Deterrent Power

A Nuclear Force Structure For India

The Statesman | Jan 6, 2001

Since India's GDP is growing at the compounded annual rate of approximately seven per cent, it clearly emerges that the expenditure likely to be Incurred on maintaining a credible minimum deterrent comprising 200 nuclear warheads is eminently affordable.

Nation’s nuclear force structure depends on its nuclear doctrine and deterrence philosophy. These are essentially based on its civilisational values and its national security strategy, its mastery of nuclear weapons technology and delivery systems technology, the availability of weapons-grade fissile material and the fiscal constraints that govern its defence budget. Though nuclear weapons are no longer weapons of warfighting, the capability and readiness of the armed forces to absorb these weapons and adapt themselves to the requirements of the nuclear age also determines the size of the nuclear force structure at any point in time. Nuclear forces structures are complex, multifaceted entities and take years of effort to build and consolidate.

Nuclear weapons are political weapons and not weapons of “warfighting”. Their sole purpose is to deter the use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons. India has justifiably opted for a minimum deterrence doctrine with a no first use policy. This implies that, if deterrence fails, India is willing to absorb a nuclear strike before retaliating in kind.

Hence, the best deterrence strategy would be a counter value strategy that targets the adversary s major cities and industrial centres in a retaliatory strike.


India’s targeting philosophy must be based on a counter value strategy of massive punitive retaliation to inflict unacceptable damage against the adversary’s population centres retaliatory strike should be massive regardless of the level | (quantum, yield, typeof target, location) of first strike against India and its armed forces. India’s nuclear force structure should be so organised that the warheads and their delivery systems are able ‘ to survive a first strike in sufficient numbers to be able to inflict “unacceptable damage on the adversary in a retaliatory strike.

With a minimum deterrence doctrine, 1t 1s not necessary to match the adversary warheads and delivery systems number for number. Deterrence is ultimately a mind game. As long as Indias nuclear-armed adversaries perceive that India possesses a | viable number of survivable nuclear warheads to destroy their major cities in a retaliatory strike, they would be deterred from launching a first strike. The survivability of India’s nuclear arsenal can be ensured by redundancy in numbers, through wide dispersion of nuclear warheads and delivery systems over peninsular India. This can be done by having rail and road-mobile missiles in addition to air-delivered warheads and by investing in a limited number of difficult-to-detect nuclear powered submarines with submarine launched ballistic missiles.

The development of a retaliatory targeting capability for destroying eight to ten major population and industrial centres in China and Pakistan, | India’s major nuclear-armed adversaries, would be adequate) to meet the requirements of ‘ deterrence. However, in order ‘ to allow: for the inherent inaccuracy of ballistic missiles (circular error probable — CEP — of between 500 to 1,000 metres) and the failure of some of the delivery systems to reach their targets due to the possibility of interception in flight, it would be necessary to launch a larger number of missiles and aircraft than may be actually required.

For 10 counter value targets in the adversary country, a total of 40 nuclear warheads (at the scale of four warheads per target) would be adequate to cause unacceptable damage in a retaliatory nuclear strike if the CEP of the delivery systems is taken to be 1,000 metres and an assurance level of 0.7 (about 70 per cent) is considered acceptable. If the efficiency or overall reliability of the whole system is taken to be between 0.5 to 0.6 (50 to 60 per cent). a reasonable assumption for a modern nuclear force.

then 75 must actually be launched for about 40 to 45 warheads to explode. Hence, a minimum of 75 warheads and, of course, their delivery systems survive the enemy’s first strike on Indian targets. Despite mum possible and dispersion measures been taken, including the emplacement of dummy storage sites and dummy mobile missiles, approximately per cent of the warheads and delivery systems may be destroyed in a first strike. It would, therefore be prudent to plan a warhead stocking level of twice the number required to be launched, that is, 150 warheads.


The last aspect to be catered for is a prudent level of reserves for larger than anticipated damage to own nuclear forces in a first strike and for unforeseen eventualities. Escalation control and war termination strategies would also be dependent on the ability to launch counter-recovery strikes and some fresh strikes.

One-third the required number of warheads should be adequate as reserves. Hence, the requirement works out to 200 nuclear warheads for a minimum deterrence doctrine with a no first use strategy if 10 major population and industrial centres are to be attacked in a retaliatory strike to achieve a 70 to 80 per cent assurance level of destruction.

Taking into account the requirement and the likely availability of nuclear warheads (production of fissile material, machining and partial assembly) and delivery systems (development and serial production of missiles and SSBMs), it would be advisable to raise India’s nuclear force in a phased manner over a period of two to three decades. Midcourse corrections can be applied based on the availability of new technologies and developments in the diplomatic and disarmament fields. In the nuclear era, strategy has never been the sole determinant of force architecture. The technology trajectory will continue to drive nuclear force structures that should therefore be flexible and adaptable.

Since India’s targeting philosophy is not premised on ‘proportionate deterrence or ‘flexible response”, India does not need tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. Tactical nuclear weapons are essentially weapons of warfighting and their availability on the battlefield is likely to lower the nuclear threshold and create a proclivity to use them early during adverse military situations. Also, the inherent disadvantages of tactical nuclear weapons — primarily, the lower threshold of use, the need for “launch on warning” and “launch through attack” strategies, complex command and 1 control and surveillance challenges, increased cost of manufacture and maintenance, the problems of storage, transportation and handling in the field and the greater risk of accidental and even unauthorised use — should preclude the use of these weapons for deterrence.

India’s nuclear weapons should continue to be under firm civilian control. A National Command Authority headed by the Prime Minister should be established for the command and control of India’s nuclear weapons.


A clear chain of political and military succession should be laid down. immediate steps should be taken for the establishment of an underground national command post and an alternate national command post for the higher direction of war during emergencies. The armed forces should be brought into the nuclear decision making loop. The responsibility for the planning, coordination, targeting, development and peacetime management of India’s nuclear weapons and that of executing a nuclear strike if deterrence fails, should be that of the armed forces.

A new post of the chief of defence staff (CDS — a new overall Commander-in-Chief) should be created to provide “single point military advice to the government. He should be assisted by a tri-service joint planning staff for threat assessment and the formulation and execution of a joint military strategy, including nuclear strategy. A tri-service strategic forces command should be raised under the CDS to exercise functional control over the nuclear weapons and to oversee the functioning of the surveillance, early warning, nuclear forces intelligence, targeting, attack and damage assessment systems.

The cost of raising a nuclear force comprising 200 warheads would amount to approximately Rs 47,000 crores at current rupee value. This expenditure, to be incurred over a period of three decades, would amount to less than 0.07 per cent of India’s present GDP annually.

Since India’s GDP is growing at the compounded annual rate of approximately seven per cent, it clearly emerges that the expenditure likely to be Incurred on maintaining a credible minimum deterrent comprising 200 nuclear warheads is eminently affordable.

With the defence budget proposed to be gradually increased to three per cent of the GDP, it would be possible for the expenditure on the nuclear force structure to be Incurred from within the defence budget without any additional allocations.