India, with limited resources and rising aspirations, faces the age old “guns versus butter” question, which has become even more complex in the era of terrorism, piracy, insurgency, in the backdrop of large conventional forces facing us along our borders with nuclear armed neighbors, China and Pakistan. The nation is already under attack by terrorists, while the conventional and nuclear threats continue to grow.
Conventional wisdom and hard experience indicate that any prototype weapon or weapon system requires adequate testing before it’s proven as rugged and reliable for military use. The same applies to nuclear weapons and their missile delivery systems. A prototype nuclear weapon and its missile delivery system, ideally need to be tested at least five to ten times, before being inducted. Remember that computer simulation is based on input data received from actual tests.
A prototype nuclear weapon and its missile delivery system, ideally need to be tested at least five to ten times, before being inducted.
A Uranium (U235) bomb uses about three to five times the fissile material required for a Plutonium (PU239) bomb. The latter can be made with about two to six kilograms of PU–239, and has an estimated shelf life of about 60 years. The U235 device has an estimated shelf life of about 30 years. A normal U235 or PU–239 weapon can be of about 15 to 20 KT, while a boosted fission device can achieve 40 to 60 KT yield. A thermonuclear device, can achieve anything from 100 KT to a few megatons, though the “optimum” device is about 200 KT. Of course each of these devices need to be tested five to 10 times. The best data, for use in computer simulation, can be collected from an atmospheric test, which is now banned.
In 1998, Pakistan carried out six tests of a proven Chinese designed U235, 10 to 15 KT device, and is now graduating to the PU-239 device. It has also carried out numerous tests of its various missile delivery systems, with the aim of testing any indigeneous components, upgrades and also carrying out regular work of its strategic forces. The latest news during the end of May 2009, indicates that after 2002, Pakistan began work on a second strike capability based on underground storages and launch sites, camouflage and road mobile missile systems. In 2009, Pakistan appears to have achieved the second strike capability, which may suffice, even though it does not have the SSBN type of nuclear ballastic missile submarines. Its 60 odd nuclear weapons, are aimed at India, while its two new Chinese supplied nuclear plants have commenced producing PU–239 for the next generation of weapons, which are bound to be copies of Chinese bombs, and may not require testing.
Also read: Iran-US Confrontation
North Korea, which tested a “fizzled” one KT device in October 2006, has apparently also got a Chinese design and carried out a second 20 KT device on 25 May 2009, followed by some half a dozen missile tests. It has tested a 6700 km range ICBM this year, and is certain to test this missile a few more times.
The other problem that India faces is that the requirements of strategic and conventional force architecture, vary not only with each other, but are to some extent different from the need to fight terror, insurgency, naxalism and piracy.
In my opinion, China has ensured that its two proteges (Pakistan and North Korea), keep India, Japan and South Korea occupied and distracted with local threats, while it marches on, to achieve its goal of economic and military parity with the USA by 2050. It’s a matter of time, before Iran, Japan and South Korea become covertly or overtly nuclear (the various international treaties notwithstanding), to be followed by Saudi Arabia. Indeed, many believe that pushed to a corner, Japan has the capability to produce a nuclear device in four to six months.
India which tested five types of nuclear weapons once (including three “irrelevant” sub kiloton types) in 1998, and has been inducting the Agni 2 and Agni 3 series of missiles with about three successful tests, will need to factor in the reality of Chinese and Pakistani threats, along with terrorism. President Obama has declared his intention of pressing ahead with the NPT, CTBT, FMCT, etc. It will also need to re-check its fissile material stocks (PU–239 needed for weapons and our indigenious fast breeder reactors), test its missiles, induct the Agni 5, and have a survivable second strike capability along with a redundant Nuclear Command Structure in place. Our present nuclear doctrine may need to be re-examined, as also the number of nuclear weapons we need, along with their delivery systems.