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India

Biological

Last Updated: June, 2015

India has ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and pledges to abide by its obligations. There is no clear evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that directly points toward an offensive BW program. India has defensive biological warfare (BW) capabilities and has conducted research on countering various diseases. [1] India also has an extensive and advanced dual-use pharmaceutical industry.

Capabilities

New Delhi possesses the scientific capability and infrastructure to launch an offensive BW program, but does not appear to have chosen to do so. In terms of delivery, India also possesses the capability to produce aerosols and has numerous potential delivery systems ranging from crop dusters to sophisticated ballistic missiles. However, no information exists in the public domain suggesting interest by the Indian government in delivery of biological agents by these or any other means.

History

Since ratification of the BTWC on 15 July 1974, India has sought to improve its capabilities in biotechnology, largely in a peaceful capacity. India has a well-developed biotechnology infrastructure that utilizes well-trained scientists experienced with infectious diseases and numerous pharmaceutical production facilities and bio-containment laboratories (including labs at Biosafety Levels 3 and 4). In October 2002, Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam asserted that India “will not make biological weapons. It is cruel to human beings..." [2]

Some of India's facilities are dedicated to developing defensive measures to combat biological attacks, and these same facilities potentially could be repurposed to provide offensive agents as well. India’s biodefense industry is centered at the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and its primary lab, the Defense Research and Development Establishment (DRDE), is located in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. [3]

The DRDE is the primary establishment for studies in toxicology, biochemical pharmacology, and the development of antibodies against several bacterial and viral agents. Work here centers on countering disease threats such as anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, plague, smallpox, viral hemorrhage fever, and botulism. [4] Additionally, the Indian government has established nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare directorates in the armed services, as well as an inter-services coordination committee to monitor the program. The Indian Army has further established an NBC cell at Army Headquarters to study the effects of NBC warfare. In 2003, the DRDO turned over India’s first indigenously produced NBC reconnaissance vehicle to the Indian army. [5]

India has made substantial efforts to prepare its military force for a biological attack. In December 1998, India began to train its medical personnel to deal with the eventualities of such an attack. In 2001, India increased the scope of its countermeasures capability after the Indian Postal Department received 17 "suspicious" letters believed to contain Bacillus anthracis spores. Though a number of individuals and institutions received envelopes containing white powder, none ultimately tested positive for any spores, and the series of incidents is thought to have been a hoax. [6] However, a Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) laboratory was established at the Institute of Preventive Medicine to provide guidance in preparing the Indian government for a biological attack. [7] B. anthracis is one of many pathogens studied at the institute, which also examines pathogens causing tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis B, rabies, yellow fever, Lassa fever, Ebola, and plague. However, representatives of the Indian Army's Medical Corps have publicly expressed reservations that Indian hospitals are adequately prepared for events arising from biological attacks. [8] India’s Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), originally established to defend heavy industry, transportation hubs, nuclear facilities and the like, has also developed the ability to deploy specially-trained first responders to the scene of a nuclear or biological attack. [9]

In January 2003, the Indian government announced changes in India's nuclear use doctrine and stated that the new posture allows India to "retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons" in the event of a major biological or chemical attack against India or Indian forces anywhere. [10] During this year, Indian security agencies also became concerned that terrorist groups could make use of ricin to launch biological attacks. These concerns grew after the discovery that al-Qaeda training manuals trained terrorists in the production and use of toxins such as ricin. In view of the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2002, an Indian parliamentary committee also considered plans for underground bunkers to protect members of parliament from a nuclear and biological attack. In the same month as the attack against the Indian parliament, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes also indicated that “the government has initiated necessary steps to ensure protection from a nuclear and bio-attack.” [11] In an apparent follow-up, Home Minister Shivraj Patil indicated in August 2004 that Indian scientists were formulating a response to potential biological, chemical, and other non-conventional forms of terrorism.

BW-Related Export Controls

Although not a member of the Australia Group, India has stringent export control regulations outlined in the Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technologies (SCOMET) guidelines, India's national export product control list that identifies goods, technologies and services subject to dual- use licensing requirements. [12] However, the SCOMET list does not encompass all dual-use items present on the Australia Group dual-use control list. Most notably the SCOMET list does not include P3 or P4 containment facilities (equivalent to BSL3 or BSL4 labs), fermenters, centrifugal separators, cross flow filtration equipment, freeze-drying equipment, aerosol inhalation chambers, and spraying/flogging systems. [13] In 2003, the U.S. sanctioned two Indian companies charged with violating Indian government regulations by supplying dual-use plant equipment to Iraq (during the Saddam Hussein era), for that country's alleged chemical and biological weapons programs. [14]

Recent Developments & Current Status

India's biotechnology industry is rapidly expanding through its extensive and advanced dual-use pharmaceutical industry. Ensuring the security and standardization of the institutions and the facilities that handle biological materials remains a challenge. In January 2014, U.S. Food and Drug Administration representatives carried out a week-long inspection of a major pharmaceuticals complex, noting that quality control and the microbiology labs were in need of improvement. [15]

On 3 June 2015, India and the United States signed a new 10-year defense framework agreement, which includes provisions to work cooperatively to develop defense capabilities, including “a lightweight protective suit effective in chemical and biological hazard environments.” [16]

Sources:
[1] In 2012, the State Department reported that India did not engage in activities prohibited by the BWC, and therefore was not included in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 reports. U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," June 2015, www.state.gov; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," July 2014, www.state.gov; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," July 2013, www.state.gov; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," 2012, www.state.gov; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," August 2011, www.state.gov.
[2] "India Not to Make Biological Weapons: President," Press Trust of India, 28 October 2002, via www.lexis-nexis.com.
[3] Basrur, Rajesh M., Joseph, Mallika, "Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Threats: A Case Study on India," Landau Network- Centro Volta South Asia Security Project: Case Study 1/2007, December 2007, pp 14, www.centrovolta.it.
[4] Basrur, Rajesh M., Joseph, Mallika, "Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Threats: A Case Study on India," Landau Network- Centro Volta South Asia Security Project: Case Study 1/2007, December 2007, pp 14, www.centrovolta.it.
[5] “India's First NBC Recce Vehicle Launched in Pune,” DNA India, 22 December 2010, www.dnaindia.com.
[6] "Gov't Taking Steps to Set Up Special Courts," Times of India, 4 December 2001, www.timesofindia.indiantimes.com.
[7] "India: Tackling Bio-Terrorism: Specialized Lab Soon," The Hindu, 28 November 2001, www.thehindu.com.
[8] "In the Name of an NBC Attack," Economic Times, 10 November 2002, via www.lexis-nexis.com.
[9] “Special Force to Tackle Nuclear or Biological Attack in India,” Xinhua, 10 November 2002, news.xinhuanet.com.
[10] "India Establishes a Nuclear Command System," New York Times, 5 January 2003, www.nytimes.com.
[11] "Defense Ministry Hasn't Replied to CAG: George," Times of India, 19 December 2002, via www.lexis-nexis.com.
[12] "Guidelines for Exports of SCOMET Items," Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, http://dgft.gov.in; "India's Export Controls: Current Status and Possible Changes on the Horizon," SECURUS Strategic Trade Solutions, LLC., 10 July 2011, pp 3-4, www.securustrade.com.
[13] "Guidelines for Exports of SCOMET Items," Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, http://dgft.gov.in; "India's Export Controls: Current Status and Possible Changes on the Horizon," SECURUS Strategic Trade, LLC., 10 July 2011, pp 3-4, www.securustrade.com.
[14] "Suspected WMD-Related Dual-Use Goods and Procurement Transactions - Regime Finance and Procurement - Annex I," DCI Special Advisor Report on Iraq's WMD, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[15] "India NBC Capabilities-Biological", Jane's Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defence, 19 May 2014, www.janes.ihs.com.
[16] Jim Garamone, “U.S., India Sign 10-Year Defense Framework Agreement,” US Department of Defense, 4 June 2015, www.defense.gov.

Get the Facts on India
  • 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver permits nuclear trade even though it is not an NPT member
  • Abandoned its offensive chemical weapons (CW) program by 1997 and destroyed its entire CW stockpile by 2009
  • Developing a hypersonic cruise missile in collaboration with the Russian Federation

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.