BackgroundIndia's nuclear weapons program was started at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Trombay. In the mid-1950s India acquired dual-use technologies under the "Atoms for Peace" non-proliferation program, which aimed to encourage the civil use of nuclear technologies in exchange for assurances that they would not be used for military purposes. There was little evidence in the 1950s that India had any interest in a nuclear weapons program, according to Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1). Under the "Atoms for Peace" program, India acquired a Cirus 40 MWt heavy-water-moderated research reactor from Canada and purchased from the U.S. the heavy water required for its operation. In 1964, India commissioned a reprocessing facility at Trombay, which was used to separate out the plutonium produced by the Cirus research reactor. This plutonium was used in India's first nuclear test on May 18, 1974, described by the Indian government as a "peaceful nuclear explosion."
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, India began work on a thermonuclear weapon in the 1980s. In 1989, William H. Webster, director of the CIA, testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that "indicators that tell us India is interested in thermonuclear weapons capability." India was purifying lithium, producing tritium and separating lithium isotopes. India had also obtained pure beryllium metal from West Germany (2).
TestingAfter 24 years without testing India resumed nuclear testing with a series of nuclear explosions known as "Operation Shatki." Prime Minister Vajpayee authorized the tests on April 8, 1998, two days after the Ghauri missile test-firing in Pakistan.
On May 11, 1998, India tested three devices at the Pokhran underground testing site, followed by two more tests on May 13, 1998. The nuclear tests carried out at 3:45 pm on May 11th were claimed by the Indian government to be a simultaneous detonation of three different devices - a fission device with a yield of about 12 kilotons (KT), a thermonuclear device with a yield of about 43 KT, and a sub-kiloton device. The two tests carried out at 12:21 pm on May 13th were also detonated simultaneously with reported yields in the range of 0.2 to 0.6 KT.
However, there is some controversy about these claims. Based on seismic data, U.S. government sources and independent experts estimated the yield of the so-called thermonuclear test in the range of 12-25 kilotons, as opposed to the 43-60 kiloton yield claimed by India. This lower yield raised skepticism about India's claims to have detonated a thermonuclear device.
Observers initially suggested that the test could have been a boosted fission device, rather than a true multi-stage thermonuclear device. By late 1998 analysts at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had concluded that the India had attempted to detonate a thermonuclear device, but that the second stage of the two-stage bomb failed to ignite as planned.
|Fission device||18 May 1974||12-15 kiloton||4-6 kiloton|
|Shakti 1||Thermonuclear device||11 May 1998||43-60 kiloton||12-25 kiloton|
|Shakti 2||Fission device||11 May 1998||12 kiloton||??|
|Shakti 3||Low-yield device||11 May 1998||0.2 kiloton||low|
|Shakti 4||Low-yield device||13 May 1998||0.5 kiloton||low|
|Shakti 5||Low-yield device||13 May 1998||0.3 kiloton||low|
India's Nuclear ArsenalThough India has not made any official statements about the size of it nuclear arsenal, the NRDC estimates that India has a stockpile of approximately 30-35 nuclear warheads and claims that India is producing additional nuclear materials. Joseph Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (3) estimates that India has produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for 50-90 nuclear weapons and a smaller but unknown quantity of weapons-grade uranium. Weapons-grade plutonium production takes place at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, which is home to the Cirus reactor acquired from Canada, to the indigenous Dhruva reactor, and to a plutonium separation facility.
According to a Jan. 2001 Department of Defense report, "India probably has a small stockpile of nuclear weapon components and could assemble and deploy a few nuclear weapons within a few days to a week." A 2001 RAND study by Ashley Tellis asserts that India does not have or seek to deploy a ready nuclear arsenal.
According to a report in Jane's Intelligence Review (4), India's objective is to have a nuclear arsenal that is "strategically active but operationally dormant", which would allow India to maintain its retaliatory capability "within a matter of hours to weeks, while simultaneously exhibiting restraint." However, the report also maintains that, in the future, India may face increasing institutional pressure to shift its nuclear arsenal to a fully deployed status.
DoctrineIndia 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 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 authorize the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the Prime Minister or his 'designated successor(s).'"
According to the NRDC, despite the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan in 2001-2002, India remains committed to its nuclear no-first-use policy. But an Indian foreign ministry official told Defense News in 2000 that a "'no-first-strike' policy does not mean India will not have a first-strike capability."
India has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and four of its 13 nuclear reactors are subject to IAEA safeguards.
Despite promoting a test ban treaty for decades, India voted against the UN General Assembly resolution endorsing the CTBT, which was adopted on September 10, 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 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."
Sources and Resources
- Removal of License Requirements for Exports of Controlled Items to India, Federal Register, August 30, 2005
- U. S. Nuclear Cooperation With India: Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, July 29, 2005
- Proliferation: Threat and Response, Jan. 2001 - A Defense Department report on the status of nuclear proliferation in South Asia. It includes a brief historical background on the conflict between India and Pakistan as well as an assessment of their nuclear capabilities, chem/bio programs, ballistic missile programs and other means of delivery.
- NRDC Nuclear Notebook - India's Nuclear Forces, 2002 A brief assessment of India's nuclear, missile, aircraft and naval capabilities.
- SPECIAL ISSUE: INDIA BOMBS THE BAN - Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July/August 1998. A collection of articles that discuss the implications of India's 1998 nuclear tests. "The shots heard 'round the world", by David Albright provides an analysis of the tests and describes India's uranium enrichment and plutonium isolation facilities.
- India's Emerging Nuclear Posture - a Rand issue brief based on a study by Ashley J. Tellis. The brief discusses India's pursuit of a "force in being" nuclear posture, which falls somewhere between a ready arsenal and a recessed deterrent -- a collection of unassembled nuclear warheads, all kept under strict civilian control and separate from delivery systems.
- Negotiating the CTBT: India's Security Concerns and Nuclear Disarmament - Journal of International Affairs, 1997. Discusses India's involvement with the CTBT negotiations and explains why India decided not to sign the treaty.
- 17 Days in May Chronology of Indian nuclear weapons tests
- Memo for the Director of Central Intelligence: Indian Post Mortem Report, lessons learned from the 1974 Indian nuclear explosive test, 18 July 1974
Offical Documents and Information Released by the Indian Government
- India Department of Atomic Energy website - Provides information on various institutions within India's civil nuclear infrastructure, such as research facilities and nuclear power plants.
- Draft Report on Indian Nuclear Doctrine - Released by India's National Security Advisory Board on August 17, 1999. The draft doctrine asserts that India's 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 authorize the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the Prime Minister or his "designated successor(s)."
- Press Conference (Dr. R. Chidambaram (RC), Chairman, AEC & Secretary, DAE; Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (K), Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri and Secretary, Department of Defence Research and Development; Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Director, BARC; Dr. K. Santhanam, Chief Advisor (Technologies), DRDO) May 17, 1998 -- Chidambaram said that the three simultaneous explosions on May 11 involved a 12 KT (kiloton) fission device; the second a 43 KT thermonuclear device, and the third a 0.2 sub- KT low yield device. The distance separating the shafts for the 12 KT and 43 KT devices was one kilometre. All three devices were exploded simultaneously as a gap in the blasts could have resulted in the loss of valuable data for the shock waves travel in mili-seconds. The two simultaneous nuclear explosions on May 13 involved two low yield devices of 0.5 and 0.3 sub- KT each.
Analysis of India's 1998 Nuclear Tests
- Preliminary Regional Seismic Analysis of Nuclear Explosions and Earthquakes in Southwest Asia - Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 1998. Describes in detail the seismic analysis of India's 1998 nuclear tests and concludes that "Estimates of yield based on seismic magnitude and trace data are significantly smaller than statements by Indian scientists and officials to date."
- The May 1998 India and Pakistan Nuclear Tests - Terry C. Wallace, Southern Arizona Seismic Observatory (SASO) University of Arizona -- July 23, 1998 -- PrePrint of a Paper to Appear in the September SRL -- This paper provides seismic analysis of the nuclear explosions carried out by India and Pakistan in 1998 and concludes that "The May 11 India test had a seismic yield of 10-15 kt. This is a factor of 4 smaller than that announced by the Indian government, and there have been several attempts to explain the discrepancy."
- POST SHOT RADIOACTIVITY MEASUREMENTS ON SAMPLES EXTRACTED FROM THERMONUCLEAR TEST SITE S.B.Manohar, B.S.Tomar, S.S.Rattan, V.K.Shukla, V.V.Kulkarni and Anil Kakodkar BARC Newsletter, No. 186, July 1999 - This newsletter reports the results of radiochemical measurements carried out at India's Bhabha Atomic Research Center on samples extracted from the thermonuclear test site and concludes that the total yield of the thermonuclear device tested in 1998 was 50 KT (with a margin of error of 10 KT).
- FISSION SIGNATURES OF TESTS ON SUB-KILOTON DEVICES R.B. Attarde, V.K. Shukla, D.A.R. Babu, V.V. Kulkarni and Anil Kakodkar BARC Newsletter No. 187, September 1999 - This report gives some of the results of gamma radiation logging measurements in bore holes at the sites of sub-kiloton tests.
Independent Analysis of India's Nuclear Arsenal
- 1. Joseph Cirincione, John B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2002, pp. 191-206. A chapter on India that provides a thorough overview of its nuclear and chem/bio capabilities, ballistic missile programs and other means of delivery.
2. William Webster, "Nuclear and Missile Proliferation," hearing before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, May 18, 1989 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1990), p. 12. - In his testimony before the Senate, the Director of Central Intelligence asserts that India has been pursuing programs that indicate an interest in thermonuclear weapons capabilities.
3. Joseph Cirincione et al. Op Cit.
4. TS Gopi Rethinaraj, "Nuclear diplomacy returns to South Asian security agenda," Jane's Intelligence Review, May 2002, pp.40-43. - A concise overview of India and Pakistan's nuclear arsenals, nuclear doctrines and ballistic missile capabilities accompanied by an assessment of the relationships between Pakistan, India and China.
Maintained by the Strategic Security Project
Updated Friday, November 8, 2002 2:48:14 PM