Nuclear force: Why India needs to increase its nuclear stockpile

Updated: June 28, 2021 11:41 AM

Most nuclear-armed states provide little or no information about the exact size of their nuclear arsenal. So, any information related to the size and composition of the nuclear weapon stockpiles of any country are just estimates.

nuclear weaponNuclear capable Agni ballistic missile (Photo Credit: Ministry of Defence, Government of India)

By Debajit Sarkar

Since the Cold War bilateral treaties between the United States and Russia like START- 1 ensured that the number of nuclear weapons in the world declines significantly. However, even today in order to maintain parity both the U.S and Russia continue to modernize their nuclear forces. The other United Nation P-5 nuclear powers notably China, United Kingdom and France have also earmarked billions of dollars to modernize their nuclear force. Thousands of U.S and Russian nuclear warheads continue to remain on high alert, ready for use on short notice. Most nuclear-armed states provide little or no information about the exact size of their nuclear arsenal. So, any information related to the size and composition of the nuclear weapon stockpiles of any country are just estimates.

Most U.S and Russian SLBMs carry MIRVs. The only exceptions were MARV, or very large warhead models designed for hard targets like deeply buried bunkers. Russia’s Topol Inter Continental Ballistic Missile was a single warhead missile by design, but later generation Russian missiles are designed for more than one warhead. One version of the R-36M ICBM (NATO reporting name: SS-18 Satan) had a 20-megaton single warhead.

MIRV installation on LGM-118 Peacekeeper. (Photo Credit: United States Air Force)MIRV installation on LGM-118 Peacekeeper. (Photo Credit: United States Air Force)

Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense: The grey area

It is extremely difficult to shoot down an incoming missile warhead with an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) because not only are missile warheads small but they travel at great speeds, faster than even a rifle bullet. Then there are several other variables related to the incoming warhead like trajectory, characteristics, decoys that will not be known to the ABM operators. Many ICBMs can carry 5 to 10 warheads and about 30 or more decoys. If a single ICBM with ten warheads and 100 decoys were launched against India, no less than 110 interceptors would be required to destroy them preferably outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Warheads can also be made to maneuver, and they can do so in a variety of ways making interception almost impossible.

India’s nuclear weapons: Requirement for credibility

For the Indian government the primary purpose of nuclear weapons has always been to dissuade any possible adversary from attacking India or our vital interests.

Western intelligence community are of the opinion that China has many more nuclear warheads than the commonly quoted figure of 350. China’s missile force is the most diversified on the planet, with more ballistic missiles launched for testing and training than the rest of the world combined. China’s recent decision to outfit some of its ICBMs with MIRVs, as well as Pakistan’s announcement in January 2017 that it had successfully test-fired a new 2000 kms range ballistic missile called Ababeel with MIRVs are both noteworthy because for Pakistan it reflects a strategy to quickly strike multiple targets across India. The long-range strategic missile that China has developed include DF-41, DF-31, DF-31A, DF-4, and DF-5 ground-based missiles, and JL-1 and new JL-2 submarine-launched missiles.

In the case of a nuclear strike, India’s leadership should focus on a comprehensive counter-offensive strategy aimed at removing an adversary’s ability to cause further harm to Indian interests. For this strategy to be successful India needs to drastically increase its stockpile of nuclear weapons so that it dwarfs the combined nuclear stockpile of both China and Pakistan. Such strike capability needs to be backed up by advanced real-time imagery and data fusion powered by Edge Computing that will allow precision strike of even the adversary’s road mobile and rail mobile missiles. Some of the missions now assigned to nuclear weapons may be addressed by conventional precision strike weapons, but not all of them. Some targets, such as missile silos and command and control centres, are so difficult to destroy that no conventional weapon will be able to do it. Many hard targets could be defeated with nuclear explosives with lower yields if they are delivered with precision.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) had published their radio-chemical analytical estimate of the S-1(Fusion Weapon) yield shortly after POKHRAN II. The raw data has been withheld because it could reveal weapon design details. It does, however, provide a qualitative technique of determining the tests’ efficacy. It will be difficult for India to field a new, highly optimized, nuclear warhead design without nuclear testing. Therefore, existing nuclear designs will have to be maintained. Simulations of nuclear explosions can only go so far: and that confidence in the performance of a system can only be gained by actual testing. The simulation is worthless without the empirical validation. The K-5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) that is currently being developed should be able to carry at least 3 MIRV and once the weight of these warheads is further reduced thereby improving the yield-to-weight ratio the K-5 as well at the Agni 5 should be able to carry 5 MIRVs.

The survivability of India’s nuclear force to the possibility of a disarming first strike is a crucial requirement for credibility. India does not need to threaten cities or population of the adversary although that’s a potent element of the deterrent calculus. The Indian government must view nuclear weapons as part of a comprehensive national security strategy that includes diplomacy, arms control initiatives, and conventional forces to maximize stability and peace in the region.

(The author is a subject matter expert on competitive intelligence and market research in the defence & aerospace industry. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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