‘Rise in N-warheads to check China’s buildup’

“We don’t actually know the exact size of India’s nuclear arsenal, but most studies place it in the range of 150-200 warheads.
‘Rise in N-warheads to check China’s buildup’

BENGALURU: The reported increase in the estimate for Indian nuclear warheads is an “educated guess based on limited information,” nuclear and military strategist Aditya Ramanathan told TNIE.

He was responding to the report on increase in nuclear arsenals globally, including India by the Swedish think tank ‘Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’ in its 2024 Yearbook released last month.

“We don’t actually know the exact size of India’s nuclear arsenal, but most studies place it in the range of 150-200 warheads. If there is indeed an increase in the number of Indian warheads, it is a direct response to developments in China,” he added.

Ramanathan said that in 2021, “evidence emerged of three large silo fields in Western China that could house hundreds of ICBMs. China has also developed improved missiles like the solid-fueled DF-41 ICBM and the DF-27 hypersonic glide vehicle. It has also put its nuclear deterrent to sea with ballistic missile submarines and is developing missile defences.

Naturally, India has to be concerned about ensuring that enough of its own nuclear forces can survive a Chinese first strike and inflict unacceptable damage in retaliation. To that end, I think India’s response is cautious and well-reasoned,” said the research fellow with the Bengaluru-based public policy think tank ‘Takshashila Institution.’

Ramanathan’s work focuses on nuclear strategy, outer space affairs, and advanced military technologies. He has co-edited the book — ‘The Sheathed Sword: From Nuclear Brink to No First Use’. He explained that “India is not interested in competing with the Chinese on numbers.

Instead, we are developing specific capabilities to ensure we can hit back effectively. India is increasing the survivability of its own nuclear forces by deploying Arihant-class ballistic missile submarines. At some point, we will also probably set up an airborne command post to ensure that nuclear command and control can continue operating after a devastating first strike.

India also wants to ensure it can penetrate Chinese missile defences, which is why it is developing the new Agni V missile that can carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles or MIRVs,” said Ramanthan.

Regarding Pakistan, he added that “India will always have to keep a close eye on developments in Pakistan as well.”

He added that the perceived threat may not just be from India’s immediate neighbours. “Over longer time horizons, we may see new nuclear powers emerging in West Asia as well. It could be Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. So it makes sense for India to gradually update its nuclear forces and perhaps make slight increases in numbers when necessary.”

On India’s nuclear No-First-Use (NFU) policy, Ramanathan said that “India’s not interested in fighting a nuclear war. It only wants to convince adversaries that if they initiate a nuclear first strike, they have no means to stop India from conducting a terrible retaliatory strike.

NFU policy understands that the most effective use of nuclear weapons is to deter adversaries from using their own weapons of mass destruction. The idea is to prevent nuclear war and make it difficult for adversaries to make nuclear threats during a crisis,” he added.

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