with the well as India, Pakistan, and Israel. He is the
Federation of American Scientists in Washing- author of Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie
ton, DC. His principal areas of expertise include R. Groves, the Manhattan ProjectÕs Indispensa-
writing and research on all aspects of the ble Man (Steerforth Press, 2002). He has co-
nuclear weapons programs of the United authored the Nuclear Notebook column since
States, Russia, Britain, France, and China, as May 1987.