News & Views
A new and comprehensive assessment of the Indian nuclear weapon-making capacity has been given in a book titled ‘Indian unsafeguarded nuclear programme’, published by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI). The authors say the study contains evidence that India has the largest and oldest unsafeguarded nuclear programme in the developing world and among the states not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They said that member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) should consider the large and swiftly expanding Indian nuclear bomb capacity when dealing with India’s NSG membership and ensure that Indian membership of this export control arrangement does not, in any way, help India expand and accelerate its nuclear weapons program. This study unveils the size and capabilities of the four aspects of Indian nuclear program, which are uranium reservoirs, uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors and reprocessing.
India has produced nuclear fuel beyond the current requirements of its Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors, and its uranium enrichment program is the fastest growing in the world and provides New Delhi with ample uranium enrichment capacity. The capacity is enough not only to run its large future fleet of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines but also to build nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons. In a chapter on unsafe-guarded nuclear reactors in India, a new assessment is made as to how many nuclear bombs India can actually make, based on the removal of weapon-grade and reactor-grade plutonium from its nuclear reactors, kept outside IAEA safeguards. It concluded that unsafe-guarded nuclear reactor capacity of India can allow it to develop up to 356 to 492 plutonium-based nuclear weapons. In addition, India is keeping its Fast Breeder reactor program outside the IAEA safeguard for potential military use.
An alarming increase has been witnessed in the acquisition of arms and ammunition on the part of India; and it is likely to spend around $250 bn on acquisition of weapons in next few years. The appetite is regional-specific, with Pakistan being the prime target. India has developed considerable nuclear weaponry and delivery systems, and its Armed Forces have been equipped with nuclear weapons. India’s eagerness for entry into Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and other regimes is aimed at enhancing defence-related capacities rather than meeting its energy requirements. India and the US had signed a deal in 2008 that gave India access to civilian nuclear technology, despite the fact India had dubious past in this regard. Thus, international covenants and laws were trampled, and hypocrisy, strategic interest and greed of the US and the West for approximately hundred billion dollars were victorious.
In August 2016, India’s first indigenously-constructed nuclear submarine INS Arihant was quietly commissioned into service in August and it has been operational since then, according to recent reports. It was launched in 2009 by then prime minister Manmohan Singh and has undergone a series of vigorous tests since then. Some sources told The Times of India that the vessel is “not yet fully ready” to be deployed for “deterrent patrols” with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in its four silos. It was formally commissioned by Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lamba and with its commission India has quietly completed its nuclear triad. Indian daily ‘The Hindu’ cited some defence sources as saying that to maintain secrecy the vessel is still not being called INS Arihant. INS stands for ‘Indian Naval Ship’ and is used as a prefix only after a ship has been inducted into the navy.
Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core. Russia helped scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in miniaturising the reactor to fit into the 10-metre-wide hull of the nuclear submarine. It is capable of carrying nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, the class referred to as Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN). These are designed to cruise the waters carrying nuclear weapons and provides a nation with assured second strike capability, which, put simply, is the ability to retaliate after taking a nuclear hit. The vessel will be armed with the K-15 missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads to a range of 750 kilometres, and with K4 missile, which has a longer range, according to a Business Standard report. The K-4 ballistic missile has a range of 3,500 km.
New Delhi plans to field between four to six similar vessels by the end of 2025 to boost its second strike capability. India is embarking on a covert uranium enrichment project aimed at producing thermonuclear weapons, a number of sources have revealed. Last year, Reuters had reported that “analysts at IHS Jane’s believe that the uranium enrichment facility at the Indian Rare Metals Plant is able to produce about twice as much weapons-grade uranium as New Delhi will need to fuel its nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines in the future. Taking into account all the enriched uranium likely to be needed by the Indian nuclear submarine fleet, there is likely to be a significant excess,” said Matthew Clements, then editor of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review in June 2014. The report goes on to explain that it has made this assessment based on new commercial satellite images of the Mysore-based facility in southern India.
Following the NSG waiver, India had signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia. However, given the constraints on any agreement imposed by New Delhi’s civil nuclear liability law, it is unclear whether U.S. companies will conclude any reactor supply deals with India. The fact remains that the pact between the US and India exempts military facilities and stockpiles of nuclear fuel from scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations watchdog. India had remained outside the international nuclear mainstream since it misused Canadian and US peaceful nuclear assistance to conduct its 1974 nuclear bomb test, refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and conducted additional nuclear tests in 1998. But the US and the West want to sell weapons and materials, and India has cash to buy those weapons.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.