"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

Indian ASAT Test Raises Space Risks

Advocates for the peaceful uses of space decry India’s successful test to destroy an orbiting satellite.

May 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

India’s successful March 27 test of a weapon designed to destroy satellites has raised concerns that the resulting debris field may threaten orbiting space objects and that other states will develop similar weapons.

InIndia launched a satellite interceptor on this booster March 27. (Photo: Defense Research and Development Organization) dian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that New Delhi had successfully used a ballistic missile interceptor to destroy an orbiting satellite, becoming just the fourth country after China, Russia, and the United States to test such anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

India launched the target satellite into low orbit in January, and the interceptor, developed as part of India’s ballistic missile defense system by the Defense Research and Development Organization, was launched from the Abdul Kalam Island launch center. India may have attempted an earlier test on Feb. 12, but that effort appears to have been unsuccessful.

Modi called the test a “historic feat” and said that the country is now “an established space power.” Modi said that India continues to maintain that “space should not be an area for warfare and that remains unchanged” despite the successful test. He described the test as defensive and said it was not targeted at any particular country.

Despite Modi’s insistence that the test was defensive, India’s development of ASAT capabilities could be perceived as offensive and destabilizing. ASAT weapons allow a state to target another country’s satellites, which could cripple intelligence and communications in the event of a conflict.

India has been seeking to match and deter Chinese military capabilities, and New Delhi’s pursuit of an ASAT weapon may have been designed to send a signal to Beijing, which conducted its own ASAT weapons test in 2007. ASAT capabilities are less useful against India’s other regional adversary, Pakistan, because Islamabad relies less on satellites for military and security purposes.

The U.S. State Department press release following the March 27 test took note of India’s announcement, but did not condemn the test. The muted U.S. response could be interpreted by India and other states as a green light for future testing, contributing to concerns about igniting a space race.

In addition to enhancing risks of an ASAT weapons competition, the Indian test introduced orbital debris that could threaten other objects circling the globe, including the International Space Station.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a “terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris” above the station. He said it is “not acceptable” to put astronauts at risk.

Other nations’ ASAT weapons tests have created even larger debris fields. China tested an ASAT weapon in 2007, creating more than 2,300 pieces of debris. The Indian test likely produced about 400 pieces, similar to a 2008 test conducted by the United States. The United States argued at the time that its test was necessary to destroy a falling satellite.

The United States, Russia, and China are continuing to develop and refine ASAT weapons, but the testing is largely done through “proximity operations,” which are designed to prevent the actual destruction of satellites.

A March 27 statement from the Indian foreign ministry said that the test deliberately targeted a satellite in low orbit “to ensure that there is no space debris” and that any debris created “will decay and fall back onto the Earth within weeks.”

The Indian test revived calls for negotiating new limits to guide the peaceful use of space. Currently, the only international restraint is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits the placement and testing of weapons of mass destruction and military installations in outer space, but does not address other space-based weapons or ASAT technology.

The European Union began to push for negotiations to develop guidelines on the use of outer space in 2008 and produced a draft code of conduct for outer space in 2012. India participated in the discussions on the code, and the draft included commitments by states to pursue space debris mitigation efforts and a controversial commitment to avoid “intentional destruction and other harmful activities.”

The United Nations held negotiations in July 2015 on the proposed code, which would be nonbinding, unlike a treaty. The Obama administration said at the time that the United States supported the meeting, but would not propose the negotiation of an ASAT weapons test moratorium.

Russia and China also objected to elements of the code and preferred to limit its applicability to civilian space activities, which would not cover ASAT weapons testing.

Preventing an arms race in space is on the agenda for the Conference on Disarmament (CD), but the issue has seen little progress there. Russia and China drafted a treaty and presented it to the CD in 2008. They later revised it in 2014, and a group of governmental experts made recommendations to the CD in 2017 on elements necessary for a legally binding treaty preventing an arms race in outer space. The Russian and Chinese proposal, however, does not definitively define what constitutes a space weapon, and because ASAT missile interceptors are ground based, they would likely not be covered by the draft text.


Indian Submarine Completes First Patrol

The INS Arihant gives India a nuclear triad.

December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in November that the country’s first ballistic missile submarine completed its inaugural “deterrence patrol.”

An undated photo shows India testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile system. The missile was launched from a location in the Bay of Bengal, from a depth of 50 meters. The nuclear-capable system was developed to be deployed on INS Arihant.  (Photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)Modi described the deployment of the INS Arihant on Nov. 5 as an “open warning for the country’s enemies” and a response to “those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.” Modi did not specifically mention Pakistan, but his message was likely directed at Islamabad.

Modi’s description of the sub’s activities could mean that the submarine was armed with nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It is unclear how long the patrol lasted.

The Arihant is India’s first domestically built, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. It was commissioned in 2016 and began sea trials at that time. (See ACT, April 2016.) The lapse between sea trials and the submarine’s first patrol is believed to have been caused by extensive damage after a hatch was left open in 2017, flooding the submarine.

The Arihant can carry 12 K-15 SLBMs, which have an estimated range of 750 kilometers. The K-15 has been tested multiple times, including in August 2018. In the future, the submarine could carry four K-4 SLBMs. The K-4 is still under development and has an estimated range of about 3,500 kilometers. The longer-range missile is likely designed with China in mind, while the shorter-range K-15 puts Pakistan in range.

The Arihant deployment completes India’s nuclear triad, that is, the ability to deliver nuclear weapons from land-, air-, and sea-based systems. It also enhances India’s second-strike capability, although India, with only one deployed submarine, will not be able to conduct continuous deterrent patrols at this time.

A second ballistic missile submarine was reportedly finished in December 2017, and an additional two submarines are under construction. India plans to build four to six nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines. These subsequent submarines are larger than the Arihant and could hold up to eight K-4 ballistic missiles.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Nov. 8 that the Arihant’s patrol “marks the first actual deployment of ready-to-fire nuclear warheads in South Asia” and is a “matter of concern” for states in the region and the international community.

Indian and Pakistani nuclear warheads are largely believed to be de-mated, or stored separately from delivery systems. On a submarine, however, de-mating is not feasible, and the warheads are stored paired with the ballistic missiles.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said that “no one should doubt Pakistan’s resolve and capability to meet the challenge” posed by India’s recent developments.

Pakistan is currently developing a sea-launched cruise missile, the Babur-3, likely for use with its diesel submarines. Pakistan tested the Babur-3, which has an estimated range of about 450 kilometers, from a submerged barge in 2017 and 2018. Pakistani officials said the move was prompted by India’s decision to develop SLBMs.

India Closes on Russian Missile System Deal

Will the U.S. follow through on its sanction threat against New Delhi?

November 2018
By Shervin Taheran

India defied threats of U.S. sanctions by finalizing a $5.4 billion deal to purchase five batteries of the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft system, following an Oct. 5 summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India-Russia Business Summit in New Delhi on October 5.  (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)The United States previously said the deal could trigger penalties against India under section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), an action that would complicate the Trump administration’s efforts to expand U.S. trade and diplomatic relations with India. For that reason, some senior administration officials, such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have argued for granting India a sanctions waiver in this case.

The 2017 law provides for imposition of secondary U.S. sanctions against firms or countries that make a “significant” purchase from sanctioned entities in Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. The S-400 contract is with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export agency, which is the subject of U.S. sanctions.

In September, the United States imposed sanctions on China for purchases of the S-400 system. Another buyer, NATO-ally Turkey, has not been penalized yet, although the United States and other NATO members have raised objections to the purchase because the system is incompatible with NATO’s defense architecture. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) China was sanctioned after receiving the weapons system from Russia, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Oct. 25 that Turkey will aim to begin installing the Russian air defense systems by October 2019.

A clause in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows the president to issue a waiver to CAATSA sanctions. Trump administration officials, before the formal Indian-Russian S-400 agreement, had been vague on the prospects that the president would grant India a waiver. When asked directly on Oct. 11, U.S. President Donald Trump failed to offer a direct answer, but said that India will find out “sooner than you think.”

India has repeatedly asserted its desire to retain independence and variety in its national defense resources. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at an Oct. 25 conference that Mattis “understood” India’s need to purchase the system, following their meeting during a defense ministers conference in Singapore.

The S-400 system is an advanced, mobile, surface-to-air defense system of radars and missiles of different ranges, capable of destroying a variety of targets such as attack aircraft, bombs, and tactical ballistic missiles. Each battery normally consists of eight launchers, 112 missiles, and command and support vehicles.

As a historically nonaligned country, many of India’s weapons systems are Russian, but it is also continuing to purchase U.S. weapons and equipment.

Senior U.S. administration officials have noted that they do not want the CAATSA sanctions to alienate strategic allies who may still rely on Russian equipment for historical reasons. In a July 20 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis supported the amendment to the 2019 NDAA to provide waivers for allies who are “transitioning to closer ties” with the United States. Waivers can avert “significant unintended consequences” toward U.S. strategic interests, he wrote.

Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said on Aug. 29 that, “on CAATSA, Mattis did plea for an exemption for India, but I can’t guarantee a waiver will be used for future purposes.” The Pentagon would still be significantly concerned if India purchased major new military systems from Russia, he said.

Other countries considering purchasing the S-400 system are Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In June, the French newspaper Le Monde noted a leaked letter by Saudi King Salman to French President Emmanuel Macron threatening “military action” if Qatar is allowed to deploy the S-400 system, which is viewed as a threat to Saudi security.


India’s Agni-5 ICBM Advances

India’s Agni-5 ICBM Advances

India's Agni-5 missile is displayed during a dress rehearsal for the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 23, 2013. (Photo: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), still under development, is expected to be inducted into the strategic arsenal after one more test, which could occur as soon as October. The Agni-5 has been tested six times, most recently in June. (See ACT, March 2018.) It is a three-stage, road-mobile missile able to carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers. India reportedly has been working to develop multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) for the missile, Franz-Stefan Gady wrote in The Diplomat, which would provide India with a second-strike capability. Analysts believe India is developing the long-range missile to bolster its nuclear deterrence with China. The Agni-5 will need to be tested several more times after it has been inducted before it can be operationally deployed.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Arc of History Bends toward Nuclear Disarmament

September 26, 2018, marks the fifth International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The international community will reflect on the progress that has been made toward this critical goal and the substantial work that remains. At the United Nations in New York, 10 additional countries are expected to sign or ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons , which opened for signature September 20 last year and which, as of Sept. 25, 2018, had 15 states-parties and 60 signatories . Today, there are some very tough challenges that pose a serious threat to the international...

U.S. Elevates India’s Defense Trade Status

U.S. Elevates India’s Defense Trade Status

The United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, elevated India, the world’s largest arms importer, to Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status, putting it in the same tier as the United States’ NATO allies.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross addresses the Indo-Pacific Business Forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on July 30. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)India’s STA-1 status, announced July 30, will significantly ease export controls for high-tech sales and allow India to access the latest U.S. defense technology. It will also potentially serve U.S. interests in allaying risks associated with China’s rapid military expansion and by reducing Russian arms business on the subcontinent, while making it easier for U.S. arms manufacturers to compete in the Indian market.

“STA-1 provides India with greater supply-chain efficiency, both for defense and for other high-tech products…and it will reduce the time and resources needed to get licensing approved,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, announcing the decision at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Washington. “We calculate that it will be a competitive advantage for the U.S. in providing those kinds of products to India.” The change would have affected about $9.7 billion in exports over the last seven years, according to the Commerce Department.

India also received a sanctions waiver for the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) through an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019. The waiver will relieve India from punitive measures it would have otherwise experienced for importing weapons systems from Russia. In the past, India has explicitly denounced country-specific U.S. sanctions and rejected U.S. demands that it not buy the Russian S-400 long-range missile system. "We have told the U.S. Congress delegation [that visited India] that this is U.S. legislation and not a UN law,” Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

The U.S. actions fit with the Trump administration’s vision for increased arms sales, but how they fit with India's major push for a U.S.-style private defense sector of its own remains to be seen.—TRUSHAA CASTELINO

Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Fact Sheet Categories:

Indian ICBM Passes Test

Indian ICBM Passes Test

India's Agni-5 missile is displayed during a rehearsal for the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 23, 2013.  (Photo: RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)India successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Agni-5, for the fifth time. The Jan. 18 test was the first of two reported tests to be completed before the missile can enter service. The missile previously completed four successful “developmental” tests. A defense ministry statement declared that the test “reaffirms the country’s indigenous missile capabilities and further strengthens our credible deterrence.” Indian President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted his support, claiming that it “will boost our strategic defence.”

The Agni-5, first tested in 2012, is India’s first ICBM. With a range of more than 3,100 miles, analysts assess that the missile is being developed to deter China. Officially, China was silent on the launch, but the state-owned Global Times wrote on Jan. 18 that the test “poses a direct threat to China’s security as well as a big challenge to the global efforts of nuclear nonproliferation.” India also tested the Prithvi-2, Agni-2, and Agni-1 missiles in February.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

India Joins Australia Group

India Joins Australia Group

India became the Australia Group’s 43rd member on Jan. 19, following a consensus decision at the group’s June 19 plenary. The Australia Group is dedicated to preventing the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons through voluntary export controls. It is the third nonproliferation consortium India has joined in the past two years, after the Wassenaar Arrangement, a conventional weapons export control regime, in December 2017 and the Missile Technology Control Regime, a group committed to limiting the spread of missiles and related technology, in June 2016. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

“With its admission into the Australia Group, India has demonstrated the will to implement rigorous controls of high standards in international trade, and its capacity to adapt its national regulatory system to meet the necessities of its expanding economy,” according to a Jan. 19 Australia Group press release. Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a Jan. 19 news briefing that the accession would help “establish…credentials” for India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which restricts the spread of nuclear technology. India has publicly stated its desire to join the NSG, although China blocked its last attempt in June 2016. (See ACT, July/August 2016.)—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: India

January 2018

Updated: January 2018

India possesses an arsenal of 130-140 plutonium-based nuclear warheads developed outside of the NPT, as it is not a signatory to the treaty. It is actively seeking to expand its nuclear capabilities, including current development of ICBM and SLBM capabilities, and deployed its first ballistic missile submarine in August 2016. India’s warheads are believed to be stored in a disassembled state, greatly increasing the time required to deploy nuclear weapons, though it remains to be seen whether its nuclear posture and policy will shift with the development of the sea-based leg of its nuclear triad. Though Washington has pushed for increased inclusion of India in nonproliferation regimes in recent years, India still does not allow for international inspections at all of its nuclear facilities and maintains fissile material that could be developed into nuclear weapons, while some Indian entities continue to be sanctioned for nonproliferation violations. China and other countries blocked India’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers group in January 2017.


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Bilateral Talks with Pakistan
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Cooperation Agreements
  • Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

Has developed nuclear weapons outside the treaty.

- - -

- - -

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Only supports the treaty in the context of general nuclear disarmament.

- - -

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)


*Stated it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17.

- - -


CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -


Chemical Weapons Convention



Biological Weapons Convention



International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism


*Stated it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 1, Article 23.



Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards



Australia Group


Missile Technology Control Regime


Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member, but vowed to “harmonize” its export controls with those advocated by the voluntary 45-member group. India is prohibited from importing key nuclear materials and technologies from group members because New Delhi does not subject its entire nuclear enterprise to safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Wassenaar Arrangement


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

IAEA approved India’s additional protocol on March 3, 2009. India ratified it in June 2014.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism


Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation


Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant.

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and offered to host IAEA courses on physical security of nuclear facilities.

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

India developed nuclear weapons outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). India is estimated to have an arsenal of 130-140 nuclear warheads. India’s warheads have plutonium cores and are believed to be stored separately from their delivery systems. India is working to expand its fleet of ground-launched ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and has several long-range ballistic missiles in development, including the Agni-V, a road- and rail-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Indian Navy likely introduced its first ballistic missile submarine, the INS Arihant, into service in late 2016, after it completed sea trials earlier that same year and quietly launched its second INS Arihant-class submarine in November 2017. India has conducted nuclear tests on three occasions, though it claimed the first one was a “peaceful” nuclear explosion. One test involved two simultaneous explosions while another involved three synchronized blasts.

Delivery Systems

Ballistic Missiles

The Indian Armed Services deploys nuclear-capable short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles under the control of its Strategic Forces Command (SFC). The Agni Missile series is the mainstay of its ground-launched nuclear forces.  Many of India’s ballistic missiles have been developed as part of its ambitious Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), managed by the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). India is focused on developing longer-range ballistic missiles, including an ICBM, as well as the sea-based leg of a nuclear triad.

Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (range <1,000 km):

  • Prithvi-I – has an estimated range of 150 km. Uncertainty surrounds whether or not this missile is nuclear capable or conventional. It may have been fitted with a range of small nuclear warheads. This system may be replaced with the Prahaar short-range missile system.
  • Prahaar – is under development. It is believed to be able to carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. Its first successful test in July 2011 revealed an operational range of 150 km. This missile could be a replacement for the Prithvi-I.
  • Prithvi-II – is estimated to have a range of 250-350 km. US NASIC has estimated the range as 250 kilometers but Hans Krtistensen of the Federation of American Scientists assumes the range has probably been increased to about 350 kilometers (217 miles) as also stated by the Indian government. It can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. It is unclear if the Prithvi-II is still deployed as a nuclear-capable missile, given the development of the Agni series. The Prithvi-II failed some initial tests, but recent tests (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016) have been deemed successful.
  • Prithvi-III – began development in 2000. It has an estimated range of 350+ km. When development is complete, it will be able to carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. 
  • Dhanush - The naval version of the Prithvi-III is known as the Dhanush. Unlike the Prithvi-III, the Dhanush is liquid-fuelled and ship-launched. The Dhanush was first successfully tested on Oct. 5, 2012 and has been successfully tested on three more occasions in 2013, 2015, and 2016.
  • Shaurya – hypersonic land-based variant of the nuclear-capable K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile; can carry a single conventional or nuclear warhead. A September 2011 test revealed a flight speed of 7.5 Mach and a range of 700 km. However, given the weight of its payload, the Shaurya’s range can be extended to well over 1,000 km, meaning it can achieve medium-range. The Shaurya has been listed as a hybrid missile. Although it is a ballistic missile, it is capable of maneuvering like a cruise missile and utilizing its air fins to cruise at sustained hypersonic speeds.  

Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (between 1,000-3,000 km):  

  • Agni-I – range between 700-1,200 km; can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. As of 2015, an estimated 20 launchers are deployed in western India near Pakistan and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates, as of 2015, the India possesses a total of 80-100 Agni-I missilesAlthough its minimum range would classify the Agni-I as a short-range ballistic missile it can greatly extend its range by reducing its payload, thus earning it medium-range status.
  • Agni-II – an improved variant of the Agni-I; maximum range of 2,000 km + (some speculate it could, with modification, achieve a range of 3,500 km); can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. Around 10 launchers are estimated to be deployed in northern India as of 2015.The IISS’s 2015 estimates place India’s total number of Agni-II missiles at 20-25. The Agni-II's operational status is unclear, but it may have been inducted in 2011, and was last tested in April 2013.

Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (between 3,000-5,500 km):

  • Agni-III - approximate range of 3,200 km; can carry a single nuclear or conventional warhead. As of 2015, there are likely fewer than ten launchers. Entered military service in 2012, after performing successfully in three tests (July 2006, April 2007, and May 2008). In 2014, the Indian Ministry of Defense announced that the Agni-III was “in the arsenal of armed forces” and it was successfully test-fired in April 2015.  
  • Agni-IV- road- and rail-mobile missile; 3,500-4,000 km range; carries a single nuclear or conventional warhead. The Agni-IV is not believed to be operational and some speculate that the missile was designed as a technology demonstrator between the Agni-III and Agni-V rather than for operational deployment. The Agni-IV has been successfully test-fired on numerous occasions, most recently in January 2017. The Ministry of Defense announced after a successful 2014 test that the missile was ready for induction and production.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (>5,500 km):

  • Agni-V – under development; has a range of over 5,200 km (China claiming an operational range of 8,000 km, others claim 5,000 km [only intermediate-range]); can carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. Despite various claims to the contrary, the Agni-V is not believed to have the capability to carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads. Some claimed the missile was intended to be operationalized in 2017. The Agni-V has been tested successfully a number of times, first in 2012 and then in 2013, 2015, December 2016 and most recently in January 2018.
  • Agni-VI – nuclear-capable ICBM reportedly under development; a follow-up on the Agni-V. The Agni-VI may be armed with MIRVs, though confirmation of this does not exist. The government's Press Information Bureau website claimed in December 2016 that it will have a range of  8,000-10,000 km. 

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)


  • The Indian Navy has developed two sea-based delivery systems for nuclear weapons: a submarine-launched system and a ship-launched system (as detailed above).
  • After three decades of development, India deployed its first indigenously built ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the INS Arihant, in August 2016, though this has not been publically confirmed. Development of the submarine began in 1984 and deployment of the submarine marks the successful completion of India’s triad. The first extensive sea trials of the INS Arihant began in December 2012 and it was announced in February 2016 that the submarine was fully-operational. This submarine is the first of the new nuclear-powered Arihant-class submarine. India reportedly deployed its second Arihant-class submarine, the Arighat, in November 2017. India has commissioned the construction of another 2 Arihant-class submarines.The Arihant is equipped with 12 launch tubes designed for the K-15 SLBM or can alternatively hold four K-4 SLBMs (which are not yet deployed). The submarine will require modification to carry the K-4.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • India is currently developing its SLBM capabilities with its K-series missiles, a high-priority project of the DRDO. Against international pressure to curb its missile program, few details are available on these missiles as the SLBM program remains a tightly kept secret. India stores its warheads and delivery systems separately, but it remains unclear how India’s command and control structure will adapt to the submarine launched ballistic missiles, which require the warhead to be mated to the delivery system.
  • K-15 (Sagarika) - is a nuclear-capable SLBM under development. Once development is complete, it will be India's first SLBM. The K-15 is believed to have a 700 km range and no MIRV capabilities. The K-15 was first tested in 2004 and again in 2007, 2008 (10 total tests between 2004-08), 2013 and most recently in November 2015. It is the first of India’s K-series missiles.
  • K-4 - under development. Has been successfully flight tested at a range of 3,500 km in 2016. Some cite it can carry a conventional or nuclear payload. The first undersea launch of the K-4 was conducted in March 2014. There are claims that a K-5 missile is also under development. The K-5 missile would have a range of over 6,000 km (a high estimate of 10,000 km) with a capacity to carry 4 MIRVs. The K-5 would be the first MIRV equipped missile in India’s nuclear arsenal.   


Cruise Missiles

  • BrahMos – is a nuclear-capable land-attack cruise missile jointly developed between Russia and India. Its developers list its flight range at 290 km, however, most sources place its range at 300-500 km depending on which variant or launch platform is used. India conducted a test launch of an extended range version of the BrahMos in March 2017 that, according to sources, will be able travel approximately 600 km. It can carry a single nuclear or conventional payload. The first successful launch of the BrahMos took place on June 12, 2001. BrahMos variants are capable of being launched from land-based, ship-based, submarine-based, and now air-launched systems.
  • Brahmos-II – is under development; a hypersonic version of the supersonic BrahMos. Due to Russia’s signatory status in the MTCR (limiting its ability to help other countries develop missiles with ranges over 300 km), the original striking-range of the BrahMos-II was planned at 290 km. However, now that India was inducted into MTCR in June 2016, the range of the BrahMos missiles are anticipated to be extended to 600 km. Flight tested in 2012. 
  • Nirbhay – under development; nuclear-capable land-attack cruise missile; estimated range of 800-1,000 km; can carry a single conventional or nuclear payload, although doubt surrounds its nuclear capability. Three of the last five tests (March 2013, October 2015, and December 2016) experienced difficulties and failed. It was successfully tested in October 2014 at a range of 1,000 km but even this test did not meet expectations. Following this test, it was announced that the first Nirbhays would be delivered in 2017. The missile was successfully tested again in November 2017. Four versions are reportedly being considered for development: land, air, ship, and submarine.  

Strategic Bombers

  • India’s Mirage 2000H, a French plane (also utilized by French nuclear forces), is known to be nuclear-capable and can deliver gravity-based nuclear bombs.
  • It is likely that the Jaguar IS fighter-bombers have been modified to deliver nuclear payloads, with two of the four squadrons suspected of having a secondary nuclear mission.
  • In June 2016, India’s Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jet (a Russian aircraft) completed its first flight equipped with the nuclear-capable BrahMos and 40 of these aircraft are expected to be modified to carry the BrahMos.
  • India plans on upgrading its aging air force with newer aircraft that can potentially take over the air-based nuclear strike role. The prime contender is the French Rafale fighter jet. In September 2016, India signed an agreement with France for the delivery of 36 Rafale fighters by 2019 (down from its original plan to purchase 126 planes).   

Fissile Material


  • All of India’s nuclear weapons are plutonium-based.
  • According to material posted by the International Panel on Fissile Materials in 2016, India has approximately .59 ± .2metric tons  of plutonium available for nuclear weapons—enough to produce over 100 additional warheads—and up to another 5.1± 3 metric tons of reactor grade plutonium in spent fuel, which could be reprocessed for weapons use.
  • Much of its weapons-grade plutonium has been produced at its CIRUS reactor (shut down in 2010), and the Dhruva heavy-water reactor.
  • India has plans to build 6 fast-breeder reactors which would dramatically increase the speed at which India produces plutonium for its nuclear energy program. Two prototypes are expected to be fully functional by October 2017.
  • India agreed in 2006 to allow 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors to be monitored by the IAEA, and has since updated its plan to include an additional four reactors under safeguards.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • India produces HEU—but not to weapons grade—to fuel the reactor cores for its nuclear submarine program. It is believed to be enriched to 30–45 percent uranium-235.
  • According to material posted by the International Panel on Fissile Materials in 2016, India’s HEU stockpile is approximately 3.2 +/- 1.1 tons. India enriches uranium at the RMP facility, which is being expanded.
  • India is planning to build an enrichment facility at Chitradurga for civilian and military purposes The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) are all present in Chitradurga.

Proliferation Record

  • Under the U.S. “Atoms for Peace” initiative, India was a recipient of training and technological transfers intended for peaceful purposes but put to use in its nuclear weapons program. India’s first nuclear test was of a device derived partially from Canadian and U.S. exports designated for peaceful purposes.  That test spurred the United States and several other countries to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to more severely restrict global nuclear trade.
  • The U.S. helped secure a waiver for India on export restrictions of nuclear materials, causing some to allege that U.S. strategic interests lead Washington to turn a blind eye to proliferation concerns in India.
  • India’s modernization programs and general militarization has resulted in active commercial arms deals and exchanges of military technology with other countries. This has not been limited to the purchase of French and Russian fighter jets and is further exemplified by the joint Russian-Indian development of the BrahMos cruise missile.
  • Indian entities have been placed under nonproliferation sanctions numerous times. Beginning with the Indian Space Research Organization in 1992, the last entity, as of April 2017, to be placed under these sanctions was Balaji Amines in 2006 (sanctions lifted in 2008) under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.  
  • India is not a signatory to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Nuclear Doctrine

Indian nuclear planning has been largely based on an unofficial document released in 1999 by the National Security Advisory Board known as the draft nuclear doctrine. This document calls for India’s nuclear forces to be deployed on a triad of delivery vehicles of “aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets,” designed for “punitive retaliation.” Indian officials say the size of their nuclear stockpile is based on maintaining a “credible minimum deterrent” and that its abilities must enable an “adequate retaliatory capability should deterrence fail.”  However, India’s ability to retaliate with speed remains an inhibitor that they supplement by “assuring” retaliation, despite delays.  Although India reiterated in January 2003 that it would not use nuclear weapons against states that do not possess such arms and declared that nuclear weapons would only be used to retaliate against a nuclear attack, the government reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical weapons attacks.However, given the offensive restructuring of India’s nuclear forces, there has arisen recent debate whether or not India may be considering a “preemptive nuclear counterforce” doctrine.  

The expansion of India’s nuclear arsenal to the sea is expected to result in a shift in its nuclear doctrine. India’s nuclear warheads are believed to be stored in a disassembled state, with the fissile core kept separate from the warhead package. This practice greatly increases the time required to deploy the weapons. However, it remains to be seen how this command and control practice will adapt to India’s new submarine nuclear forces and whether or not this will result in a shift in its nuclear posture.

Back to Top

Biological Weapons

  • India ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1974 and there is no evidence that suggests it has an offensive biological weapons program.
  • The Indian biotechnology private sector is highly sophisticated and the government conducts biodefense research through the DRDO.

Back to Top

Chemical Weapons

  • India ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1996 and supports the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). India hosted the OPCW 12th Regional Meeting of National Authorities in Asia in 2014.
  • In 1992 India signed the India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons for the “complete prohibition of chemical weapons.” Upon signing, both India and Pakistan declared that they did not possess chemical weapons—India lied. However, in 1999 and 2000, Pakistan accused India of launching chemical weapons into Pakistan, an accusation India has denied.  
  • In 1997, India declared 1,044 metric tons of sulfur mustard stockpiles. India completed destruction of its stockpile on schedule in 2009, becoming the third country to completely destroy its chemical weapons.
  • The State Department’s 2010 compliance report confirmed that “India completed destruction of its CW stockpile and that India is in compliance with its obligations under the CWC.” 

Back to Top

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Bilateral Talks with Pakistan

  • India-Pakistan non-Attack Agreement, entered into force in January 1991.
  • In 1992 India signed the India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons for the “complete prohibition of chemical weapons.”
  • After their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan and India volunteered to abstain from nuclear testing.
  • Established a hotline to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war and agreed to exchange advance notifications of ballistic missile flight tests.
  • In 2007, the fifth round of talks regarding the review of nuclear and ballistic missile-related confidence building measures took place as part of the Composite Dialogue Process.

Nuclear Security Summits
In April 2010, India attended the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC where participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. India has also attended the 2012 NSS in Seoul, the 2014 NSS in The Hague, and the 2016 NSS held again in Washington, DC where attendees developed action plans for five global organizations to continue the work of the summits.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community, India has been a regular and active participant in the CD. India favors negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty that is “effectively verifiable,” which is a condition opposed by the United States. At the CD (and elsewhere), India has consistently called for general nuclear disarmament by all states.

Nuclear Cooperation Agreements

India has nuclear cooperation agreements with a number of states: the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, Namibia, South Korea, Mongolia, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, and Japan.

In 2014, India and Australia signed a civil nuclear agreement enabling the sale of Australian uranium to support India’s growing nuclear energy needs.

Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement
The United States signed a controversial agreement with India to repeal most U.S. and multilateral civilian nuclear trade restrictions on India. In 2006, Congress amended its own domestic legislation to allow nuclear trade with India to proceed. The two governments later concluded a “123 Agreement” (the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement), which was approved by Congress and signed into law in October 2008 after India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that September. However, current NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections, such India and Pakistan. The United States has pushed for India to become a member of the NSG, but in January 2017, China and other countries blocked India's membership bid on the grounds that India has not yet signed the NPT.  

Back to Top

Country Profiles

Country Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:


Subscribe to RSS - India