India's Mighty Nuclear Arsenal Could Kill Millions of People in a War
The land-based missile leg of the triad consists of Prithvi tactical ballistic missiles. First produced in the late 1990s, Prithvi initially had a range of just ninety-three miles, but future versions increased their range to 372 miles. Despite this, Prithvi is still firmly a tactical weapon, while the Agni I-V series of missiles, with ranges from 434 to 4,970 miles, are strategic weapons with the ability to hit foreign capitals—as well as all of China.
The third leg of the triad is new, consisting of nuclear ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) of the Arihant class. Four submarines are planned, each with the ability to carry twelve K-15 Sagarika (“Oceanic”) short-range ballistic missiles with maximum range of 434 miles, or K-4 medium-range ballistic missiles with a 2,174 mile range. Using the Bay of Bengal as a bastion and protected by assets such as India’s carrier INS Vikramaditya, the Arihant SSBNs can just barely reach Beijing.
India’s nuclear buildup has been relatively responsible, and the country’s No First Use policy should act to slow escalation of any conventional conflict into a nuclear one. As long as India’s nuclear deterrent remains credible, it should cause rational adversaries to think twice before edging to the nuclear threshold. Still, the country’s volatile relationship with Pakistan, which has no such policy, as well as its “Cold Start” blitzkrieg plan of action against its neighbor, means nuclear war cannot be ruled out.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
This first appeared earlier in the year.