Friday, November 16, 2007

The 123 Paradox

Historical Overview

India's nuclear program was conceived in the pre-independence era by a small group of influential scientists who grasped the significance of nuclear energy and persuaded political leaders from the Indian National Congress to invest resources in the nuclear sector. In the aftermath of independence in August 1947, the Congress government led by Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru launched an ambitious dual-use, three-stage nuclear program to exploit India's abundant natural thorium reserves. The primary focus of the program was the production of inexpensive electricity. However, the decision to develop the complete nuclear fuel cycle--from ore mining, processing and fuel fabrication facilities, research and power reactors, spent-fuel reprocessing plants, heavy water production plants, and waste treatment and disposal facilities--also led to India's acquiring the technical capability to build nuclear weapons.
India's defeat in the 1962 war with China and the latter's nuclear test in 1964 triggered an internal debate within and outside the Indian government on whether India should follow suit. Ultimately, in November 1964, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri authorized theoretical work on the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion for Peaceful Purposes (SNEPP).

The SNEPP project culminated in the test of a fission device on 18 May 1974 during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's tenure. India described the test as a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE). However, India did not follow the 1974 test with subsequent tests, nor did it immediately weaponize the device that was tested. During the brief tenure of the Janata Party government (1977-79), the nuclear weapons program was put on hold. However, the weapons program was resumed after Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi authorized preparations for additional nuclear tests in 1982, but the tests were canceled for reasons that have never been explained publicly. However, in the late 1980s advances in Pakistan's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, as well as the oblique nuclear threats issued by Islamabad in the wake of the 1986-87 Brasstacks crisis, appears to have persuaded Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to authorize weaponization of India's nuclear capability. By May 1994, India acquired the capability to deliver nuclear weapons using combat aircraft; by 1996, Indian scientists also succeeded in developing a nuclear warhead that could be mated on to the Army's Prithvi-1 ballistic missile. In the winter of 1995, in an apparent reaction to the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and advances in negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Narasimha Rao government considered a crash program of nuclear tests. However, India's test preparations were detected by U.S. intelligence agencies; subsequently, Rao's government postponed the tests under U.S. pressure.

Plans for testing were renewed when the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power for a brief period in 1996. However, Vajpayee's government was unable to win a parliamentary majority and decided not to go through with the tests as they would create a political crisis for the incoming successor government. However, when returned to power in 1998, the BJP finally authorized two rounds of nuclear tests in May 1998, after which it formally declared India's nuclear status. Subsequent to the tests, the Vajpayee government declared that India would build a "credible minimum deterrent." Since then, the Indian government also formally articulated a nuclear doctrine of "no-first-use" and more recently spelled out the broad outlines of India's nuclear command, control, and communications framework.

There is considerable controversy over the yield and reliability of India's nuclear devices. When India tested its first fission device in May 1974, Indian scientists claimed the device had a yield of about 12kt. However, that figure has been disputed by independent analysts who estimate that the yield was far lower, probably between 2-6kt. Later, a senior Indian scientist who was part of the design and testing effort privately admitted that the yield was more likely in the range of 8kt. Similar controversy dogs India's May 1998 tests. After the first of round of tests on May 11, India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) announced that it had tested three nuclear devices: a fission device with a yield of 12kt; a thermonuclear device with a yield of 43kt; and a sub-kiloton device with a yield of 0.2kt; The figures were later revised to 45kt for the thermonuclear device and 15kt for the fission device. However, these figures have been disputed by independent analysts, who--citing evidence from seismic data--claim that the cumulative yield of the Indian tests was more likely between 20-30kt, the implications being the thermonuclear test was likely to have been a failure. Senior Indian scientists such as P.K. Iyengar have also publicly suggested that it is likely that the fusion device only burned partially. However, the former head of India's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Dr. R. Chidambaram has claimed that a "post-shot" analysis of the Pokhran II tests confirmed that the May 1998 tests yielded about 60kt. Chidambaram subsequently asserted that the tests provided India with "the capability to design and fabricate nuclear weapons [in the range] of low-yields up to 200 kilotons."

Following the May 11 tests, India carried out two tests of sub-kiloton devices on May 13 "to generate additional data for improved computer simulation of designs and for attaining the capability to carry out sub-critical experiments, if considered necessary." However, observers doubt whether such a small number of tests are sufficient for Indian scientists to have collected all the necessary data to conduct "sub-critical" experiments successfully.

Fissile Material Stocks

The plutonium for India's nuclear stockpile is most likely obtained from two research reactors: the 40MW CIRUS and 100MW Dhruva, which went critical in 1960 and 1985, respectively. The CIRUS reactor is capable of producing 9-10kg of weapons-grade plutonium annually; the corresponding figure for the Dhruva reactor is 20-25 kg. The CIRUS reactor was shut down in 1997 for refurbishment and is expected to resume operations in 2003. Although the Dhruva went critical in 1985, vibration problems delayed normal operations until 1988. The irradiated fuel from the reactors is probably reprocessed at either the Plutonium Reprocessing Plant in Trombay (50 tons per year) or the Kalpakkam Reprocessing Plant at Kalpakkam (100-125 tons per year). According to published sources, India produces 20-40 kg of plutonium annually and has probably accumulated 280-600kg of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to build 40-120 weapons. There is some evidence to suggest one of the nuclear devices tested in 1998 used reactor grade plutonium (Pu-240). If Pu-240 is available for warhead production, it would fundamentally change estimates of India's fissile material stock. India also has a small stock of highly enriched uranium, but it is unclear if the latter has been used to build nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Force Architecture

India's nuclear deterrent is centered on a dyad consisting of a small number of land-based bombers and land-based short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. However, in the long term, the Indian government envisions a "minimum deterrent" based on a triad of land-, air-, and sea-based nuclear forces.
The bomber leg of India's dyad consists of a small number of Mirage 2000s and possibly Jaguar and MiG 27 aircraft. There is evidence to suggest that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is seeking to augment its bomber fleet through the purchase of additional Mirage 2000 multi-role combat aircraft; reports also suggest that the IAF is interested in arming its proposed Su-30 fleet with nuclear capable air-launched cruise missiles. Other reports indicate that India may be interested in acquiring long-range nuclear-capable bombers such as the Tu-22 Backfire bombers from Russia.

At present, the Prithvi-1 (150km-range/1,000kg-payload) and Prithvi-2 (250km-range/500kg-payload) are the only ballistic missiles in service with the Indian Army and Air Force respectively. An undisclosed number of Prithvi-1 missiles have been modified to deliver nuclear warheads. However, the Prithvi suffers from several limitations such as its short-range, liquid-fueled engines, which add to the logistics burden, and fuel toxicity, which increases the difficulties of handling the weapon system in the field. Hence, the Prithvi missiles will most likely be replaced by the new solid-fueled, short-range Agni ballistic missile (700-800km-range/1,000kg-payload) for nuclear missions. The missiles already in the inventory of the Army and Air Force are likely to be reassigned to perform conventional battlefield support functions. The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has also developed a 350km-range naval-variant of the Prithvi: the Dhanush. The missile has completed flight-trials at sea. However, the Indian Navy (IN) has not made a decision to deploy the Dhanush on board surface warships; but the IN might acquire a small number of these missiles and deploy them on board surface warships as part of the inter-services organizational battle to acquire a stake in the proposed "minimum deterrent."

The short-(700-800km-range/1000kg-payload), medium- (2,000-2,500km-range /1,000kg-payload), and the planned intermediate-range (3,500-4,000km-range/1,000kg-payload) variants of the Agni ballistic missile are likely to be the mainstay of India's land-based missile force in the future. In comparison to the Prithvi, each of these variants of the Agni combines the advantages of longer-range, higher-payload, and solid-fueled engines. Although it is developing an intermediate-range ballistic missile, India appears to have stopped short of building an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability. New Delhi's restraint in this regard is probably the result of a conscious political choice to avoid threatening or challenging the legally recognized members of the nuclear club, with the exception of China, which India regards as a potential long-term threat to its security. Furthermore, as India moves in the direction of an operational nuclear force, Indian elites perhaps feel reduced pressure to rely on technological symbols to demonstrate political resolve.

As part of a program to develop a secure, sea-based, second-strike capability, India is developing a nuclear powered submarine, also referred to as the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). However, the DAE's inability to design and integrate a compact reactor power plant for the vessel has led to program delays. It has been reported that India has sought technical advice and assistance for the ATV from Russia. India is also negotiating the lease of two Shchuka B-class (NATO designation Akula-II) nuclear submarines from Russia. India's nuclear submarines will probably be armed with the Sagarika missile. Details about the Sagarika missile's class, payload, and range are classified. In addition, the DRDO is also developing a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, the BrahMos/PJ-10, in close collaboration with the Russian entity NPO Mashinostroyeniye. Two versions of the missile are under development: a naval version for surface and sub-surface vessels, and an aircraft-based version. Indian defense planners ultimately hope to develop nuclear-capable cruise missiles with land attack capability.

Custody/Command and Control

India does not maintain a constituted nuclear force on a heightened state of alert. The nuclear-capable missiles, bombers, non-nuclear warhead assemblies, and fissile cores are maintained in a de-alerted state by their respective custodians--the individual armed services, the DRDO, and the DAE--with plans to reconstitute them rapidly during an emergency or national crisis.
After much debate, deliberations, and delay, the Indian government has entrusted operational control of India's nuclear missile force to the Indian Army. Although the Air Force deploys an undisclosed number of nuclear-capable bombers and the short-range Prithvi-2 ballistic missiles, it has lost the inter-services battle with the Army for custody of India's nuclear missile force. The Indian government is also considering a proposal to place all nuclear-capable land missiles under the consolidated control of a Strategic Rocket Command within the Army.

Although the nuclear-capable missiles and aircraft are under the control of individual armed services, India's consolidated nuclear force is administered by a tri-service Strategic Forces Command (SFC). Due to the delay in the appointment of the proposed Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), who will ultimately head a joint tri-service command, the commander-in-chief of the SFC currently reports to the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Ultimately, however, the SFC will report to the CDS, who will act as the "single-point" military advisor to the Indian government and act as the interface between the civilian executive and the armed services.
At the level of the civilian executive, India's Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) is responsible for the management of its nuclear forces and for making all decisions pertaining to the use of nuclear weapons. The NCA is a two-layered structure. It comprises a Political Council (PC) and an Executive Council (EC). The PC is chaired by the prime minister and is the "sole body which can authorize the use of nuclear weapons." The decisions of the PC are conveyed to the EC, headed by the prime minister's National Security Advisor, who then interfaces with the SFC to execute the political directives of the PC.
The Indian government claims it has "reviewed and approved arrangements for alternate chains of command for retaliatory nuclear strikes in all eventualities," an obvious reference to the transfer of power in the event of a successful decapitation strike on India's top political and military leadership. However, for reasons of national security, details and composition of the NCA and the alternate chains of command remain a closely guarded secret.

Nuclear-Use Doctrine

India's primary goal is to achieve "economic, political, social, scientific, and technological development" and autonomy in domestic and strategic decision making in an environment free of coercion from either the threat or use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. With these objectives in view, the Indian government has adopted a nuclear "no-first-use" or doctrine of "retaliation only." The doctrine's central goal is to deter the threat of nuclear (subsequently revised to include chemical and biological) weapons use by any state or entity against India or its armed forces. In the event of deterrence failure, the doctrine states that India will resort to punitive strikes to inflict unacceptable losses on the adversary state or entity. However, India will not resort to the threat of use or use of nuclear weapons against states that do not possess nuclear (subsequently revised to include chemical and biological) weapons, or are not aligned with states that possess such capabilities.

India and the Nonproliferation Regime

India remains steadfastly opposed to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Since the late 1960s, a consensus has emerged in India that the NPT is an inequitable instrument that divides the world into "nuclear haves" and "have nots," and the solution to the problem of nuclear proliferation is comprehensive global nuclear disarmament. The Indian government, even while remaining steadfastly opposed to the NPT, has reiterated its resolve to undertake nuclear disarmament as part of a time bound and comprehensive worldwide effort in that direction.
Although India was initially one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) when that treaty was first proposed in the 1950s and among the first to sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963, the Indian government's position has changed radically since then. By the early 1990s, when negotiations on the CTBT rapidly moved towards a resolution, Indian elites came to regard the CTBT not as an instrument of controlling the nuclear arms race, its original goal when it was first proposed, but rather as an instrument of nonproliferation that sought to freeze countries along the nuclear learning curve. The Indian government also objected to the treaty's entry-into-force provision, as well as clauses that allowed nuclear weapon states to conduct hydronuclear and hydrodynamic experiments to ensure the safety and reliability of their nuclear arsenals.

After conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, the Indian government announced that it would abide by a self-imposed moratorium on further nuclear testing and declared that India would not be the first state to resume nuclear tests. In the aftermath of the tests, the Indian government also considered the idea of signing though not ratifying the CTBT. However, the absence of a domestic consensus, the U.S. Senate's failure to ratify the treaty, as well as questions about the success of India's past nuclear tests, led the Indian government to defer signature in favor of the current policy of an informal moratorium. There is some evidence to suggest that India's AEC has requested the government's permission to conduct further nuclear tests. Thus far, such a request has not been approved.
India has rejected U.S. suggestions to abide by an informal moratorium on fissile material production. However, India has agreed to participate in the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty (FMCT) talks at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. However, India proposes to continue accumulating fissile material stocks until the FMCT comes into effect.
As a non-signatory to the NPT, India remains the target of nuclear supplier export controls. Although India is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it formally abides by strict domestic export control laws and regulations to control the export of nuclear and related dual-use technologies.

Future Trends

In its determination to build a "credible" and "survivable" minimum deterrent, the Indian government is transforming India's once symbolic nuclear capability into an operational nuclear force. Since conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, the Indian government has divided the custody of India's nuclear delivery systems and nuclear warheads among the armed forces and civil defense and atomic energy departments. It has also formally articulated a nuclear use doctrine, and spelled out command and control arrangements for initiating nuclear use as well as succession arrangements within the government to manage in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. Reluctantly, Indian strategic elites have begun to grapple with the reality that nuclear weapons are not just political instruments, but that such weapons may indeed have to be used, and India needs to start planning for such contingencies.

India's nuclear policy planning, which for the last four decades was almost the exclusive preserve of a handful of politicians and civilian nuclear and defense scientists, is in the process of being opened up to a larger coalition of stakeholders. New entrants in this coalition now include the military and, to a lesser extent, civilian strategic thinkers. Accommodation of new stakeholders in the nuclear coalition is changing the cognitive lens through which nuclear weapons have been perceived. Whereas Indian politicians and scientists have traditionally treated nuclear weapons as political icons, the military and professional strategic analysts' goals converge around the task of transforming that symbolism into an operational and hence, usable nuclear capability.

New Delhi has so far not defined what it means by a "minimum" deterrent. However, statements by Indian government leaders suggest that the program is evolutionary in its scope: the nature and scale of the nuclear arsenal will be determined by a host of variables ranging from the regional and global security environment, to the performance of the Indian economy, and the availability of specific technologies. A review of India's defense strategic programs also suggests that in the medium-term, the dyad, which currently comprises short-range bombers and land-based short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, will most likely be expanded to include long-range nuclear-capable bombers and medium-range ballistic missiles. But in the long-term, India is likely to acquire a sea-based capability based on nuclear submarines armed with cruise or ballistic missiles. However, at this point, it is unclear whether India is seeking to acquire a global nuclear strike capability in the long-term, or whether its nuclear deterrent will be technically restricted to deterring nuclear threats from China and Pakistan.

But in the short- and medium-term, the shift toward an operational nuclear capability is unlikely to be accompanied by corresponding changes in India's posture. All indicators suggest that the Indian government favors a recessed posture of deployment. Barring a national crisis or emergency, the arsenal will not be deployed in the field. Furthermore, current custodial arrangements under which control over nuclear delivery systems, non-nuclear warhead assemblies, and fissile cores is divided among different civilian and defense agencies, is likely to be retained in the interests of safety, security, and the reduced risk of nuclear accidents. However, the acquisition of a sea-based strike capability in the long-term will most likely induce changes in the current deployment posture.

There is a strong possibility that future Indian governments might authorize additional nuclear tests to clear the controversy surrounding India's thermonuclear weapons capability, to gather additional data for subcritical experiments, as well as to design and validate a new class of nuclear weapons. The Indian military is also likely to favor additional tests in the interests of safety and reliability. However, the Indian government is unlikely to break the current moratorium in the face of the prevailing global moratorium on tests. However, tests by another country will provide the Indian government an adequate political cover to break its self-imposed restraint on further nuclear testing.

Finally, India's nuclear doctrine has begun to show evolutionary changes. In 1999, the draft nuclear doctrine suggested that India's nuclear deterrent would only be invoked against the threat or use of nuclear weapons. However, new security guidelines released in early 2003 suggest that the threat of nuclear use would be invoked to deter or retaliate against the use of chemical or biological weapons as well. But despite revisionist suggestions from some members of the strategic establishment, the Indian government remains steadfast in its commitment to abide by a "no-first-use" doctrine.

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