India’s Nuclear and Missile Programs: A Growing Concern for the world

by Zohaib Altaf and Nimra Javed

India is currently managing one of the world’s most concerning and rapidly expanding nuclear weapons and missile programs, posing not only a regional threat but also a global danger due to perceived deficiencies in nuclear safety and security standards. The augmentation of India’s fissile material stockpiles and the development of a nuclear triad, encompassing bombers, missiles, and nuclear-capable submarines, have significantly enhanced New Delhi’s strategic capabilities. In contrast to what is often reported in the international media, the Indian triad comprises roughly 500 nuclear weapons, including thermonuclear devices, and holds the potential to produce in excess of 2,600 nuclear weapons for both tactical and strategic purposes.

Under the guise of multiple different secret initiatives, India is quickly developing its nuclear program that may be used for military objectives in an ambitious effort to finish off its triad. For instance, the IAEA does not have the authority to monitor the Dhruva plutonium reactor even though it is now in operation.

India is working on the construction of more than five breeder reactors in order to increase its capacity for producing plutonium-grade nuclear bombs to approximately 700 kg per year. Due to the fact that this particular kind of reactor is useful for military purposes, Indian experts are arguing against the idea of bringing the fast breeder program under the IAEA’s safeguards. In addition, India is secretly constructing a nuclear city in order to manufacture thermonuclear weapons.

This city would be the greatest military facility in South Asia, consisting of nuclear centrifuges and atomic research facilities. Because of this intricate infrastructure, New Delhi would be able to manufacture nuclear weapons with a high yield as well as hydrogen bombs. According to an Indian nuclear physicist named Dr. R. Rajaraman, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is incorrectly claiming that India possesses 150+ nuclear warheads. Instead, sources within the Indian Defense Ministry had covert plans in 2005 to increase their nuclear inventory to between 300 and 400 warheads within the next decade.

In the recent environment, with the India can also speed up its effort to increase the number of nuclear weapons and also move towards testing the nuclear weapons. CNN reported that Russia, China and the US are preparing their nuclear test sites. After the Russian upper house of parliament voted to withdraw the country’s ratification of a global nuclear testing ban, Russia’s military carried out an extensive retaliatory nuclear strike drill. President Vladimir Putin personally supervised this exercise, which encompassed the test firing of missiles from land-based silos, a nuclear submarine, and long-range bomber aircraft.

The US and NATO countries also performed the Steadfast Noon. The manoeuvres included the participation of 13 Allied nations and a variety of aircraft, including advanced fighter jets and U.S. B-52 bombers that arrived from the United States. Moreover, conventional jets, surveillance aircraft, and refuelling aircraft were also part of the exercise. On the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on its website that Russia has officially withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Russia has stated that it currently does not perceive the potential for entering into arms control agreements with NATO nations, as indicated by the statement.

The aforementioned developments indicate that the current arms control architecture is encountering significant challenges. As a result, India may potentially intensify the pace of its nuclear weapons development. Furthermore, there is a possibility that India could consider conducting nuclear weapons tests, as it may believe that it can evade international pressure at present due to its perceived crucial role in American and, to some extent, Western grand strategy of containing China.

Recent events, such as the accusation made by the Canadian Prime Minister in Parliament, alleging India’s involvement in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Indian soil, underscore the complexities in international relations. Canada, as a Western ally and a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), did not receive an unanimously satisfactory response from Western countries. In contrast, India maintained a stern stance and declined to cooperate with Canada on this matter. This assertive Indian posture implies that Indian policymakers may perceive India as indispensable for core Western interests, affording it a degree of latitude in its actions. Consequently, these recent developments suggest that India could exploit them as a pretext for nuclear weapons testing and employ China card to mitigate international pressure.

With improving standard of the nuclear weapons, India is also building inter-continental  missile system which are capable of attacking beyond China. India’s ballistic missile inventory comprises a range of systems with differing operational statuses and capabilities. Short-range Prithvi-I is retiring, while Prithvi-II is operational with a range of 250-350 km. Prahaar, a 150 km short-range missile with solid propulsion, is in development. Prithvi-III, under development, will have a 350 km range and solid propulsion. The ship-launched Dhanush, with a 400 km range, is operational. India’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) include Sagarika/K-15 (700 km), K-4 (4000 km – under development), and K-5 (rumored 5,000+ km). Among land-based missiles, Agni-I (700-1,200 km) and Agni-II (2,000+ km) are operational, while Agni-P (1,000-2,000 km) is in testing and development. Agni-III (3,500+ km) and Agni-IV (4500+ km ) provide extended reach, while Agni-V (5500-7000+ km – under development).

The Agni-VI missile is anticipated to possess a range spanning from 9,000 to 12,0000 kilometers when equipped with a 3-tonne nuclear payload, and an extended range of 14,000 to 16,000 kilometers when carrying a lighter 1.5 tonne package. India reversed the process by adapting a space launch vehicle into a ballistic missile.

In the 1980s, India transformed the SLV-3 into the Agni medium-range ballistic missile, initially claiming it to be a “technology demonstrator” as part of its practice of labeling nuclear and missile programs as civilian until their military nature became evident. The Agni program now includes three missiles with ranges of approximately 700, 2,000, and 3,000 kilometers.

For nearly two decades, there have been reports suggesting India’s intentions to develop an ICBM using a similar approach. It appears that the official initiation of the ICBM project (commonly referred to as Surya) took place in 1994, although there have been various reported dates due to multiple decision points in the project. Reports generally concur that the Surya program will result in multiple missiles with ranges spanning from 12000 to 20,000 kilometers. It is widely believed that the Surya will have the capability to carry a nuclear payload, with some sources claiming it may consist of multiple nuclear warheads

Reports also tend to agree that the Surya will be a three-stage missile, with the first two stages derived from the solid-fuel rockets of the PSLV. India acquired the solid-fuel technology for the SLV-3 and PSLV from the United States in the 1960s.

It is said that the third stage of Surya will utilize liquid fuel, either derived from the Viking rocket technology provided by France in the 1980s (referred to as Vikas when used in manufacturing PSLV stages) or from a more powerful cryogenic upper stage supplied by Russia for the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which is an adaptation of the PSLV. If, as commonly reported, the Surya utilizes PSLV rocket motors, it will be a colossal missile with solid-fuel stages measuring about 2.8 meters (approximately nine feet) in diameter and a total weight of up to 275 metric tons. This would make it the largest ICBM globally, with a launch weight approximately three times that of the largest U.S. or Russian ICBMs. A missile launched from India with a range of 16,000 kilometres theoretically has the potential to reach the continent of the United States and Canada.

Like numerous other nations, India’s interest in acquiring missiles with such capabilities may primarily be rooted in the quest to safeguard its national security. The question arises here is that who does India consider a national security threat beyond China. The Agni-5 missile is commonly perceived as a strategic weapon designed with the capability to reach well beyond the 7000-kilometre range, primarily aimed at China, as it can effectively cover nearly all regions of the Chinese mainland. Indian building of missile beyond 7 thousand km shows its great strategic ambitions in which current allies of India can also become target.

The long-range Indian missiles pose a significant threat to countries with which Indian interests are aligning for now. This was evident during the Ukraine conflict when India pursued an independent foreign policy stance. Despite receiving Western support, India did not align itself with the West as its ally. Furthermore, in response to a call for cooperation from the Canadian Prime Minister, India displayed a hostile disposition. Moverover, on national television, one of its analysts even made a veiled nuclear threat towards Canada.

The capacity to reach distant targets, such as the continental United States, can endow India with strategic leverage in the realm of international affairs and serve as a deterrence against potential adversaries. It means that India is developing capabilities to hit mainland US and Canada. In a global landscape characterized by constantly shifting geopolitical dynamics, the development of long-range missiles can be considered an integral component of a nation’s military and strategic posture, which gives a message that in future India is considering the US and Canada a potential threat to its national security.

This holds particularly true when assessing the global context. It is crucial to acknowledge that the specific motivations and objectives underpinning missile development may vary from one country to another. India’s specific rationale for pursuing such capabilities would hinge on its security concerns and geopolitical considerations.

Even in the absence of overt animosity between Western countries and India, India’s possession of long-range missiles capable of striking the United States, Canada, and Europe may have profound ramifications for the threat perceptions of these nations. The mere existence of such sophisticated missile capabilities has the potential to instil a heightened sense of vulnerability in Western countries, a circumstance that should be diligently avoided. Even if it remains a hypothetical possibility, the idea that their territories and interests may come under attack raises genuine concerns for the safety of these nations.

Furthermore, the development and deployment of these long-range missiles by India may introduce an element of uncertainty and distrust into their relations with the Indian government. There is a possibility that India’s objectives in acquiring such a formidable military capability may be called into question. Even in the absence of overtly hostile intent, Western countries may begin to contemplate the possibility that these missiles could be employed in the future as a means of coercion or as a bargaining chip in future negotiations.

In the view of above mention facts, India possesses long-range missiles in its arsenal has the potential to create security threats for the western countries. Even if India presently harbors no aggressive intentions towards Western countries, the mere possession of these missiles has the potential to reshape the calculus of international relations. Given the new security landscape shaped by India’s missile capabilities, the United States, Canada, and Europe may find it imperative to carefully reassess their judgments and actions concerning foreign policy matters. The repercussions are not confined to the direct participants in this situation. Regional dynamics may undergo alterations, potentially leading to an arms race across a broader geographical expanse. Other nations in the vicinity might reevaluate their own defense postures and augment their investments in cutting-edge military technology in response to India’s missile capabilities, further exacerbating regional tensions.

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