Where are the nuclear weapons of India stored?
India’s Nuclear Program is one of the closely guarded secret in the world. Nobody knows anything for sure and globally everyone speculates about quantity and quality of India’s Nuclear Weapons and its delivery system. Figures ranging from 80–250 weapons are being thrown around a lot. Having said that, according to one estimate India sits of over 5000 Kgs of Plutonium which is enough to give India over 1,000 devices making it 3rd largest Nuclear Arsenal behind Russia and US. India itself is under-reporting its capabilities both in terms of Nuclear Weapons/devices, types, yield, design, and above all missile delivery systems and range. For example, Agni V is projected as 5000–8000 kms range but similar size/dimension missiles from Russia and China have range of over 10,000 kms.
The India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) sometimes called Strategic Nuclear Command is responsible for the management and administration of the country’s Tactical and Strategic Nuclear Weapons stockpile. SFC is headed by Commander-in-Chief, a 3 Star General (Lt. General) or equivalent rank from other forces. First CIC was Air Marshal Teja Mohan Asthana back in 2003.
Baring few individuals in Strategic Forces Command, fewer still would be aware of exact Quantity, location, status, payload and housing of Nuclear Weapons as they are Confidential beyond Top Secret.
Only handful of people know any details about India’s Nuclear Weapons program and even less people will be aware of its location and status.
Nobody will know complete program and deployment details apart from National Security Advisor & Strategic Forces Command. It is largely to maintain plausible deniability & secrecy of program in case one or more assets/people are compromised.
However, India does maintain a Nuclear Triad. Nuclear Triad means triple delivery mechanism thru: –
Land based Ballistic and Cruise Missiles,
Aircrafts based Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) also called Stand Off weapons, Air-Surface Missiles (ASM/ATGM) and/or Gravity Bombs,
Submarine based Ballistic and Cruise Missiles
Land Based Ballistic and Cruise missiles will either be deployed in Rail/Road Mobile Launchers and/or kept in Hardened Silos in Nuclear Ready State. Nuclear Ready State is when Indian Strategic Forces Command can launch Nuclear Weapons in less than 15 minutes. This will include any weapon system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead in this time frame. In this state, Nuclear payload is already mated to delivery systems such as missiles, aircrafts, etc. Missiles in turn will be fuelled and ready with active tracking and guidance system.
Short Range Missiles system like Prithvi with (Range 300–500kms) will be kept Nuclear Ready and deployed close to border in Rail/Road Mobile Launchers.
SSBN INS Arihant which is our nuclear submarine might be carrying a few of them as it is possibly on deterrence patrol right now but again no one knows where it is not even the submarine commander who commands it. They get the coordinates where they have to patrol via ULF communication.
Medium and Long Range Missile Systems like Agni I, II, II, IV, V will be kept Nuclear Ready and deployed both close to border and spread across Indian Landmass mainly in Hardened Silos and also in Rail/Road Mobile launchers.
Aircraft based ALCM, ASM and Gravity bombs will be kept in Nuclear Ready state and also in storage. Some of the Fighter jets like Mirage 2000, Sukhoi SU30MKI or even Jaguars will be kept mission ready with Missiles and Gravity Bombs within reach for launch in less than 15mins.
Though definite numbers are unclear, India has the ability to deliver approximately 48 nuclear gravity bombs via the Mirage 2000H and Jaguar IS/IB. With the original nuclear bombers getting old, India might be looking for a modern fighter-bomber that could take over the air-based strike role in the future. In 2016, France sold India 36 Rafale aircraft, which are used for the nuclear mission in the French Air Force. Similarly, India could potentially convert the aircraft to serve the same role within the Indian Air Force.
It is also reported that India is developing a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) called the Nirbhay, that looks similar to the American tomahawk. This missile has the potential to be both air- and sea-based deployable.
Submarine based Ballistic and Cruise Missiles will be always be in Nuclear Ready state to be launched in less than 15 minutes.
Apart from this, some of Nuclear weapons will be in storage in various parts of India and also in various stages of readiness like Missile ready & payload ready but not mated. In other case Missile and payload are mated but fueling needs to be undertaken which can take as long as 10 hours or so…
India requires its Nuclear Weapons to be in Nuclear ready state due to its “No First Use” policy. In case of Nuclear Strike or even a Missile strike, India needs to have weapons which can be launched before enemy can take out India’s Nuclear option.
Having said that, India’s Nuclear Doctrine has changed a lot overtime ever since A.B. Vajpayee govt. came out with “No First Use” to appease US and other Western Powers after series of covert Nuclear Tests.
In a 2010 speech, then national security advisor Shivshankar Menon described India’s nuclear doctrine as “no first use against non-nuclear weapon states”. This implied that a first use by India of a nuclear weapons was possible against another nuclear-armed competitor. At the time, the shift was meant to be subtle but deliberate. Moreover, erstwhile Defence Minister gave his personal opinion about No First Use saying why we should India be bound by it when our enemies are not.
To cut long story short, ever since Modi govt. came to power official position is “No First Use”. However, in reality new Nuclear Doctrine Says, India has junked its “No First Use” policy. New policy firmly states, India is open to “Pre-Emptive Strike”against Nuclear/Biological/Chemical Weapons armed states if “Credible Intelligence and/or Imminent Threat” is present/available which suggests “Immediate and Imminent” use of Nuclear, Biological or Chemical weapons on civilians on Indian territory and/or on Indian Armed Forces anywhere. The retaliation will be swift, assured and designed to inflict unacceptable destruction with extreme prejudice.
The new statement is designed to warn Pakistan about its plans of using Tactical Nuclear Devices on advancing Indian Forces on Pakistan land. Mind you Pakistan has been developing Tactical Nuclear Weapons calling then low yield battlefield weapons. It is also designed to challenge China’s superiority with regards to Nuclear Weapons.