India and weapons of mass destruction

Nuclear programme
start date
First nuclear
weapon test
18 May 1974 a
First fusion
weapon test
11 May 1998 b
Most recent test 13 May 1998
Largest-yield test 20-60kt total c
Number of tests
to date
Peak stockpile 110 - 120 d
Current stockpile 110 - 120  d
Maximum missile
5,000-5,800 km e (Agni-V)
NPT Party No

India possesses weapons of mass destruction in the form of nuclear weapons and, in the past, chemical weapons. Though India has not made any official statements about the size of its nuclear arsenal, recent estimates suggest that India has 110 nuclear weapons[3][9] consistent with earlier estimates that it had produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for up to 75–110 nuclear weapons.[10] In 1999 India was estimated to have 800 kg of separated reactor-grade plutonium, with a total amount of 8300 kg of civilian plutonium, enough for approximately 1,000 nuclear weapons.[11][12] India is not a signatory to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which it argues entrenches the status quo of the existing nuclear weapons states whilst preventing general nuclear disarmament.[13]

India has signed and ratified the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. India is also a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime and a subscribing state to the Hague Code of Conduct.

Biological weapons

Further information: History of biological warfare

India has a well-developed biotechnology infrastructure that includes numerous pharmaceutical production facilities and bio-containment laboratories (including BSL-3 and BSL-4) for working with lethal pathogens. It also has highly qualified scientists with expertise in infectious diseases. Some of India's facilities are being used to support research and development for biological weapons (BW) defence purposes. India has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and pledges to abide by its obligations. There is no clear evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that directly points toward an offensive BW program. India does possess the scientific capability and infrastructure to launch an offensive BW program, but has chosen not to do so. In terms of delivery, India also possesses the capability to produce aerosols and has numerous potential delivery systems ranging from crop dusters to sophisticated ballistic missiles.[14]

No information exists in the public domain suggesting interest by the Indian government in delivery of biological agents by these or any other means. To reiterate the latter point, in October 2002, the then President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam asserted that "India will not make biological weapons. It is cruel to human beings".[14]

Chemical weapons

Further information: Chemical weapon

In 1992, India signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), stating that it did not have chemical weapons and the capacity or intent to manufacture chemical weapons. By doing this India became one of the original signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC] in 1993,[15] and ratified it on 2 September 1996. According to India's ex-Army Chief General Sunderji, a country having the capability of making nuclear weapons does not need to have chemical weapons, since the dread of chemical weapons could be created only in those countries that do not have nuclear weapons. Others suggested that the fact that India has found chemical weapons dispensable highlighted its confidence in the conventional weapons system at its command.

In June 1997, India declared its stock of chemical weapons (1,045 tonnes of sulphur mustard).[16][17] By the end of 2006, India had destroyed more than 75 percent of its chemical weapons/material stockpile and was granted extension for destroying (the remaining stocks by April 2009) and was expected to achieve 100 percent destruction within that time frame.[16] India informed the United Nations in May 2009 that it had destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons in compliance with the international Chemical Weapons Convention. With this India has become third country after South Korea and Albania to do so.[18][19] This was cross-checked by inspectors of the United Nations.

India has an advanced commercial chemical industry, and produces the bulk of its own chemicals for domestic consumption. It is also widely acknowledged that India has an extensive civilian chemical and pharmaceutical industry and annually exports considerable quantities of chemicals to countries such as the United Kingdom, United States and Taiwan.[20]

Nuclear weapons

Further information: Strategic Forces Command
Range of Indian missiles

As early as 26 June 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru, soon to be India's first Prime Minister, announced:

As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest devices for its protection. I have no doubt India will develop her scientific researches and I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes. But if India is threatened, she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposal.[21]

India's nuclear programme started on March 1944 and its three-stage efforts in technology were established by Dr. Homi Bhabha when he founded the nuclear research centre, the Institute of Fundamental Research.[22][23] India's loss of territory to China in a brief Himalayan border war in October 1962, provided the New Delhi government impetus for developing nuclear weapons as a means of deterring potential Chinese aggression.[24] India first tested a nuclear device in 1974 (code-named "Smiling Buddha"), which it called a "peaceful nuclear explosion." The test used plutonium produced in the Canadian-supplied CIRUS reactor, and raised concerns that nuclear technology supplied for peaceful purposes could be diverted to weapons purposes. This also stimulated the early work of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.[25] India performed further nuclear tests in 1998 (code-named "Operation Shakti"). In 1998, as a response to the continuing tests, the United States and Japan imposed sanctions on India, which have since been lifted.[26]

Neutron bombs

Dr. R Chidambaram who headed India's Pokhran-II nuclear tests said in an interview to the Press Trust of India that India is capable of producing a neutron bomb.[27]

India's no-first-use policy

India has a declared nuclear no-first-use policy and is in the process of developing a nuclear doctrine based on "credible minimum deterrence." In August 1999, the Indian government released a draft of the doctrine[28] which asserts that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and that India will pursue a policy of "retaliation only". The document also maintains that India "will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail" and that decisions to authorise the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the Prime Minister or his 'designated successor(s)'.[28] According to the NRDC, despite the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan in 2001–2002, India remained committed to its nuclear no-first-use policy.

India's Strategic Nuclear Command was formally established in 2003, with an Air Force officer, Air Marshal Asthana, as the Commander-in-Chief. The joint services SNC is the custodian of all of India's nuclear weapons, missiles and assets. It is also responsible for executing all aspects of India's nuclear policy. However, the civil leadership, in the form of the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) is the only body authorised to order a nuclear strike against another offending strike. The National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon signalled a significant shift from "No first use" to "no first use against non-nuclear weapon states" in a speech on the occasion of Golden Jubilee celebrations of National Defence College in New Delhi on 21 October 2010, a doctrine Menon said reflected India's "strategic culture, with its emphasis on minimal deterrence."[29][30] In April 2013 Shyam Saran, convener of the National Security Advisory Board, affirmed that regardless of the size of a nuclear attack against India, be it a miniaturised version or a "big" missile, India will retaliate massively to inflict unacceptable damage.[31]

Nuclear Triad

Land-based ballistic missiles

The land-based nuclear weapons of India are under the control of and deployed by the Indian Army, using a variety of both vehicles and launching silos. They currently consist of three different types of ballistic missiles, the Agni-I, the Agni-II, Agni-III and the Army's variant of the Prithvi missile family – the Prithvi-I. Additional variants of the Agni missile series are currently under-development, including the most recent, the Agni-IV and Agni-V, which are due to enter full operational service in the near future. Agni-VI is also under development, with an envisioned range of 8000-12000 km and features such as Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) or Maneuverable reentry vehicles (MARVs).[32][33]

The Indian Army's Agni II missile on parade.
Indian land-based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles
Name Type
range (km)
Prithvi-I   Short-range 150 Deployed
Prithvi-II   Short-range 250-350
Prithvi-III   Short-range 350-600
Agni-I Short to medium-range 700-1,250
Agni-II Medium-range 2,000-3,000
Agni-III Intermediate-range   3,500-5,000
Agni-IV Intermediate-range 4,000 Tested successfully
Agni-V Intermediate to Intercontinental-range 5,000-8,000
Agni-VI Submarine-launched with intercontinental-range(probable MIRV) 6,000~ Under development
Agni-VI Intercontinental-range (probable MIRV) 8,000-12,000 Under development
Surya Submarine launched Intercontinental-range MIRV 10,000~ Unconfirmed
Surya Intercontinental-range Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) 12,000-16,000 Unconfirmed

Air-based nuclear weapons

The Indian Air Force's Jaguar attack aircraft are believed to have a secondary nuclear-strike role.

The current status of India's air-based nuclear weapons is unclear. In addition to their ground-attack role, however, it is believed that the Dassault Mirage 2000s and SEPECAT Jaguars of the Indian Air Force are able to provide a secondary nuclear-strike role.[34] The SEPECAT Jaguar was designed to be able to carry and deploy nuclear weapons and the Indian Air Force has identified the jet as being capable of delivering Indian nuclear weapons.[35] The most likely delivery method would be the use of bombs that were free-falling and unguided.[36]

Sea-based ballistic missiles

Conceptual drawing of the INS Arihant SSBN.

The Indian Navy has developed two sea-based delivery systems for nuclear weapons, completing Indian ambitions for a nuclear triad, which may have been deployed in 2015.[37][38]

The first is a submarine-launched system consisting of at least four 6,000 tonne (nuclear-powered) ballistic missile submarines of the Arihant class. The first vessel, INS Arihant, has been launched and will complete extensive sea-trials before being commissioned and declared operational. She is the first nuclear-powered submarine to be built by India.[39][40] A CIA report claimed that Russia provided technological aid to the naval nuclear propulsion program.[41][42] The submarines will be armed with up to 12 Sagarika (K-15) missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Sagarika is a submarine-launched ballistic missile with a range of 700 km. This missile has a length of 8.5 meters, weighs seven tonnes and can carry a pay load of up to 500 kg.[43] Sagarika has already been test-fired from an underwater pontoon, but now DRDO is planning a full-fledged test of the missile from a submarine and for this purpose may use the services of the Russian Navy.[44] India's DRDO is also working on a submarine-launched ballistic missile version of the Agni-III missile, known as the Agni-III SL. According to Indian defence sources, the Agni-III SL will have a range of 3,500 kilometres (2,200 mi).[45] The new missile will complement the older and less capable Sagarika submarine-launched ballistic missiles. However, the Arihant class ballistic missile submarines will be only capable of carrying a maximum of four Agni-III SL.

The second is a ship-launched system based around the short range ship-launched Dhanush ballistic missile (a variant of the Prithvi missile). It has a range of around 300 km. In the year 2000 the missile was test-fired from INS Subhadra (a Sukanya class patrol craft). INS Subhadra was modified for the test and the missile was launched from the reinforced helicopter deck. The results were considered partially successful.[46] In 2004, the missile was again tested from INS Subhadra and this time the results were reported successful.[47] In December 2005 the missile was tested again, but this time from the destroyer INS Rajput. The test was a success with the missile hitting the land based target.[48]

Indian sea-based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles
Name Type
range (km)
Dhanush Short-range 350 Inducted [49]
Sagarika (K-15)   SLBM 700 Awaiting deployment on INS Arihant
K-4 SLBM 3,500 Tested [50]

International response

India is not a signatory to either the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but did accede to the Partial Test Ban Treaty in October 1963. India is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and four of its 17 nuclear reactors are subject to IAEA safeguards. India announced its lack of intention to accede to the NPT as late as 1997 by voting against the paragraph of a General Assembly Resolution[51] which urged all non-signatories of the treaty to accede to it at the earliest possible date.[52] India voted against the UN General Assembly resolution endorsing the CTBT, which was adopted on 10 September 1996. India objected to the lack of provision for universal nuclear disarmament "within a time-bound framework." India also demanded that the treaty ban laboratory simulations. In addition, India opposed the provision in Article XIV of the CTBT that requires India's ratification for the treaty to enter into force, which India argued was a violation of its sovereign right to choose whether it would sign the treaty. In early February 1997, Foreign Minister I. K. Gujral reiterated India's opposition to the treaty, saying that "India favors any step aimed at destroying nuclear weapons, but considers that the treaty in its current form is not comprehensive and bans only certain types of tests."

In August 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved safeguards agreement with India under which the former will gradually gain access to India's civilian nuclear reactors.[53] In September 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group granted India a waiver allowing it to access civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries.[54] The implementation of this waiver makes India the only known country with nuclear weapons which is not a party to the NPT but is still allowed to carry out nuclear commerce with the rest of the world.[55]

Since the implementation of the NSG waiver, India has signed nuclear deals with several countries including France,[56] United States,[57] Mongolia, Namibia,[58] Kazakhstan[59] and Australia[60] while the framework for similar deals with Canada and United Kingdom are also being prepared.[61][62]

See also


  1. Sachin Parashar, TNN, 28 August 2009, 12.55am IST (28 August 2009). "Kalam certifies Pokharan II, Santhanam stands his ground – India". The Times of India. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  2. Carey Sublette. "What Are the Real Yields of India's Test?". Carey Sublette. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  3. 1 2 "Federation of American Scientists: Status of World Nuclear Forces". Retrieved 4 June 2013.
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  6. Saran, Shyam (25 April 2013). "Is India's Nuclear Deterrent Credible? (Statement given by Shyam Saran, Chairman of India's National Security Advisory Board)". […] These include a modest arsenal, nuclear-capable aircraft and missiles, both in fixed underground silos as well as […] mounted on mobile rail and road-based platforms. These land-based missiles include both Agni-II (1,500 km) as well as Agni-III (2,500 km) missiles. The range and accuracy of further versions – for example, Agni V (5,000 km), which was tested successfully only recently – will improve with the acquisition of further technological capability and experience
  7. "New chief of India's military research complex reveals brave new mandate". India Today. 4 July 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
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  15. [pointer]=49
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  60. SUHASINI HAIDAR. "India, Australia seal civil nuclear deal - The Hindu".
  61. UK, Canada eye India's nuclear business (18 January 2009). "UK, Canada eye India's nuclear business". Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  62. Sitakanta Mishra, THE PAPER (12 June 2016). "India - From 'Nuclear Apartheid' to Nuclear Multi-Alignment". IndraStra.

Further reading

Abraham, Itty (1998). The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb. Science, Secrecy, and the Postcolonial State. London and New York: Zed Books. ISBN 9788125016151.

Pahuja, Om Parkash (2001). India: A Nuclear Weapon State. New Delhi: Ocean Books. ISBN 978-81-87100-69-0.

Perkovich, George (1999). India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-23210-5.

Szalontai, Balázs (2011). The Elephant in the Room: The Soviet Union and India’s Nuclear Program, 1967-1989. Nuclear Proliferation International History Project Working Paper #1. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

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