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Islamabad

July 29, 2018

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India’s thermonuclear bomb project

While the Indian appetite for expanding her nuclear capability has been increasing rapidly, it has been reported by the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) that India has a stockpile of more than 100 warheads. Driven by a desire to match China and Pakistan's firepower, India has been desperate to expand its nuclear capabilities.

In 2012, the world surprisingly came to know that apart from many facilities, India has built a ‘secret nuclear city’ at Challakere, Karnataka. It was confirmed by independent researchers that two secretive agencies were behind this project which is believed to be the Subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic research laboratories and weapons and aircraft testing facilities. New Delhi has never published a detailed account of its nuclear arsenal and the world knows little about the construction at Challakere and its strategic implications. As a military facility, it is not open to international inspection.

The nuclear city close to Challakere would, in short, be ringed by a security perimeter of thousands of military and paramilitary guards. In July 2013, six years after the plans were given green light by Delhi, the National Green Tribunal, India’s environmental agency, finally took up local villagers’ complaints. It dispatched investigators to the scene and demanded that each government agency disclose its ambitions in detail. The DRDO responded that national security trumped the tribunal and provided no more information.

Earlier, India claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb on May 11, 1998 in the Operation Shakti-1. However, most analysts, including Indian themselves, have questioned the yield of the test and many believe it was an utter failure. The director of the test site preparations admitted that the yield of the thermonuclear explosion was lower than expected and it had fizzled.

Santhanam argued that the Shakti-1 device had failed to achieve its designed yield and as such had to be considered a failure and more tests were needed to establish India’s thermonuclear capability. On the other hand, Dr. R. Chidambaram and Dr. Anil Kakodkar claimed during the course of an interview that India had produced and deployed several thermonuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the US Foreign Policy magazine sometime ago reported that India had built two top-secret facilities at Challakere, Karnataka, the South Asia’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories and weapons and aircraft-testing facilities. Ostensibly, at Karnataka, the stated aims of the project are to “expand the government's nuclear research, to produce fuel forIndia's nuclear reactors, and to help power the country's fleet of new submarines.” On the other hand, most analysts say uranium is being enriched there in pursuit of its hydrogen bomb plans. International nuclear experts, including Adrian Levy, believe, “this new facility will give India a nuclear capability -- the ability to make many large-yield nuclear arms -- that most experts say it presently lacks.”

Levy further says that another of the project's aim is “to give India an extra stockpile of enriched uranium fuel that could be used in new hydrogen bombs, also known as thermonuclear weapons, substantially increasing the explosive force of those in its existing nuclear arsenal.”

Robert Kelley, a former project leader for nuclear intelligence at Los Alamos and also served as the director of the Iraq Action Team at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has been reported as saying that “having analyzed the available satellite imagery, as well as studying open source material on both sites, he believed that India was pursuing a larger thermonuclear arsenal. He warned that its development will inevitably usher in a new nuclear arms race in a volatile region.” He warned that its development “will inevitably usher in a new nuclear arms race” in the region.

A former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, said: “I believe that India intends to build thermonuclear weapons as part of its strategic deterrent against China.” The Chinese had successfully tested a thermonuclear weapon in 1967 and have reportedly improved on its design.

There has been silence on the Indian government’s front, with no explanations how the highly enriched uranium produced at the site will be used. But following North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2017, Indian expert Dr. Sanjay Badri-Mahara openly advocated thermonuclear nuclear weapons: “India has not defined its deterrent requirements in either quantitative or qualitative terms.

Inferences are drawn from the text of its nuclear doctrine and based on the possible targets in the territories of its rivals and adversaries. While thermonuclear weapons are not necessary for maintaining a credible deterrent, they serve the purpose of enabling India to make effective use of its relatively limited fissile material stockpile.

Since India’s deterrent requirements will evolve with time, it behoves a country with limited resources to maintain as flexible a deterrent as possible. To this end, thermonuclear weapons, offering variable yields and light-weight warheads that use less fissile material, should be an essential component in India’s arsenal,” he says.

It is beyond doubt that clandestine activities at Challakere are aimed at substantially increasing the explosive force of Indian nuclear arsenal through building thermonuclear weapons.

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