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Indian Nuke Delivery Methods Seen Falling Behind China, Pakistan

India's means of delivering nuclear weapons in an attack are judged by foremost experts to be substantially less robust than Pakistan and China, the newspaper Mail Today reported on Tuesday.

Prominent nuclear-weapon experts Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris in a July analysis for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded that New Delhi's main method for delivering a nuclear attack is still its fighter aircraft. Comparatively, Islamabad and Beijing each possess significant numbers of nuclear-capable fielded missiles.

India's Agni 1 and Agni 2 ballistic missiles, "despite being declared operational, both have reliability issues that have delayed their full operational service," the analysts asserted.

Other versions of the nuclear-ready missile -- the Agni 3, 4, and 5 -- are still in the development stage. Furthermore, "the bulk of the Indian ballistic missile force is comprised of three versions of Prithvi missiles, but only one of these versions, the army's Prithvi 1, has a nuclear role."

The cumbersome Prithvi 1 has a flight distance of only about 93 miles and a lengthy prep time before firing.

Former Lt. Gen. V. R. Raghavan disputed the conclusions of Kristensen and Norris. "The Agni 1 is operational and tested, and Agni 2 and 3 are almost there and all three can be used if necessary," he said.

The absence of detailed public information on India's nuclear arsenal "is part of our posture of [strategic] ambiguity," the retired general said.

Retired Adm. Arun Prakash, however, said there was reason for cynicism about official Indian military claims of Agni series progress.

"We have to rely on the word of our [Defense Research and Development Organization/Atomic Energy Department] scientists as far as performance, reliability, accuracy and yield of missiles and nuclear warheads are concerned," the former naval head. "Unfortunately, hyperbolic claims coupled with dissonance within the ranks of our scientists have eroded their credibility."

Norris and Kristensen "estimate that India has produced 80-100 nuclear warheads." The experts projected last year that Pakistan "has 90-110 nuclear weapons."

Though Islamabad's nuclear deterrent is also comprised primarily of aircraft-fired weapons, missiles acquired from China including the Shaheen 1, Ghauri and Ghaznavi have given it a greater strategic depth. Notably, the country's tactical high-altitude Nasr missile can be used in combat situations against Indian troops. Islamabad is also finishing work on two new land-hugging missiles -- the Raad and Babur.

India is hastening to increase its nuclear platform delivery capabilities. The country's first domestically produced ballistic missile submarine, the INS Arihant, is reportedly almost ready to begin sea testing. Once the vessel is inducted, New Delhi will possess the full nuclear triad -- the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by air, land and sea.

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