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How India Can Go After Pakistan's Nuclear Stockpile

While Pakistan is now modifying its F16s to carry nuclear weapons and, if reports are to be believed, it has a marginally larger stockpile than India; it is at a disadvantage when it comes to nuclear weapon delivery.

Uday Singh Rana | News18.com

Updated:October 7, 2017, 1:43 PM IST
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How India Can Go After Pakistan's Nuclear Stockpile
A photo released by Pakistan army, on November 17, 2014, shows Pakistan army test-fires Shaheen 1A or Hatf IV ballistic missile, a nuclear capable ballistic missile with a range of 900 kilometres, days after testing a similar missile capable of hitting targets as far as 1,500 kilometres, bringing many Indian cities under its range. (Photo by Pakistan Army/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
New Delhi: Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Birender Singh Dhanoa on Thursday said “if the need arises”, the IAF had the capability to disarm Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by conducting what he called a “full-spectrum” operation. But when would such a “need” arise? What situation would cause India to strike back and how does India’s ‘no-first-use’ doctrine affect such an operation? News18 tries to answer some of these questions.

Addressing a press conference on the eve of Air Force Day, Dhanoa said, “Air Force has the capability to locate, fix and strike across the border.... We are ready to take on any challenge." Dhanoa’s statement came in response to questions on Pakistan’s claim of possessing short-range nuclear weapons to counter the “cold start doctrine adopted by the Indian Army”.

According to reports, Pakistan has stored its nuclear stockpiles in at least six different locations. These are reportedly in Akro (Sindh), Gujranwala (Punjab), Khuzdar (Balochistan), Pano Aqil (Sindh), and Sargodha (Punjab). Except for the base in Khuzdar, all bases are in provinces that share a border with India.

A report by US-based experts Hans M Kristensen and Robert S Norris released last year estimated that Pakistan had anywhere between 130-140 nuclear weapons, as opposed to India’s estimated stockpile of 110-120 weapons. The report also suggested that Pakistan had modified its F16 fighter jets, of which it reportedly has 76, to carry nuclear weapons.

Unlike Pakistan, India has a ‘no-first-use’ policy on nuclear warfare. This means that India has vowed never to be the aggressor in a nuclear war but will retaliate with full force if weapons of mass destruction were used against it. So does that mean India does not necessarily need nuclear weapons to destroy Pakistan’s stockpile?

Air Vice Marshall (Retd) Manmohan Bahadur said, “Obviously, you can’t go full-Rambo and pull out their nuclear weapons through a non-nuclear operation. I think what the Chief meant when he made those comments was that India was tracking Pakistan’s stockpile and would continue to do so in both peace times and war times. No country in the world, not even the US, has the capability to perform what is called a ‘Splendid Nuclear Strike’ – a strike that would entirely obliterate a country. But we can easily destroy the Pakistani arsenal if we are able to track it effectively.”

So how does the no-first-use policy affect India’s response? According to Bahadur, “Pakistan has coined a term called Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TWNs), which it claims it can use for strategic advantage in war. This term is absolute sense. There is no such thing as a ‘tactical or regular nuclear weapon. A nuke is a nuke. The correct term for these TNWs would be battlefield ballistic missiles. The only difference is in yield. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 20 Kiloton while this one will be much lighter. Naturally, the blast radius would also be limited to the battlefield”

A “TNW” or Battlefield Ballistic Missile is meant to be used not on civilian targets but on military targets. Pakistan, Bahadur said, plans to use these low-yield missiles on Indian troops if India were to cross a so-called “Red Line”. He added, “When they say Red Line, they probably mean a scenario in which Indian troops manage to enter Pakistani territory or are close to breaking up Pakistan like we did in 1971. Of course, India has made it clear that a so-called TNW is a nuclear weapon and it would make Pakistan a nuclear aggressor. If such a situation ever arises, India would then be free to retaliate with full force and obliterate the Pakistani stockpiles.”

While Pakistan is now modifying its F16s to carry nuclear weapons and, if reports are to be believed, it has a marginally larger stockpile than India; it is at a disadvantage when it comes to nuclear weapon delivery.

Pakistan relies heavily on surface-to-surface missiles and even though it may have nuclear capable F16s, the size of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fleet is less than half that of the IAF. PAF reportedly has around 800 active fighter aircraft in total while the IAF has over 1,700. Pakistan Navy does not have any known nuclear capable submarines.

“They (Pakistan) are also trying to modify some of their ships to carry nuclear weapons. However, ships will be very ineffective when it comes to stealth missions. We will easily be able to detect their ships through our satellites,” Bahadaur said.

India, on the other hand, can deliver nuclear weapons through air, surface and submarines. The IAF would become very critical in such a scenario. IAF has three different aircraft - Sukhois, Mirages and Jaguars – that have the capability to carry nukes. These aircraft make up around 425 fighter jets in the IAF, although it is unclear how many can carry a nuclear payload.

Bahadur said, “Because of our no-first-use policy, we are not on 24X7 trigger alert. However, in the event of a nuclear confrontation, India would have ample warning signs. A nuclear buildup will take time before the threat is immediate. But once we have activated our nukes, it would be a matter of minutes before our missiles reach any point in Pakistan.”
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