Are We Nuclear Ready? –– India’s Nuclear Dilemma

(An interview with a strategic rocket engineer-at the Paris Air Show, 2001.)


New Delhi, 04 August 2001

Is India Nuclear Ready?

Many of our visitors have read our earlier piece on India' nuclear readiness. We now have great pleasure in posting some of the inputs received by us, to put the whole nuclear status of India in a better perspective, since now it has been revealed that a German firm secretly supplied nuclear weapon building equipment, but the Indian Foreign Office spokeswoman has denied it. The equipment i.e. hydraulic cylinders were received labelled as 'for bridge building' . Ashley Tellis of Rand, due to join ambassador Robert Blackwill in Delhi, as his deputy, in a study reinforces IDC's stance. Rand is rich in information and at times disinformation. 

We therefore worry about the status and the command and control, that is being fought over by the three Chiefs and the upper echelons of the MOD. Let us be frank, the subject is least studied by politicians and bureaucrats who have vested intersests, as it is linked with the CDS issue. It is well known that the IAF is vehemently opposed to the present thinking articulated by the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff, who diligently tried to formulate the template. It was reported in the media this morning that the Air Chief has written to the Defence Minister Jaswant Singh opposing the CDS structure and saying that the Air Force point of view has not been heeded. Now there are leaks galore in the media.

The author of the best book IDC has read on India’s Nuclear Story titled, THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR', by Dr Sanjay Badri Maharaj, Lancers, sent in these comments. (brackets and italics by IDC.)

IDC has not clarified that the IAF seems to be being designated as the operational unit for the Agni-2 IRBM. The IAF wants the SS-250 Prithvi for familiarization training. The only current production variant for the Prithvi is the SS-250. All this stuff about Air Force variant and Army variant is a red herring. Way back in 1995, I think, shortly before confirmation of the raising of 333 Missile Group, it was decided that the Army would be the primary Prithvi agency. Two more missile Groups - 444 and 555 - have been recommended and 444 is nearly raised. Rahul Datta ( IE 2 Aug ) is wrong -- each missile group has 12 launchers ( possibly 3 more as reserves ). A total of around 120 Prithvis have been produced to date. 

The Naval Prithvi was a real tech demonstrator to ascertain technologies needed for eventual launch of ballistic missiles at sea. All the nonsense talk of it being an operational possibility was bizarre and was given too much credence by a press that doesn’t try to think first.( IDC agrees but the Navy too has Swadeshi lobbies.)
As per the nuclear tests by BARC, some really interesting stuff emerges. The Federation of American Scientists has raised its estimates of the thermonuclear test conducted in 1998 to 30kT as a most likely figure. BARC claims 43kT. 43kT was obtained by seismic readings and -- far more importantly -- crater radius analysis. FAS went on to say that if the crater radius was 40m +/- 4m then a yield of 43kT was very possible indeed. However, independently they can only verify that the minimum possible crater
radius was 32m.  This was a minimum figure and does not preclude the possibility of BARC being correct. (The RAND study titled 'India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Between Recessed Deterrent and Ready Arsenal', confirms what IDC has described to create a ‘force-in-being’, which it describes as a nuclear deterrent that consists of available but dispersed components and this IDC feels is a new theory of deterrence steered by the NSA )


Now to the German story of rocket material supplies and denial by India.

Under  Germany’s strict  export control laws supply of materials used for long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction and defence materials are restricted. MCTR laws also apply but India is not a signatory to MCTR.

The  German weekly newspaper Die Woche of  Wurzburg in Bavaria reported that a firm shipped eight hydraulic cylinders to India for use in the  nuclear-capable Agni intermediate range ballistic missile, which is planned for induction this late year, to a range of 2,500 km. (IDC has expained the nuclear compartment in the Missile in our story before this leak.) Legal source  Bauer has not  disclosed the name of the firm and said, “we do not want to geopardise the ongoing investigation.” (IDC had earlier analysed that spending on the nuclear armoury ,outside of the Defence Budget was very much on and rampant imports were also on. )

Bauer said the materials shipped to India included parts used for the ignition platform of medium-range missiles. His office said it had sought information and comments from India but had not received any information to shed light on the supply of the sensitive materials. The company, Bauer said, had violated German trade laws by obtaining an export permit after making false declarations that the cylinders were meant for use in specialised vehicles used in bridge construction. (Is that possible. Does India have such super duper bridge building vehicles. IDC has not seen but if BARC/DRDO  has done it in national interest -- Bravo Zulu! ) There are five earlier cases of illegal exports by Germany including those to Iraq and Libya .

The Indian Response

“We have seen these reports ( They seem to be all over ). None of the equipment supplied  have been utilised in any missiles,” external affairs ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told journalists.  “Though India is not a signatory to the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), there is no violation here of that regime.” ( There is catch here)

“India’s record of not transferring WMD (weapons of mass destruction)-related technology and adherence to its international obligations is impeccable,” she asserted. 



Our Earlier Story

Admittedly India went overtly nuclear in May 1998 and successfully exploded both nuclear and thermo nuclear devices at Pokhran, though there is debate over the yield and efficacy of the latter. In the recent past IDC has bared many views on the subject including Dr Iyengar’s lecture at the USI. The debate breathes and India’s nuclear bomb programme is in the hands of the civilian scientists at BARC and in the past Capt Subba Rao had exposed some truths and fallacies about how BARC went about the ATV nuclear submarine programme.

May be this time they are on firmer ground but the nuclear experts IDC met at the Paris air show had their doubts on the size, shape and design of the thermo nuclear device and if BARC are confident then there is no harm in crowing about it. Computers today can prove or disprove the efficacy of the device. It adds to deterrence.

Yet IDC believes there should be another military agency in the loop to be held responsible to audit the facts as national security is involved. It is probably the DRDO and they have had their problems too. AEC now has no control over BARC. Across the border and LOC, Pakistan has always steered their nuclear programme via military control and their officers studied the subject deeply in USA while Indian armed forces were told to shun it. They have Lt Gen Ghulam Mustaffa as the Commander of the Strategic Forces an off shoot of the Artillery which has a Rocket force of missiles such as Hatf (solid fuel 300 km) and Ghauri (600 km liquid fuel M 9) and Shaheen (solid fuel 1000 km) in place and the 9 Corps Commanders that control Pakistan are in the loop of the plans .The Army Chief controls the trigger and has made no bones about announcing that Pakistan is nuclear capable and does not believe in no first use, so provides its deterrence for India to bear in mind.

It is this fact and repercussions and world opinion –– in that order, that dissuaded the PM and the Cabinet Committee from allowing the Army or the IAF to cross the LOC in the Kargil war and we should not sweep this telling fact under the carpet. Deterrence is a serious matter and tomes have been written about it. A sense of openness is part of deterrence. Some say Vajpayee is like Nehru and evades military matters and leaves it to the others. In any case poets never much cared for fighting polemics. The science of human conflict and war has to be addressed by leaders squarely.

In India the Defence Minister earlier George Fernandes and now double hatted Jaswant Singh, in the year 2001, have assured the nation that India has been provided a deterrence capability and India is capable of a second strike should Pakistan or China strike .The trigger is controlled by the PM . But IDC debates whether that is the case? The Services the users, have never openly said that they are capable of a second strike, which has to be terribly retaliatory and almost as swift as the first strike and is part of deterrence to dissuade any one from launching first.

In the past, a few like Air Chief Marshal Mehra in the Air Force, claimed that they knew about how the bombs would be transported, fitted and delivered with the toss bombing technique, but never shared this knowledge with the other two Chiefs. The basic theory of deterrence as it has prevailed thus far between Russia, America, UK and France is to demonstrate your capability and thus deter the other party and so get them to negotiate CBMs. This is not being done in India.

May be a new theory is being coined as the National Security Adviser who is PM’s blue eyed boy Brajesh Misra, has spoken out in the past many times on India’s nuclear theory and is India’s repository and one man think tank. He has met US experts and if he was able to convince them of India’s deterrence theory then we are in safe hands. But he has gone silent of late.

Admittedly there is a feeling in India, thanks to Gandhiji’s teachings, that no one in his right senses will ever use a nuclear bomb but then the Clash of Civilisations is revealing to be what Samuel Huntington had predicted. It is becoming a fact of life that strife between Hindus and Muslims over Kashmir could escalate. We only have to introspect the Intafada in Palestine vs Israel scenario, the Kososvo and Serb imbroglio and nearer home the Afganistan, Taliban and India–Pakistan rhetoric over Kashmir, any thing is possible.

In Kargil we went running to the President of USA when the chips were down and he made Pakistan fall into line just when our boys were getting on top of the matter at great cost .The book ‘Dragon Fire’ has painted a possible and realistic scenario wherein India was required to exercise the nuclear option when renegade Tibetans struck Lhasa, by commandeering IAF planes and helicopters surreptitiously.

IDC attended the Paris air show and met up with experts on nuclear warfare and discussed India's Agni and Prithvi missiles which will possibly be nuclear tipped and the IAF’s ability for aerial drops of 1000 pounders by the Mirage 2000H and the SU 30s. One was Dr. Victor Andryushin an engineer from the Moscow University, currently a professor, who gave the following interview on the opening day of the Paris air show. As for his background Andryushin formerly worked at an SS-25 Strategic Mobile Missile location, and designed various aspects of this and other missile systems. He was therefore able to explain how the nuclear head is attached to the container for the missile. He is now Chief Operating Officer of the Puskovie Uslugi, a Launch Service Provider as most of these engineers have had to shift to other jobs.

Uslugi at present provides launch vehicles based on the SS-25 missile for International satellite launches. He explained the missile and we can make out the PSLV is the precursor of the Agni. The following information about the operational characteristics of the SS-25 missile were disclosed. The SS-25, is required to be dismantled under the START agreement, can be rendered useless by using it as the booster for space launchers. There are a few hundred of these missiles available for such launches and it is like the Agni but just a lot bigger and our interest was in the marrying of the nuclear device.

A model of the space launch configuration at the Puskovie Uslugi stand at the Air Show was on display. He explained that on the cover over the nose cone for the container, there was a large hatch for gaining access to the nose cone. This same type is used for transportation, and was used on the predecessor to the SS-25, the SS-20. Since India has a no first strike policy he said the bomb will have to be attached and that will need many safe guards and drills. There was no need for access to the nuclear warhead in the case of the SS-20 or the SS-25 because the nuclear warheads were always attached to the missiles, since these missiles were at the highest state of readiness, being strategic missiles. This set IDC thinking and since we have been getting feed back from experts the world over we would love to hear from you.

Of interest on the model of the container, were the two access tubes, about 2/3 of the way down from the tip of the container. These were for humidity and temperature control of the solid propellant missile, and the temperature had to be maintained at 18 to 19 degrees C. Hence an elaborate air conditioning system will be needed in India and the users i.e. the Armed Forces will need to be trained adequately. This is either not yet progressed or being done secretly like the UTI funds were being managed, but for deterrence the theory that IDC so far knows, is more openness and after the Agra summit Musharraf must not get the feeling we are soft.

The Service Chiefs like brides were kept away from the cigar smoking dog loving General and the one Chief that did stand in line in front of him, IDC learns did not salute, and that could not have made Musharraf feel welcome, though the visitor made no issue of it and our Chief has remained silent. 

Do email in especially if you disagree with our analysis.


IDC analysis stands justified as Rahul Dutta  in Indian Express of 02 Aug has just disclosed that  the the Army's 333 Missile Group will be nuclear capable from Secunderabad with 8 Launchers of 150 Km Prithvi. So MOD seems to be  taking decisions as inputs of Pakistan sink in. He says the IAF 250 Km missile will not be nuclear tipped and the Navy too will not get the Prithvi. 

It will be a  retrograde step if the fine Indian Navy did take on the clumsy liquid fuelled Prithvi missile to sea . The last test failed. The Navy' inventory of  Surface to surface Missiles with the URAN, KLUB and BRAMHOS to come (from NPO Mach of Russia tested on 12 Jun at Chandipur) and even the older P 22 and 21 were far more tested and easy to handle and the last two are  now ancient. How the Indian Navy supported the Prithvi when Bramhos was on the cards beats IDC, but then some times like UTI the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.  Please also read interview with Arun Shourie by

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