An IDC Threat Assessment Analysis 


New Delhi, 22 January 2003

On 30 Dec 2002 President Musharraf had publicly stated that he was prepared to use atomic weapons in case of a war with India. “I personally conveyed messages to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, through every international leader who came to Pakistan, that if Indian troops moved a single step across the International Border (IB) or LoC, they should not expect a conventional war from Pakistan.”

On 4th January India's National Security Cabinet Committee (NSCC) formally announced India’s long awaited Nuclear Weapons Command and Control Structure and approved the appointment of a three star Strategic Force Commander (SFC), which the Air Force had been pressing for. The SFC will have component commanders from the Air Force and Army under him. India’s defence policy is reactive to Pakistan’s overtures, while rightly India’s long-term threat encompasses China, which is a formidable nuclear power.

The CCS met to discuss Musharraf’s statement and analysts have inferred that it his boast that egged Indian Leaders to formalise its long overdue nuclear structure. However in early January itself, despite the heated rhetoric, India and Pakistan diplomatically exchanged lists of nuclear installations for the 12th consecutive year, under the aegis of a special agreement signed in 1988, which prohibits India and Pakistan from attacking each others nuclear facilities. India’s External Affairs Minister of State Digvijay Singh, confirmed in Parliament, that India would not undertake any more nuclear tests. The background deserves recall and we had received comments, which we present with the hope that the Nuclear Command converts India's nuclear teeth into fangs.

Air Marshal T M Asthana India's first Strategic Force Commander continues to sit in Vayu Bhavan, his old home as Deputy Chief and has his nuclear home work cut out. He will report to Admiral Madhvendra Singh in South Block and new pastures and procedures in Nuclear second strike ability will have to be made out, if India sticks to its professed "No First Strike Doctrine". Admiral Madhvendra Singh indicated that each service would train and retain its nuclear deterrent and so the task will be even more challenging. NSA Brajesh Mishra as head of the Executive Council will guide the proceedings and as Head of the Nuclear Command Authority the PM will hold the trigger.

In any case forming another Nuclear Service with planes and missiles will be a costly affair. So far it was only the IAF that has practiced Nuclear Toss Bombing with dummies and had the proven capability and soon the few DRDO Agnis would be added to the Nuclear delivery arsenal. The Army will provide the manpower to the DRDO for the Agnis. Media claims that the 333 Missile Group of Prithvis is nuclear capable but analysts are skeptical. Hence the IAF, especially under ACM A Y Tipnis, had pitched for the Nuclear Command for starters as they stated the IAF could easily train, command and control the few assets and accept responsibility –– on the principle that he who holds the assets and trains also accepts responsibility. There was opposition to that line of thinking of the IAF. The Naval triad is some distance away.

Presently the Indian manned airborne platforms of the strategic "triad" spearheaded by the Mirage 2000, provide the more flexible arm of the newly created Indian Strategic Forces Command. Capable of delivering a punishing "second strike" on any potential rogue nuclear aggressor, the manned airborne platforms are also capable of delivering a "pre-emptive strike" on enemy nuclear arsenals or their communication, command and control nodes, to disable them from launching a "first strike" on Indian forces or homeland.
Possibly from the very start the IAF judiciously decided to convert some of its Mirage 2000H/TH for the nuclear strike role. The Mirage 2000 is inherently well suited to the task. The fly-by-wire controls and small canard type foreplanes on the air intake trunks of Mirage 2000 allow it to secure the advantages of a delta platform, especially in terms of high fuel storage, increased manoeuvrability, less control surfaces and low RCS (Radar Cross Section). Again instabilities that arise during low-altitude penetration with significant payloads are minimised.

Thus, as the IAF started converting the Mirage 2000, the standard livery generally associated with air defence variants changed to "camouflage" external body paint. It was widely rumoured that Antilope 5 terrain-following radar, similar to one fitted on French Mirage 2000N nuclear strike platforms, had been installed on IAF Mirage 2000H/TH along with reinforced radomes and twin INS (Inertial Navigation System). Optimum performance during nap-of-the-earth penetration of enemy airspace and strike is thus facilitated, powered by single yet excellent SNECMA M-53-P2 engine. For self-protection, a comprehensive ESM/ECM (Electronic Support Measures/Electronic Counter Measures) suite backs the formidable defensive weaponry.

To augment its present two squadrons of Mirage 2000H/TH, based in Gwalior, the IAF has already ordered additional ten Mirage 2000H/THs and more importantly is considering mass procurement and license production of the more advanced Mirage 2000-5 Mk2. Optimised for true multi-role missions, Mirage 2000-5 Mk2 is equipped with Thales RDY multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar and incorporates APSI (Advanced Pilot/System Interface) in having a "glass cockpit" with HOTAS (Hand On Throttle And Stick) and colour MFDs (Multi-Function Displays). One of the MFD is "head-level" for tactical situational awareness that displays processed information from sensors and systems which may be flashed on HUD (Head Up Display) if necessary. Equipped with an integrated countermeasures suite and multi-function data link, night and adverse weather capability is provided by Thales Nahar FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red). Surface strike capability will be greatly enhanced if Litening 2 pod is integrated.

The IAF Mirage 2000 will be backed by Jaguars in daytime and clear weather conditions with their combination of DARIN (Display Attack and Ranging Inertial Navigation) and HUD/WAC (Head Up Display/Weapon Aiming Computer) facilitate very accurate delivery of air-to-ground ordnance.

The IAF Sukhoi-30 MKI will provide the "top cover" while penetrating heavily defended airspace and will escort the strike fleet of Mirage 2000 and Jaguars. The airframes and engines of Sukhoi-30 MKI are optimised for operations in medium to high altitudes, although their advanced avionics permit them to mount nuclear strike if situation demands. Again AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System), or better still MC2A (Multi-role Command and Control Aircraft) platforms are necessary to guide the "strike package" in avoiding the enemy air defence platforms and installations, thus to facilitate safe ingress and egress.

A strong force of manned airborne platforms for nuclear strike missions is necessary for flexibility of our nuclear doctrine. Although from an idealistic point of view, "no first use" seems to be the desirable option, ground realities especially in dealing with a rouge and bullish nuclear adversary may force us to change our stand. The option of a "pre-emptive strike" should be kept open with adequate sensors and intelligence machinery deployed to intercept an enemy's attempt to launch a "first strike".

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