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June 18, 1998


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India could end up with larger nuclear arsenal than Britain, says Jane's

India's potential nuclear arsenal is bigger than Britain's and in the same league as the French and Chinese, Jane's Intelligence Review has reported.

Pakistan, however, exhausted a significant part of its meagre arsenal in last month's nuclear tests -- and the poor performance of its weapons revealed the country's strategic nuclear weakness, the respected military magazine said.

Jane's Intelligence Review said yesterday in its July issue that India logically sees greater security in furthering its nuclear potential.

Its special report on the tests was written mainly by W P S Sidhu, a specialist on South Asian security issues who began his career as a journalist in Bombay before doing his doctoral thesis at Cambridge University on the development of India's nuclear doctrine and who now works at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York.

According toJane's, India's nuclear weapons programme is primarily based on weapons-grade plutonium reprocessed from fuel taken from the Cirrus and Dhruva research reactors located at Trombay.

Based on the fissile material produced by the two reactors, India's stockpile is now estimated at between 20 and 60 nuclear weapons, the magazine said.

By contrast, Pakistan's arsenal is now estimated at less than 12 nuclear weapons, it said.

But India also has commercial nuclear reactors which also produce plutonium. While this plutonium is not considered ideal for use in nuclear weapons, Britain has successfully made nuclear weapons from it, and there are indications that Indian scientists attempted "a similar feat'' in the two tests conducted in May, Jane's said.

"Although they do not appear to have been entirely successful, the information gathered from these tests would go a long way in giving India the ability to build weapons from reactor fuel,'' it said.

According to one estimate, if India's commercial reactor fuel was taken into account, the country would possess enough fissile material to build at least 390 nuclear weapons and as many as 470 weapons, Jane's said.

"This makes the potential Indian nuclear arsenal bigger than that of Britain and in the same league as the French and the Chinese,'' the magazine said.

According to estimates by the Washington-based National Resources Defence Council, at the end of 1996, Britain had 260 nuclear weapons, China had 400 and France had 450.

Jane's Intelligence Review said India is also developing land, sea and air systems to deliver nuclear weapons.

India's Sukhoi Su-30 fighters can already deliver a nuclear payload to Pakistan and deep into China, but their range and flight time will be "substantially enhanced'' when it takes delivery of six Ilyushin Il-78 refuelling tankers ordered from Russia early this year, the magazine said.

But India's two nuclear-capable missiles, the Prithvi and the Agni, are expected to be the mainstay of its nuclear delivery system, Jane's said. While the Agni is still in the development stage, India's Prithvi force is considered to be in the range of 20 to 50 missiles, it said.

The magazine said there are reports that a surface ship-launched version of the Prithvi could become operational as early as 2001. India's Defence Research and Development Organisation is also working on a submarine-launched missile called Sagarika, which could become operational by 2010, Jane's said.

As for Pakistan, the report said seasoned analysts insist its first tests involved a maximum of three devices -- not five as the government claimed. And the estimated cumulative force of the blasts is between 2 and 12 kilotons and most likely around 6 kilotons, far smaller than the 18 kilotons that the Pakistani government reported.

Pakistan's second blast measured only 1.2 kilotons, suggesting the test was "a fizzle,'' Jane's said. According to analysts, its aim was to design a smaller warhead that could fit the country's recently test-fired Ghauri missile, which can strike targets deep in India, the magazine said.


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