Pakistan & China ahead in nukes

Pakistan continues to be slightly ahead of India in the number of nuclear warheads, while China has more than double the quantity, but the Indian defence establishment remains confident of its growing strategic deterrence capability.

China now possesses 320 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan has 160 as compared to 150 of India, says the latest assessment of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released on Monday. The SIPRI report on “world nuclear forces” comes at a time when India is grappling with a major troop confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. The 778-km Line of Control, in turn, remains volatile with daily exchanges of heavy shelling between India and Pakistan.

But Indian defence sources say “simplistic bean counting of warheads” is of little relevance. India is continuing to progressively modernise its nuclear arsenal, with the emphasis being on “assured, effective and swift second-strike capability” for robust deterrence, they said.

Towards this end, after the long-standing “land vectors” (700-km Agni-I to the over 5,000-km Agni-V ballistic missiles) and “air vectors” (Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighters jury-rigged to deliver nuclear gravity bombs), India is now slowly but steadily strengthening the third leg of its nuclear triad (N-triad). The country’s second nuclear-powered submarine with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, INS Arighat, is on course to becoming operational after the first one, INS Arihant, undertook its first deterrence patrol in late-2018.

The SIPRI report, on its part, said the US and Russia with 5,800 and 6,375 nuclear warheads respectively, together account for over 90% of the estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons at the beginning of 2020.

Arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states – France (290), UK (215), Israel (90) and North Korea (30-40), apart from China, Pakistan and India — are considerably smaller. “But all these states are either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so,” said SIPRI.

Acknowledging that there were low or varying levels of transparency about the status of nuclear arsenals, SIPRI said, “The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide little information about the status or size of their arsenals.”

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