India is expected to increasingly focus on its strike capabilities vis-a-vis China as it continues to improve its nuclear weapons system in both range and strike power, says a new report.
The country is reported to be in the process of developing at least four new weapons, in addition or to replace existing weapon systems, including nuclear-capable aircraft.
India currently operates seven nuclear-capable systems - two aircraft, four land-based ballistic missiles, and one sea-based ballistic missile - while at least four more systems are in development, according to the report.
Writing in `Indian nuclear forces 2017', American nuclear experts Hans M Kristensen and Robert S Norris says India's nuclear strategy, which was traditionally focused on Pakistan, appeared to shift with an increased emphasis on China.
The strike force needed to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may require India to pursue more aggressive strategies - such as escalation dominance or a 'splendid first strike' - against Pakistan, the report notes.
The article says that India is estimated to have produced enough plutonium for 150-200 nuclear warheads, but has likely produced only 120-130. Nonetheless, additional plutonium will be required to produce warheads for missiles now under development, and India is reportedly building two new plutonium production facilities.
India, they say, is developing a more flexible force with a diverse arsenal of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, bomber aircraft in the country's nuclear posture.
"We estimate that three or four squadrons of Mirage 2000H and Jaguar IS/IB (and possibly also MiG-27) aircraft, at three bases, are assigned nuclear strike missions against Pakistan and China," said the authors.
Also, India is now probably searching for a modern fighter-bomber that could potentially take over the air-based nuclear strike role in the future. With this effect, India and France have signed an agreement for delivery of 36 Rafale aircraft.
The Rafale is used for the nuclear mission in the French Air Force and India could potentially convert it to serve a similar role in the Indian Air Force.
India also has four types of land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that appear to be operational: the short-range Prithvi-2 and Agni-1, the medium-range Agni-2, and the intermediate-range Agni-3. At least two other longer-range Agni missiles are under development: the Agni-4 and Agni-5.
It also operates a ship-launched nuclear-capable ballistic missile and is developing two submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The ship-based ballistic missile is the Dhanush, a 400-kilometer (249-mile) single-stage, liquid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile designed to launch from the back of two specially configured Sukanya-class patrol vessels (Subhadra and Suvarna); each ship can carry two missiles.
However, the utility of the Dhanush as a strategic deterrence weapon is severely limited by its relatively short range; the ships carrying it would have to sail dangerously close to the Pakistani or Chinese coasts to target facilities in those countries, making them vulnerable to counterattack.
Meanwhile, India's first indigenous nuclear-powered SSBN, the Arihant, is still undergoing sea trials. The Arihant is equipped with 12 launch tubes designed to launch the K-15 (Sagarika) SLBM, whose range is 700 kilometers (435 miles). (ANI)