In February 2013, I had warned about the China-Pakistan-North Korea “rogue triad testing an FBF (fusion boosted fission) device at the North Korean test site in the Hamyongg Mountain range in the northeast of that country. I had referred to the fact that the Punggye complex at the site, complete with the instrumentation bunker, closely resembled the Ras Koh complex in the Chagai Hills. And the extreme likelihood of China transferring the tritium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) needed for the device designed by Pakistani scientists and vetted by Chinese nuclear weaponeers, by road across the mountainous border with North Korea in the Jiangsu province to avoid aerial detection. I had said that that the 30KT yield recorded by sensors of the pure FBF device actually proved better than the Indian S-1 hydrogen test in 1998. (See “https://bharatkarnad.com/2013/02/08/rogue-triad-and-h-bomb-tests/ and https://bharatkarnad.com/2013/02/12/nokopak-h-bomb-test-superior-to-indian-s-1/).
The rogue triad is now upping its game. There is now evidence of a new angled deep tunnel being bored in the Hamyongg mountains to best buffer shock waves in rocky stratum, and suggests preparations for a thermonuclear test. If it succeeds, Pakistan will have access to bonafide two-stage thermonuclear weapons tested by the nuclear outlaw North Korea on its territory, and hence attracting no sanctions or other other harsh reaction. China is in the top tier and immune to American pressures. And it will achieve for the Pakistan Army something it has been pushing the Pak N-weapons establishment quickly to attain — equalization with India, and bridging the remaining qualitative gap with India — this even though, post-1998 moratorium on testing, the Indian thermonuclear weapon is more fiction than fact in that some fundamental design problems relating, for instance, to the radiation channel remain. These are amenable to solutions worked on with computational means, but the rejigged design still needs to be proved and its performance cannot be verified except with a battery of new open-ended testing of fusion designs incorporating the engineering and other changes.
And new tests is what GOI — advised by R Chidambaram who has stayed on as S&T adviser to PM and continues to misguide the Indian govt about the non-necessity of new tests — is not permitting, fearful that it will upset the applecart of the N-deal with Washington and sink Indo-US “strategic” relations, not that this country has gained much from the special relationship with the US.
In any case, Delhi, I suppose, won’t wake up or do anything meaningful, until the Special Plans Division, Chaklala, announces fusion weapons in its armoury and announces their yield range and their raison d’etre, as Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, longtime SPD head, did vis a vis tactical nukes at the 2015 Carnegie event. The slumbering-lumbering Indian nuclear weapons programme will be caught in a catch-up cycle which it has been trapped in since J. Nehru failed to test and weaponize after reaching the weapons threshold with the plutonium reprocessing plant in March 1964 and ten years later when Indira Gandhi refused to conduct further tests after the single 1974 test, being deterred, for political reasons, from going ahead and weaponizing. It will then be outclassed in a comprehensive way by its Pakistani counterpart. In this scenario of design-wise flawed, untested, and potentially nonfunctioning Indian thermonuclear weapons, the incomparable delivery systems in the Indian Agni missiles will be able to carry the nation’s security interests only so far. This will be the outcome because GHQ, Rawalpindi-qua-Pak govt, has always taken nuclear security more seriously than the strategically confused, fog-brained, nuclear deterrence illiterate, Indian government.
This is not turning out well for India.