As India spearheads to hedge against China as a net security provider for the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region, the Indian force buildup seems to be more alarming for states within and beyond Asia. India’s defence build-up generates legitimate concerns about its investment in the nuclear weapon program.

Empirical evidence suggests the investment of  U.S. $81.4 billion in 2022 alone on Indian defence spending, ranking it as the world’s third-largest weapon manufacturer falling behind the U.S. and Russia in the row. 

India is accumulating a range of platforms compatible with the posturing that rests on highly expensive long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), anti-satellite weapons (ASAT), and hypersonic and supersonic cruise missiles.

An array of India’s battlefield and long-range batteries are positioned either towards China or Pakistan while the long-range platform i.e., the Agni-V (5500 km+), impending Agni-VI (8000-12000 km) and Surya (12000-16000 km) class missiles are prepared to meet goals beyond Asia. India’s Agni series missiles are canister-based and a ready platform mated with warheads with increased survivable ability against a retaliatory blow. The Agni category of the missile system is armoured with a BMD Shield and Russian-supplied regiments of the S-400 air defence system.

India is additionally building a fleet of six nuclear attacks (SSNs) and six ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to gain assured global striking capability. India has already launched three SSBNs i.e., INS Arihant, INS Arighat, and the submersible ballistic nuclear submarine called S-4. India’s sea-based nuclear-capable ballistic missiles comprise Dhanush (350 km), K-15 (750 km), K-4 (3500 km), and K-5 (5000-6000 km – still under development).

Similarly, cruise missiles such as BrahMos (290 km) and Nirbhay (1000 km) can be mated with SSNs. However, the INS Arihant (commissioned in 2016) is the only operational SSBN that can transport twelve K-15 (750 km range) or four K-4 (3500 km range) class missiles whereas the INS Arighat with a similar missile capacity is expected to be inducted into the naval mission soon. The S-4 (launched in 2021) is superior to the preceding two and can transport twenty-four K-15 or eight K-4 missiles. The fourth SSBN with features similar to that of the S-4 is experiencing sea and weapon trials to be commissioned while S-5 SSBN is also under development.

More so, in 2019, India stuck down a U.S. $3 billion deal with Russia to lease nuclear-powered SSNs (the Akula class submarine, Chakra III) which will be released by 2025. India has planned to obtain six SSN submarines for U.S. $12 Billion.  INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, India’s two aircraft carriers can embrace more than 35 of these aircraft. The Indian Navy has announced that it plans to develop a third aircraft carrier of the Vikrant class to expand its deck space.

India procured 26 Rafale-Marine nuclear-capable aircraft from France to mitigate its air inferiority.  These developments are clear indications of India’s intentions to project power beyond Asia.

India has been swiftly progressing in its space program. This country has launched a total of 62 satellite systems, 25 of which are military-led satellites. Additionally, India test-fired PDV-MKII as an ASAT missile, becoming the fourth such country to terminate low earth orbit satellite systems. India seems to be aggressively achieving offensive counter-space capabilities, i.e., Directed Energy Weapons that provide India with a strategic advantage over any NATO country.

The Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) successfully test-fired the BrahMos hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV) in 2020 with Russian assistance. The HSTDV carries the potential to infiltrate the missile defences of adversaries, thereby offering Indian strategic dominance in the region. This advanced technology gives India capabilities to project power beyond Asia.

India further necessitates a considerable stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium (WGP) and highly enriched uranium (HEU) to propel its triad, thermonuclear tests and build more warheads. Certain estimates suggest that India possesses 150 warheads, but this number may vary as its ambitions grow high to project power in the future. India’s current stockpile of WGP has been estimated to be around 700 kilograms, which seems enough for the production of 138 to 213 nuclear warheads.  India aims to construct at least one more plutonium production reactor, and it has a sizeable stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium (RGP) that has been separated from un-safeguarded heavy-water power reactors.

The Challakere nuclear city project under the oversight of DRDO and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, is amassing enough fissile material for the expected detonation of thermonuclear weapons.

The project is prophesied to become the largest military-run compound of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories, and weapons and aircraft-testing facilities in the subcontinent. The project is expected to include a Special Material Enrichment Facility that will enrich uranium for various purposes. The facility’s capacity could exceed 100,000 Separative Work Units per year, producing over 0.3 tonnes of HEU with an enrichment level of 90%, which is weapons-grade.

The Indian nuclear program undoubtedly is growing fast not on capability-based planning but rather with ambitious aims to project power beyond Asia. Considering India as a balancer against China while disregarding its power projection ambitions laced with emerging offensive posturing may not be free of significant security risks for states within and/or beyond Asia.

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