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India’s Nuclear Weapons Could Kill Millions of People

India
India's nuclear weapons program is one of the world's most advanced.

India might be the nuclear weapons state many military analysts forget about. Nonetheless, New Delhi could start a nuclear war within just mere minutes: India’s indigenously developed technology—and a lot of Russian hardware and help—all keep Pakistan and China at bay.

No-First-Use

“An NFU policy essentially constitutes a promise, backed by a survivable nuclear arsenal, to only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack,” explained a Carnegie publication. “The logic is simple and effective: you don’t nuke me, and I won’t nuke you. India and China both have declared no-first-use policies, whereas Pakistan and the United States, among others, do not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.”

Despite India’s formidable nuclear arsenal, India had since 2003 maintained it will not use said weapons of mass destruction first, but strictly in a retaliatory manner for deterrence.

However, 2019, India called their no first use policy into question when Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no first use’. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.” This curious statement is perhaps an example of deliberate strategic ambiguity.

Triad

India maintains a nuclear triad—that is a three-pronged nuclear weapon delivery system that utilizes a diverse array of means for delivering nuclear payload on target. New Delhi has air-launched nuclear missiles, land-based nuclear missiles, and most recently submarine-launched missiles.

Air

Air delivery was India’s original nuclear delivery prong. Although speculative, it is believed that Indian SEPECAT Jaguars and Dassault Mirage 2000s are the primary (perhaps only) vehicles capable of delivering nuclear bombs from the air. It is also possible that Indian nuclear bombs are non-precision munitions that rely on impact to detonate.

Land

From land, India has a formidable missile launch capability intended to deter both China and Pakistan—though China especially rarely acknowledges India’s nuclear missile capability.

In order to maintain a credible threat against China, India has pursued a strategy of improving their nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles. This has been often done in tandem with Russia, despite the latter’s partnership with China in other defense-related areas.

The Agni missile family forms the backbone of the land-based nuclear triad. Although the Agni-IV and Agni-V are still in development, once deployed they would comfortably be able to strike Beijing, though the Agni-II and Agni-III are very likely already capable of doing so.

The jointly Russian-Indian developed BrahMos hypersonic missile may also otentially be able to carry nuclear payload in the future, although this remains unconcrete and speculative.

Sea

According to a quoted CIA report, “Russia has significantly supported in developing India’s nuclear programmes with technology and equipment, and become a main source of arms for the country,” especially regarding the sea-based part of the triad.

What India’s sea-based nuclear prong looks like is somewhat speculative as well, although the range of submarine-based missiles will likely be limited to below-1,000 kilometers, or approximately 620 miles.

Armed and Dangerous

Overall, India’s nuclear triad is a mix of capabilities—free-falling bombs, long-range and quite sophisticated missiles, and sub-launched missiles of unclear capabilities and likely limited range. Still, India is one of the preeminent nuclear powers in the region, behind China. Look to Russia for more developmental help in the future.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Aashish

    February 7, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    NFU is based on perceived 2nd strike capability. Given the constant help overtly and covertly received by Pakistan from China and N.Korea, and the fact that Pakistan is planning to give away control of its Nuclear missiles to its field commander level, it is possible that a pro-AlQaeeda or pro-Taliban officer handling such missiles could without cause or reason trigger nuclear war and the human casualty on Indian side as a result could run into millions.

    Structural and ideological shift in Pakistan’s political make-up and its recent acknowledgements of sponsoring cross-border terrorism should leave it upto India to keep with a fixed NFU policy or be flexible with its stance.

  2. S Kushwaha

    February 8, 2022 at 3:04 am

    Only Indians or any country nuclear weapon? The author is living in utopian world and attacking a defensive country. Nuclear weapons are used in war and no one is going for war anytime soon as it’s more loss than gain.

  3. SV

    April 3, 2022 at 1:41 am

    What kind of a provocative and mischievous title is this? Other countries’ nuclear arsenal will provide salvation? Looks like continuation of NYT cartoon on Indira’s space mission. India looks amusing to the self-centric and tunnel visioned western ‘expert’ the same way someone would be by a dog that carries milk and news paper back home by himself. would involuntarily elicit, what a smart dog. but dog nonetheless.

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