Though nuclear weapons are not weapons of fighting a war, the capability and the readiness of the armed forces to absorb these weapons and adapt themselves to the requirements of the nuclear age determine the size of a nation's nuclear force structure at any given point of time. The chances of survival of Indian's nuclear arsenal can be improved by redundancy: in numbers through dispersion of nuclear warheads and delivery systems all over the country by having rail-and-road-mobile missiles in addition to air-delivered warheads.
A nation’s nuclear force structure depends on its nuclear doctrine and deterrence philosophy. Though nuclear weapons are not weapons of fighting a war, the capability and the readiness of the armed forces to absorb these weapons and adapt themselves to the requirements of the nuclear age determine the size of a nation’s nuclear force structure at any given point of time.
Nuclear weapons are political weapons, not weapons of fighting a war. Their sole purpose is to deter the use and the threat of use of nuclear — weapons by other countries. 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 for a destructive retaliatory strike.
The retaliatory strike should be regardless of the level (quantum, yield, type of target and location) of the first strike by the enemy. India’s nuclear force structure should be so organised that the warheads and their delivery systems should be strong enough to survive the first strike and inflict a retaliatory strike.
The chances of survival of Indian’s nuclear arsenal can be improved by redundancy: in numbers through dispersion of nuclear warheads and delivery systems all over the country by having rail-and-road-mobile missiles in addition to air-delivered warheads. The chances can be further enhanced by investing in a limited number of difficult-to-detect nuclear powered submarines (SSBNs).
The development of a retaliatory targeting capability for destroying eight to 10 major domestic and industrial centres in China and Pakistan would be adequate to meet the requirements of deterrence. However, in order to allow for the inherent inaccuracy of the ballistic missiles (Circular Error Probable (CEP) of between 500 to 1,000 metres) and the failure of some of the delivery systems in reaching their targets it would be necessary to launch more missiles and aircraft than required.
Another important issue that merits consideration is the need for India to optimise the potential of its meagre fissile material stockpile by opting for thermonuclear warheads of the megaton class. Thermonuclear weapons provide much greater explosive power and will therefore enhance the quality of India’s deterrence. Megaton class warheads also help in reducing the total number of missiles, as their greater destructive potential largely neutralises the inaccuracies inherent in missile delivery over long distances.
However, India’s declared thermonuclear capability is to produce warheads with a yield of upto 200 kilotons only. Such warheads would suffice if the CEP of India’s Agni-I and Agni-II IRBMs could be increased to more than 500 metres. 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 percent) is considered acceptable.
If the efficiency or the overall reliability of the whole system is taken to be between 0.5 and 0.6 (50 to 60 percent), then 75. warheads must be launched so that 40 to 45 of them explode successfully.
Despite the maximum possible concealment and dispersion measures approximately 50 percent of the nuclear warheads and delivery systems may be destroyed in the first enemy strike. It would 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 to is a prudent level of reserves for more than anticipated damages to our nuclear forces and for unforeseen eventualities. Escalation control and war termination strategies would also be dependent on the ability to launch counter recovery strikes and fresh strikes.
One-third of the required number of warheads for a minimum deterrence doctrine with a no first use strategy if 10 major domestic and industrial centres are to be attacked in a retaliatory strike to achieve a 70 to 80 percent assurance level of destruction.
Taking into account the requirement and the likely availability of nuclear warheads and delivery systems it would be advisable to raise India’s nuclear force in a phased manner over a period of two to three decades. Mid-course 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 battle-field nuclear weapons.