Managing Indian nuclear forces

Secured a copy of Vice Admiral Verghese Koithara’s book — ‘Managing India’s Nuclear Forces’.
The only original stuff — and the core of the book — is in the penultimate two chapters dealing with nuclear force management and operationalization. His  implication, however, that the Indian nuclear forces are stuck somewhere between “launch readiness” and “combat preparedness” while, perhaps, correct within the theoretical parameters of his choosing, surely does not mirror reality in that the Strategic Fores Command (SFC) must surely  have worked out the more practical aspects of weapons use.
I was particularly struck, moreover, by how closely Koithara adheres to the official US viewpont, now subscribed to by the powerful non-proliferation lobby in Washington as well that India does not need (1) to resume nuclear testing, (2) proven, reliable, and upgraded, nuclear and thermonuclear armaments, (3) a force elastic enough to keep pace with the qualitative and quantitative Chinese strategic force augmentation (continue to keep the deterrence minimal, he advises, in effect), and (4) delivery options, such as MIRVs, etc!!
Wonder, in the event, whether and how seriously to take the VADM.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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12 Responses to Managing Indian nuclear forces

  1. Sasikumar says:

    Mr Karnad the official line of India’s nuclear force force management is centered on tripartite division between BARC (nuclear core), DRDO (trigger) and armed forces (delivery system). With the coordination required from three different organizations (mostly at loggerheads) what more practical aspects of weapons use can be programmed if it is not between launch readiness and combat preparedness?

    Will India give control of nuclear weapons to the members of the armed forces once INS Arihant and its SLBM’s are inducted?


    • Not sure why my response to the first part of your response is in the reply to Satyaki below!

      Yes, SSBNs will, willy-nilly, enjoy a measure of operational freedom other systems don’t in the Indian scheme of things, subject of course, to the launch code authorization.

  2. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Indeed a number of elements in and out of the establishment (or at least its periphery) seem to mouth the U.S. line. Hopefully, better sense prevails. The Agni V test does give us such hope: the U.S. line would be Agni II is enough. Also, when tech. development is carried out, there hopefully is an inexorable momentum towards enhancing the deterrent (so that the best the “masters voices” could do is slow things down)…

    What do you think ?

    • On the division of deterrence labour — well put! The issue Koithara explores, however, is not that but using advanced Western metrics, the Indian arsenal with all its support structures passes muster. By his reckoning, they plainly don’t. Then again, using the same sort of metrics would our conventional military pass the test? I don’t think so, and there’s the rub. Nobody says the Indian armed forces cannot do fairly effectively what they are supposed to do. It is all a matter of rate of ingestion of newer and newer technology, and that as I said in an earlier piece is where the Indian military has always lagged behind.

  3. Jagdish says:

    Rear Adm Raja Menon was an original hawk on the issue of a credible and proven TN arsenal with MIRV delivery vehicles in the triad. He changed his views somewhere along the IUNCA periods to accept an MCD with an emphasis on the minimum, only to come back to accepting that maybe we do after all need such a credible force. Gurmeet Kanwal has a paper circa 2000 with Adm. Menon’s estimated numbers, which came closest to your estimates at that time.

    Maybe you should work your magic on the VADM too.

    • Yes, and he wrote a glowing review of my big book in ‘Seminar’. But then he began to be invited to Sandia and by Andrew Marshall to his gaming sessions! I attended one of them in Washington, presented Marshall with a copy of my book, which he seemed to be aware of. So, assuming Menon was in the least influenced by my writings, it was apparently a transient influence! And yes, have established contact with VADM Koithara, facilitated by ADM Arun Prakash. We’ll likely meet early-Oct.

  4. Maverick says:

    Dear Dr. Karnad,

    I am sorry but I want to be absolutely sure I understand what you are saying –

    Are you suggesting that the overlap between Admiral Koithara’s views and those of some non-proliferation faction in the US is anything more than a coincidence?

    Best Regards

    • I am merely pointing out the similarity, that’s all.

      • Maverick says:

        Dear Dr. Karnad,

        Thank you for your clarification.

        I subscribe to similar views at the present time, but unlike others who write books and give speeches at public functions, I tend to keep silent. It offers me the flexibility of changing my views at any point of my choosing.

        I subscribe to similar views currently because I see no harm in doing so. I feel there may even be a benefit in subscribing to such views. If there is no benefit, I have less to invest in abandoning the views, should I sense a shift in the ground situation.

        Given how sensitive this issue is, I would say that in the absence of clear irrefutable evidence that the ground situation has *not* changed, I would be driven by a strong desire to say that a detrimental change has occurred in the situation and to shift my thinking.

        If the international community does not want to create an environment of transparency that supports the negation of doubt in my mind, then there is no reason for me to continue to thinking the way I do. I generally don’t feel compelled to communicate a shift in my views to others especially in an environment where I feel they are not being very communicative.

        In that sense, words like “credible”, “potent” etc… have very different and context sensitive meanings to me and the exact context in which I use these words is known only to me unless I choose to let others into the information I possess. I also see little point in trying to bring everyone around to my sense of what these words mean as it really doesn’t matter to me that much what others think on this issue.

        You might even say that all influences on my thinking in this matter are always transient and I have mastered the art of inventing a morality of the moment that justifies my ends. I am pliable but fundamentally indifferent to political fashion, fickle, consistently inconsistent, ever willing to talk endlessly about anything under the sun but answerable only to myself.

        And I have buckets full of apathy to offer anyone who laments this state of affairs.

        Am I the stuff of nightmares?

        Best Regards,

  5. Suyash says:

    Why *does* India need MIRV? What prompted the initial design and development of MIRV tech in the US and in Russia? Do those same considerations apply to us? Or do we need MIRV because of some other reason?

  6. Jagdish says:

    Retd. COSC Arun Prakash would be a potent and credible voice to argue for a credible deterrent within our dense decision structure. Another idea is to ensure that the leadership within the BJP is sold on the matter of wielding a potent and credible force. This way whenever they get to power, the chances of such an outcome would be high, just like ABV surprised many, and should not have been a surprise, as the promise to test was in the BJP election manifesto of 1998.

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