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.
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.
We now need to examine our conventional posture. In May 2009, former President Musharraf stated on CNN that India had 33 Divisions and it had deployed 24 of these against Pakistan. He did not mention that the Pakistan Army too has about 22 Divisions. The worrying factor for India is that it has very few troops facing China along the 4000 kilometer northern border. While media reports indicate that two Mountain Divisions are being raised, and infrastructure improved, India will need to either substantially raise more forces to counter the over 250,000 Chinese troops or change its “no first use” nuclear doctrine. Indian seapower and airpower too needs rapid upgradation, with huge gaps in air defence, submarine force levels, etc being brought out by the CAG report last year.
“¦the budget of the military, paramilitary, police, intelligence agencies and the strategic forces will need to increase dramatically in the next decade to compensate for years of neglect.
Trying to maintain conventional parity with the combined Pak–China threat will be a huge economic drain on India. In my opinion the boundary problems between India and Pakistan and India and China, cannot be solved in the next few decades, and hence some kind of “strategic–conventional” deterrence, based on a new nuclear doctrine, will be needed along with political will, and strategic foresight.
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. For example, the 155 mm artillery, or Ballastic Missile Defence or AWACS or mid–air refuellers or even the SU-30 do not contribute here. Helicopters to carry special forces, UAVs for surveillance and helicopter gunships are needed. May be the Army needs more Special Forces battalions, and the Air Force needs more heavy lift helicopters, in addition to their current shopping list. The silent Strategic Forces Command would of course have a seperate wish list of short, medium and long range missiles (ballastic and cruise), dedicated fighter aircraft along with sufficient nuclear weapons, to withstand a crippling first strike, and then launch a retaliatory second strike.
Similarly, what the Navy really needs for its long range anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and off Mauritius, are not expensive destroyers or frigates or aircraft carriers, but a dozen, long range, helicopters carrying OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels), which at about Rs 200 crores each, cost 10 percent when compared to a modern Talwar class frigate and five percent compared to a Delhi class destroyer. Similarly, for coastal defence, the Navy and Coast Guard need additional patrol boats (costing between 20 to 50 crore rupees each), twin engined long range 10 to 12 ton, all weather, day and night helicopters, along with OPVs, UAVs and Dornier type coastal surveillance aircraft. The term, “a balanced Navy” has now acquired a different meaning altogether, a “brown water” coastal force is as relevant and essential as a “blue water” force.
In this era of global terrorism on land, sea and air, along with insurgencies, the role of the intelligence agencies, paramilitary and police forces has become equally important. The need to augment and modernize these forces, and integrate them into a synergestic national team effort, is vital, but decades of neglect mean that these forces too will be competing with the limited funds available in the national kitty. Its really a catch 22 situation, since poverty needs to be eradicated to prevent the youth from taking to the gun, while more funds for security, means less money for poverty eradication.
Perhaps the only thing common to all the types of threats are satellites for communications and surveillance, along with a digital real time data link for situational awareness and decision-making. India will need to urgently take some very clear and hard decsions, between “essential” requirements and “nice to have” items. The only thing which is certain, is that the budget of the military, paramilitary, police, intelligence agencies and the strategic forces will need to increase dramatically in the next decade to compensate for years of neglect.