In an interesting Meet on “Revising the N-doctrine”hosted by the Foundation for Integrated National Security headed by Lt Gen DB Shekatkar, former chairman, AEC, Anil Kakodkar, and SK Sikka ex-N weapons group, maintained that there was no need whatsoever for renewed explosive testing if, per Sikka, one has only “evolutionary” weapons in mind to develop rather than “revolutionary” weapons, which will require new tests. Further, Kakodakar mentioned in an aside to me, that simulation and hydronuclear tests, etc. can, more than adequately, replace actual testing. He also denied — and this is a digression — that at least during his tenure in office CAT, Indore, where the Indian Inertial Confinement Fusion unit is in great disrepair, was in fine fettle, when actually owing to active discouragement, deliberate under-funding, and lack of interest, the ICF had, when Chidambaram headed the DAE 20 years back, already slid into a state of rack and ruin. ICF is integral to fashioning new thermonuclear weapons w/o testing by facilitating miniature fusion explosions using a multitude of laser beams. The most talented scientists in Indore were hounded out, at least one of whom that I know, is right now packing his bags to re-locate to Beijing where he is promised oodles of money, a brand new lab, and a select team of bright local scientists to aid him in his researches in complex networks and similar cutting edge areas!
But to revert to the theme of this post, Sikka during lunch explained to me that in-built scalability in the nuclear and thermonuclear weapons designs tested in 1998 and enhanced simulation techniques together have made testing redundant, and referred to the correlation between the decline in testing generally with the phenomenal rise in computing speeds. He said — and this astonished me — that based on the 1998 data Indian designers could even design “yield-dialed” weapons by, as Sikka said, simply reducing/increasing the fissile material and changing the mass of chemical explosives to set off the fission implosion in the first stage.
In the formal session where a fairly large number of serving military officers were present (perhaps, because of Gen Shekatkar’s proximity to defence minister Manohar Parrikar), I evinced grave doubts about India’s deterrence based on untested weapons and intent to carry on without N-testing by staying, as Kakodkar said, within the limits of the N- deal and other restrictive agreements signed with the US and other states. More worryingly, he was of the view that the empirical data from the six tests conducted so far by India and enhanced analytics (simulation, high computing speeds) were sufficient to preempt testing.
As evidence of how closely the Indian military thinking hews to the reigning political view however unstrategic, were the statements made by two recently retired military officers on one of the panels. The army man (LtG Ravi Dastane) talked up the virtues of not “rocking the nuclear boat”; the naval person (RADM S Shrikhande), more sensible, nevertheless mentioned shaping a “minimum deterrent” for a 2-front N-war w/o outlining the force structure he had in mind.
In an offline conversation, Kakodkar revealed to me that the Meghalaya uranium reserves estimated at “tens of thousand of tons”, relatively “rich” in uranium constituting some 1% of the ore, were prevented from being strip-mined by a combine of unscrupulous local politicians eager to extract/extort large sums as royalty and extraneous payments, Christian missionary orgs, and environmental NGOs. That GOI cannot at a stroke remove all hindrances at state level by declaring it a strategic resource and imperative, indicates the degree of infirm political will. Kakodkar stated that Ur is fairly abundant in Andhra but is less rich (0.5%), and that infrastructure is under construction to mine and refine Rare Earth Elements — now that China is slowly strangling RRE flow to the outside world from sources on the Tibetan plateau.
Kakodkar also disclosed that Modi’s government had approved the setting up of ten Indian designed and developed natural uranium fueled 700MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors all over the country. He was not clear where the money for these power projects would come from, and was not convincing in refuting my assertion that there’d be paucity of funds for the indigenous 700MW plants because of the priority accorded the purchase of imported American, French and Russian enriched uranium reactors by the Manmohan Singh government and now the Modi regime.