Indian Test-Launch of MIRV Missile Latest Sign Of Emerging Nuclear Arms Race

The Indian government announced yesterday that it had conducted the first flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile “with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.

While the Indian government may rejoice in its technical achievement, the proliferation of MIRV capability is a sign of a larger worrisome trend in worldwide nuclear arsenals that is already showing signs of an emerging nuclear arms race with more de-stabilizing MIRVed missiles.

A photo of the launch published by the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) shows that the payload section has been significantly modified compared with the Agni-5 missiles used in earlier tests (see below).

A Planet Labs satellite image dated 9 March 2024 shows what appears to be an Agni-5 road-mobile launcher parked on the launch pad at the missile test launch facility on Abdul Kalam Island on India’s north-east coast. This is presumably the launcher that was used to test launch the MIRVed Agni-5 two days later (see image below).

Reports have circulated for two decades about the Indian defense industry working on MIRV technology. Some have suggested that a MIRV capability might exist for the Agni-3 medium-range missile, which is currently being fielded with the Indian army, but this has not yet been confirmed. Unconfirmed press reports also said that an Agni-P medium-range missile test in December 2021 carried two reentry vehicles to simulate MIRV capability.

The Indian government says that the latest Agni-5 test––named Mission Divyastra––was the first time that this missile had successfully demonstrated MIRV technology. If so, it will likely take several additional flight tests to complete the development of an operational MIRV capability for the Agni-5. Yet the test-launch demonstration of MIRV capability on the Agni-5 with a significantly modified payload section marks a significant development for India’s nuclear posture, and faster than we anticipated just a few years ago.

Significant integration work on Agni-5 road-mobile launchers has been visible at the Shampirpet Missile Complex northeast of Hyderabad for the past several years (see image below). The launchers appear to match the one seen on Abdul Kalam Island.

The bigger picture is that India’s pursuit of MIRV capability is a warning sign of an emerging arms race: It follows China’s deployment of MIRVs on some of its DF-5 ICBMs, Pakistan’s apparent pursuit of MIRVs for its Ababeel medium-range missile, North Korea may also be pursuing MIRV technology, and the United Kingdom has decided to increase its nuclear stockpile to enable it to deploy more warheads on its submarine-launched missiles.

This proliferation of MIRV capability follows the failure of the United States and Russia to implement the ban on MIRV on land-based missiles they agreed to in the START-II treaty in the 1990s. Instead, Russia is replacing all its single-warhead ICBMs with types capable of carrying multiple warheads, and there is a push in the United States to re-MIRV its deployed ICBMs.

The capability to deploy multiple warheads on each missile is one of the most dangerous developments of the nuclear era because it is one of the quickest ways for nuclear-armed states to significantly increase their number of deployed warheads and develop the capability to rapidly destroy large numbers of targets. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, MIRV capability resulted in a massive increase of US and Soviet nuclear arsenals. And MIRVing is a key element of the US projection that China might have 1,000 operational warheads by 2030. When the New START treaty expires in two years and the United States and Russia fail to agree to new limits on their strategic forces, both countries could upload hundreds of additional warheads onto their already deployed systems.

Although all 400 deployed US ICBMs currently only carry a single warhead, about half of them use the Mk21A reentry vehicle that is capable of carrying up to three warheads each. The United States could also upload each of its deployed Trident SLBMs with a full complement of eight warheads, rather than the current average of four to five. Meanwhile, we estimate that Russia also maintains a significant upload capacity, given that many of their ICBMs and SLBMs had been previously downloaded in order to meet New START’s central limits on deployed warheads. For both countries, these changes could be made within weeks to months for the submarines, and within months to years for the ICBMs.

The US decided to “de-MIRV” its ICBMs in recognition of the de-stabilizing effect of MIRV on land-based ballistic missiles.

A world in which nearly all nuclear-armed countries deploy significant MIRV capability looks far more dangerous than our current geostrategic environment. This is because the highly destructive capacity of MIRVs means that they are both potential first-strike weapons and juicy first-strike targets. Not only would widespread MIRV deployments likely spur on the global nuclear arms competition by deepening worst-case force posture planning, but it would dramatically reduce crisis stability by incentivizing leaders to launch their nuclear weapons quickly in a crisis (the US explicitly decided to “de-MIRV” its deployed ICBMs to “enhance crisis stability”).

One would think, despite their differences, that all nuclear-armed states should be able to agree that a MIRV-race is neither in their national security interests nor those of the rest of the world. But we’re not holding our breath.

This research was carried out with generous contributions from the New-Land Foundation, Ploughshares Fund, the Prospect Hill Foundation, Longview Philanthropy, and individual donors.

Flying Under The Radar: A Missile Accident in South Asia

A crashed Indian missile inside Pakistani territory. Image: Pakistan Air Force.

With all eyes turned towards Ukraine these past weeks, it was easy to miss what was almost certainly a historical first: a nuclear-armed state accidentally launching a missile at another nuclear-armed state.*

On the evening of March 9th, during what India subsequently called “routine maintenance and inspection,” a missile was accidentally launched into the territory of Pakistan and impacted near the town of Mian Channu, slightly more than 100 kilometers west of the India-Pakistan border.

Because much of the world’s attention has understandably been focused on Eastern Europe, this story is not getting the attention that it deserves. However, it warrants very serious scrutiny––not only due to the bizarre nature of the accident itself, but also because both India’s and Pakistan’s reactions to the incident reveal that crisis stability between South Asia’s two nuclear rivals may be much less stable than previously believed.

The Incident

Using official statements and open-source clues, it is possible to piece together a relatively complete picture of what took place on the evening of March 9th. 

At 18:43:43 Pakistan Standard Time (19:13:43 India Standard Time), the Pakistan Air Force picked up a “high-speed flying object” 104 kilometers inside Indian territory, near Sirsa, in the state of Haryana. According Air Vice Marshal Tariq Zia––the Director General Public Relations for the Pakistan Air Force––the object traveled in a southwesterly direction at a speed between Mach 2.5 and Mach 3. After traveling between 70 and 80 kilometers, the object turned northwest and crossed the India-Pakistan border at 18:46:45 PKT. The object then continued on the same northwesterly trajectory until it crashed near the Pakistani town of Mian Channu at 18:50:29 PKT. 

Tweet from @1stIndiaNews indicating that a “tremendous explosion” was heard at approximately 19:15 IST at the city of Sri Ganganagar near the India-Pakistan border. This time and location adds a data point to interpreting the flight path of the missile.

According to Pakistani military officials in a March 10th press conference, 3 minutes and 46 seconds of the object’s total flight time of 6 minutes and 46 seconds were within Pakistani airspace, and the total distance traveled inside of Pakistan was 124 kilometers. 

Annotated map of the missile’s flight path provided by Pakistani military officials to media on 10 March 2022.

In a press conference, Pakistani military officials stated that the object was “certainly unarmed” and that no one was injured, although noted that it damaged “civilian property.” 

Although the crash site has not been confirmed and official photos include very few useful visual signatures, observation of local civilian social media activity indicates that a likely candidate is the Bakhshu Makhan Hotel, just outside of Mian Channu (30°27’6.40″N, 72°24’10.87″E). One video of the crash site posted to Twitter includes a shot of a uniquely-colored blue building with a white setback roof on the other side of a divided highway. At least two vertical poles can be seen on the roof of the building. All of these signatures appear to match those included in images of the Bakhshu Makhan Hotel in Google Images.

The video’s caption suggests that the object that crashed was an “army aviation aircraft drone;” however, Pakistani military officials subsequently reported that the object was an Indian missile. Neither Pakistan nor India has publicly confirmed what type of missile it was; however, in a March 10th press conference, Pakistani military officials stated that “we can so far deduce that it was a supersonic missile––an unknown missile––and it was launched from the ground, so it was a surface-to-surface missile.” 

This statement, in addition to photos of the debris and other official details relating to range, speed, altitude, and flight time of the object, suggest that it was very likely a BrahMos cruise missile. 

BrahMos is a ramjet-powered, supersonic cruise missile co-developed with Russia, that can be launched from land, sea, and air platforms and can travel at a speed of approximately March 2.8. The US National Air and Space Intelligence Centre (NASIC) suggested that an earlier version of BrahMos had a range of “less than 300” kilometers, but the Indian Ministry of Defence recently announced on 20 January 2022 that it had extended the BrahMos’ range, with defence sources saying that the missile could now travel over 500 kilometres. The reported speed of the “high-speed flying object,” as well as the distance traveled, matches the publicly-known capabilities of the BrahMos cruise missile.

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s 2017 Ballistic and Cruise Missile report lists two versions of the BrahMos missile as “conventional.”

Although many Indian media outlets often describe the BrahMos as a nuclear or dual-capable system, NASIC lists it as “conventional,” and there is no public evidence to indicate that the missile can carry nuclear weapons.  

India has launched a Court of Inquiry to determine how the incident occurred; however, the Indian government has otherwise remained tight-lipped on details. In the absence of official statements, small snippets have trickled out through Indian and Pakistani media sources––prompting several questions that still need answers. 

How did the missile get “accidentally” launched? 

According to the Times of India, an audit was being conducted by the Indian Air Force’s Directorate of Air Staff Inspection at the time of the launch. As part of that audit, or possibly as part of a separate exercise, it appears that target coordinates––including mid-flight waypoints––were fed into the missile’s guidance system. According to Indian defence sources, in order to launch the BrahMos, the missile’s mechanical and software safety locks would also have had to be bypassed and the launch codes would have had to be entered into the system. 

The BrahMos does not appear to have a self-destruct mechanism––unlike India’s nuclear-armed missiles. As a result, once the missile was launched, there was no way to abort. 

Given that defence sources indicate that the missile “was certainly not meant to be launched,” it still remains unclear whether the launch was due to human or technical error. On March 11th, in its first public statement about the incident, the Indian government stated that “a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.” However, since the formal convening of a Court of Inquiry, the government has since changed its rhetoric, with Indian officials stating that “the accidental firing took place because of human error. That’s what has emerged at this stage of the inquiry. There were possible lapses on the part of a Group Captain and a few others.” Tribute India reports that there are currently four individuals under investigation. 

While this is certainly a plausible explanation for the incident, it is also worth noting that the Indian government would be financially incentivized to emphasize the human error narrative over a technical malfunction narrative. On January 28th, India concluded a $374.96 million deal with the Philippines to export the BrahMos––a deal which amounts to the country’s largest defence export contract. Additional BrahMos exports will be crucial for India to meet its ambitious defence export targets by 2025, and the negative publicity associated with a possible BrahMos technical malfunction could significantly hinder that goal. 

Did Pakistan track the missile correctly? 

In a press conference on March 10th, Pakistani military officials noted that Pakistan’s “actions, response, everything…it was perfect. We detected it on time, and we took care of it.” However, Indian military officials have publicly disputed Pakistan’s interpretation of the missile’s flight path. Pakistan announced on March 10th that the missile was picked up near Sirsa; however, Indian officials subsequently stated that the missile was launched from a location near Ambala Air Force Station, nearly 175 kilometers away. India’s explanation is likely to be more accurate, given that there is no known BrahMos base near Sirsa, but there is one near Ambala (h/t @tinfoil_globe). Indian defence sources have also suggested that the map of the missile’s perceived trajectory that the Pakistani military released on March 10th was incorrect. 

Annotated Google Earth image showing the 175 kilometer distance between the likely launch site and Pakistan’s radar pickup.

Furthermore, Pakistani officials announced on March 10th that the missile’s original destination was likely to be the Mahajan Field Firing Range in Rajasthan, before it suddenly turned and headed northwest into Pakistan. However, Indian defence sources have since suggested that the missile was not actually headed for the Mahajan Field Firing Range, but instead was “follow[ing] the trajectory that it would have in case of a conflict, but ‘certain factors’ played a role in ensuring that any pre-fed target was out of danger.” Given that the impact site was not near any critical military or political infrastructure, this could suggest that the cruise missile had its wartime mid-flight trajectory waypoints pre-loaded into the system, but its actual target had not yet been selected. If this is the case, then this targeting practice would be similar in nature to how some other nuclear-armed states target their missiles at the open ocean during peacetime––precisely in case of incidents like this one. Although the missile still landed on Pakistani territory, the fact that it did not hit any critical targets prevented the crisis from escalating. It is worth noting, however, that this would certainly not be the case if the missile had actually injured or killed anyone. 

During the March 10th press conference, Pakistani officials noted that the Pakistan Air Force did not attempt to shoot down the missile because “the measures in place in times of war or in times of escalation are different [from those] in peace time.” However, India’s challenges to Pakistan’s narrative also raise significant questions about whether the Pakistan Air Force was able to accurately track the missile correctly. If not, then this raises the possibility of miscalculation or miscommunication, and crisis stability would be seriously eroded if a similar situation occurred during a time of heightened tensions. 

Were any civilian aircraft put in danger? 

In its public statements, Pakistan has emphasized that the accidental missile launch could have put civilian flights in danger, as India did not issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) prior to launch. Governments typically issue NOTAMs in conjunction with missile tests, in order to inform civilian aircraft to avoid a particular patch of airspace during the launch window. Given that India did not issue one, a time-lapse video prepared by Flightradar24 showed that there were several civilian flights passing very close to the missile’s flight path at the time of launch. The video erroneously suggests that the missile traveled in a straight line from Ambala to Mian Channu, when it appears to have dog-legged in mid-flight; however, the video is still a useful resource to demonstrate how crowded the skies were at the time of the accident.

A screenshot of a video prepared by Flightradar24, showing that there were several civilian flights passing very close to the missile’s flight path at the time of launch.

Why was India’s response so poor? 

Given the seriousness of the incident, India’s delayed response has been particularly striking. Immediately following the accidental launch, India could have alerted Pakistan using its high-level military hotlines; however, Pakistani officials stated that it did not do so. Additionally, India waited two days after the incident before issuing a short public statement. 

India’s poor response to this unprecedented incident has serious implications for crisis stability between the two countries. According to DNA India, in the absence of clarification from India, Pakistan Air Force’s Air Defence Operations Centre immediately suspended all military and civilian aircraft for nearly six hours, and reportedly placed frontline bases and strike aircraft on high alert. Defence sources stated that these bases remained on alert until 13:00 PKT on March 14th. Pakistani officials appeared to confirm this, noting that “whatever procedures were to start, whatever tactical actions had to be taken, they were taken.”

We were very, very lucky

Thankfully, this incident took place during a period of relative peacetime between the two nuclear-armed countries. However, in recent years India and Pakistan have openly engaged in conventional warfare in the context of border skirmishes. In one instance, Pakistani military officials even activated the National Command Authority––the mechanism that directs the country’s nuclear arsenal––as a signal to India. At the time, the spokesperson of the Pakistan Armed Forces not-so-subtly told the media, “I hope you know what the NCA means and what it constitutes.” 

If this same accidental launch had taken place during the 2019 Balakot crisis, or a similar incident, India’s actions were woefully deficient and could have propelled the crisis into a very dangerous phase. 

Furthermore, as we have written previously, in recent years India’s rocket forces have increasingly worked to “canisterize” their missiles by storing them inside sealed, climate-controlled tubes. In this configuration, the warhead can be permanently mated with the missile instead of having to be installed prior to launch, which would significantly reduce the amount of time needed to launch nuclear weapons in a crisis. 

This is a new feature of India’s Strategic Forces Command’s increased emphasis on readiness. In recent years, former senior civilian and military officials have reportedly suggested in interviews that “some portion of India’s nuclear force, particularly those weapons and capabilities designed for use against Pakistan, are now kept at a high state of readiness, capable of being operationalized and released within seconds or minutes in a crisis—not hours, as had been assumed.”

This would likely cause Pakistan to increase the readiness of its missiles as well and shorten its launch procedures––steps that could increase crisis instability and potentially raise the likelihood of nuclear use in a regional crisis. As Vipin Narang and Christopher Clary noted in a 2019 article for International Security, this development “enables India to possibly release a full counterforce strike with few indications to Pakistan that it was coming (a necessary precondition for success). If Pakistan believed that India had a ‘comprehensive first strike’ strategy and with no indication of when a strike was coming, crisis instability would be amplified significantly.”

India’s recent missile accident––and the deficient political and military responses from both parties––suggests that regional crisis instability is less stable than previously assumed. To that end,  this crisis should provide an opportunity for both India and Pakistan to collaboratively review their communications procedures, in order to ensure that any future accidents prompt diplomatic responses, rather than military ones. 

Background Information:

This article was made possible with generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New-Land Foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

*[Note: This type of missile accident has apparently happened before; on 11 September 1986, a Soviet missile flew more than 1,500 off-course and landed in China. Thank you to the excellent Stephen Schwartz for the historical reference.]

Categories: Arms Controlballistic missilesDeterrenceDisarmamentIndiaNuclear WeaponsPakistan

India’s Nuclear Arsenal Takes A Big Step Forward

On 18 December 2021, India tested its new Agni-P medium-range ballistic missile from its Integrated Test Range on Abdul Kalam Island. This was the second test of the missile, the first test having been conducted in June 2021.

Our friends at Planet Labs PBC managed to capture an image of the Agni-P launcher sitting on the launch pad the day before the test took place.

Following both launches of the Agni-P, the Indian Government referred to the missile as a “new generation” nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Back in 2016, when the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) first announced the development of the Agni-P (which was called the Agni-1P at the time), a senior DRDO official explained why this missile was so special:

“As our ballistic missiles grew in range, our technology grew in sophistication. Now the early, short-range missiles, which incorporate older technologies, will be replaced by missiles with more advanced technologies. Call it backward integration of technology.”

The Agni-P is India’s first shorter-range missile to incorporate technologies now found in the newer Agni-IV and -V ballistic missiles, including more advanced rocket motors, propellants, avionics, and navigation systems.

Most notably, the Agni-P also incorporates a new feature seen on India’s new Agni-V intermediate-range ballistic missiles that has the potential to impact strategic stability: canisterization. And the launcher used in the Agni-P launch appears to have increased mobility. There are also unconfirmed rumors that the Agni-P and Agni-V might have the capability to launch multiple warheads.


“Canisterizing” refers to storing missiles inside a sealed, climate-controlled tube to protect them from the outside elements during transportation. In this configuration, the warhead can be permanently mated with the missile instead of having to be installed prior to launch, which would significantly reduce the amount of time needed to launch nuclear weapons in a crisis. This is a new feature of India’s Strategic Forces Command’s increased emphasis on readiness. In recent years, former senior civilian and military officials have reportedly suggested in interviews that “some portion of India’s nuclear force, particularly those weapons and capabilities designed for use against Pakistan, are now kept at a high state of readiness, capable of being operationalized and released within seconds or minutes in a crisis—not hours, as had been assumed.”

If Indian warheads are increasingly mated to their delivery systems, then it would be harder for an adversary to detect when a crisis is about to rise to the nuclear threshold. With separated warheads and delivery systems, the signals involved with mating the two would be more visible in a crisis, and the process itself would take longer. But widespread canisterization with fully armed missiles would shorten warning time. This would likely cause Pakistan to increase the readiness of its missiles as well and shorten its launch procedures––steps that could increase crisis instability and potentially raise the likelihood of nuclear use in a regional crisis. As Vipin Narang and Christopher Clary noted in a 2019 article for International Security, this development “enables India to possibly release a full counterforce strike with few indications to Pakistan that it was coming (a necessary precondition for success). If Pakistan believed that India had a ‘comprehensive first strike’ strategy and with no indication of when a strike was coming, crisis instability would be amplified significantly.”

For years, it was evident that India’s new Agni-V intermediate-range missile (the Indian Ministry of Defense says Agni-V has a range of up to 5,000 kilometers; the US military says the range is over 5,000 kilometers but not ICBM range) would be canisterized; however, the introduction of the shorter-range, canisterized Agni-P suggests that India ultimately intends to incorporate canisterization technology across its suite of land-based nuclear delivery systems, encompassing both shorter- and longer-range missiles. While Agni-V is a new addition to India’s arsenal, Arni-P might be intended––once it becomes operational––to replace India’s older Agni-I and Agni-II systems.

MIRV technology

It appears that India is also developing technology to potentially deploy multiple warheads on each missile. There is still uncertainty about how advanced this technology is and whether it would enable independent targeting of each warhead (using multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs) or simply multiple payloads against the same target.

The Agni-P test in June 2021 was rumored to have used two maneuverable decoys to simulate a MIRVed payload, with unnamed Indian defense sources suggesting that a functional MIRV capability will take another two years to develop and flight-test. The Indian MOD press release did not mention payloads. It is unclear whether the December 2021 test utilized decoys in a similar manner.

In 2013, the director-general of DRDO noted in an interview that “Our design activity on the development and production of MIRV is at an advanced stage today. We are designing the MIRVs, we are integrating [them] with Agni IV and Agni V missiles.” In October 2021, the Indian Strategic Forces Command conducted its first user trial of the Agni-V in full operational configuration, which was rumored to have tested MIRV technology. The MOD press release did not mention MIRVs.

If India succeeds in developing an operational MIRV capability for its ballistic missiles, it would be able to strike more targets with fewer missiles, thus potentially exacerbating crisis instability with Pakistan. If either country believed that India could potentially conduct a decapitating or significant first strike against Pakistan, a serious crisis could potentially go nuclear with little advance warning. Indian missiles with MIRVs would become more important targets for an adversary to destroy before they could be launched to reduce the damage India could inflict. Additionally, India’s MIRVs might prompt Indian decision-makers to try and preemptively disarm Pakistan in a crisis.

India’s other nuclear adversary, China, has already developed MIRV capability for some of its long-range missiles and is significantly increasing its nuclear arsenal, which might be a factor in India’s pursuit of MIRV technology. A MIRV race between the two countries would have significant implications for nuclear force levels and regional stability. For India, MIRV capability would allow it to more rapidly increase its nuclear stockpile in the future, if it so decided––especially if its plutonium production capability can make use of the unsafeguarded breeder reactors that are currently under construction.

Implications for India’s nuclear policy

India has long adhered to a nuclear no-first-use (NFU) policy and in 2020 India officially stated that there has been no change in its NFU policy. Moreover, the Agni-V test launch in October 2021 was accompanied by a reaffirmation of a “’credible minimum deterrence’ that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’.”

At the same time, however, the pledge to NFU has been caveated, watered-down, and called into question by government statements and recent scholarship. The increased readiness and pursuit of MIRV capability for India’s strategic forces could further complicate India’s adherence to its NFU policy and could potentially cause India’s nuclear adversaries to doubt its NFU policy altogether.

Given that Indian security forces have repeatedly clashed with both Pakistani and Chinese troops during recent border disputes, potentially destabilizing developments in India’s nuclear arsenal should concern all those who want to keep regional tensions below boiling point.

Background Information:

This article was made possible by generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

New NASIC Report Appears Watered Down And Out Of Date

The US Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published a new version of its widely referenced Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report.

The agency normally puts out an updated version of the report every four years. The previous version dates from 2017.

The 2021 report (dated 2020) provides information on developments in many countries but is clearly focused on China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Especially the North Korean data is updated because of the significant developments since 2017.

The most interesting new information in the updated report is probably that the new Chinese JL-3 sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Overall, however, the new report may be equally interesting because of what it does not include. There are a number of cases where the report is scaled back compared with previous versions. And throughout the report, much of the data clearly hasn’t been updated since 2018. In some places it is even inconsistent and self-contradicting.

The most significant data reduction is in the cruise missile section where the report no longer lists countries other than Russia, China, and Iran. This is a significant change from previous reports that listed a wide range of other countries, including India and Pakistan and many others that have important cruise missile programs in development. The omission is curious because the report in all ballistic missile categories includes other countries.

Cruise missile data is significantly reduced in the new NASIC report compared with the previous version from 2017. Click on image to view full size.

Other examples of reduced data include the overview of ballistic missile launches, which for some reason does not show data for 2019 and 2020. Nor is it clear from the table which countries are included.

Also, in some descriptions of missile program developments the report appears to be out of date and not update on recent developments. This includes the Russian SS-X-28 (RS-26 Rubezh) shorter-range ICBM, which the report portrays as an active program but only presents data for 2018. Likewise, the report does not mention the two additional boats being added to the Chinese SSBN fleet. Moreover, the new section with air-launched ballistic missiles only includes Russia but leaves out Chinese developments and only appears to include data up through early 2018.

Whether these omissions reflect changes in classification rules, chaos is the Intelligence Community under the Trump administration, or simply oversight is unknown.

Below follows highlights of some of the main nuclear issues in the new report.

Russian Nuclear Forces

Information about Russian ballistic and cruise missile programs dominate the report, but less so than in previous versions. NASIC says Russia currently has approximately 1,400 nuclear warheads deployed on ICBMs and SLBMs, a reduction from the “over 1,500” reported in 2017. The new number is well known from the release of New START data and is very close to the 1,420 warheads we estimated in our Russian Nuclear Notebook last year.

NASIC repeats the projection from 2017, that “the number of missiles in the Russian ICBM force will continue to decrease because of arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints….”

The statement that “Russia retains over 1,000 nuclear warheads on ICBMs” is curious, however, because would imply the SLBM force is loaded with fewer warheads than normally assumed. The warhead loading attributed to the SS-N-32 (Bulava) is 6, the number declared by Russia under the START treaty, and less than the 10 warheads that is often claimed by unofficial sources.

The new version describes continued development of the SS-28 (RS-26 (Rubezh) shorter-range ICBM suspected by some to actually be an IRBM. But the report only lists development activities up through 2018 and nothing since. The system is widely thought to have been mothballed due to budget constraints.

The cruise missile section attributes nuclear capability – or possible nuclear capability – to most of the Russian missiles listed. Six systems are positively identified as nuclear, including the Kh-102, which was not listed in the 2017 report. Two of the nuclear systems are dual-capable, including the 9M729 (SSC-8) missile the US said violated the now-abandoned INF treaty, while 3 missiles are listed as “Conventional, Nuclear Possible.” That includes the 9M728 (R-500) cruise missile (SSC-7) launched by the Iskander system, the 3M-14 (Kalibr) cruise missile (SS-N-30), and the 3M-55 (Yakhont, P-800) cruise missile (SS-N-26).

NASIC attributes nuclear capability to nine Russian land-attack cruise missiles, three of them “possible.” Click on image to view full size.

The designation of “nuclear possible” for the SS-N-30 (3M-14, often called the Kalibr even though Kalibr is strictly speaking the name of the launcher system) is curious because the Russian government has clearly stated that the missile is nuclear-capable.

Chinese Nuclear Forces

The biggest news in the China section of the NASIC report is that the new JL-3 SLBM that will arm the next-generation Type 096 SSBN will be capable of delivering “multiple” warheads and have a range of more than 10,000 kilometers. That is a significant increase in capability compared with the JL-2 SLBM currently deployed on the Jin-class SSBNs and is likely part of the reason for the projection that China’s nuclear stockpile might double over the next decade.

NASIC reports that China’s next-generation JL-3 SLBM will be capable of carrying “multiple” warheads. Click on image to view full size.

Despite this increased range, however, a Type 096 operating from the current SSBN base in the South China Sea would not be able to strike targets in the continental United States. To be able to reach targets in the continental United States, an SSBN would have to launch its missile from the Bohai Sea. That would bring almost one-third of the continental United States within range. To target Washington, DC, however, a Type 096 SSBN would still have to deploy deep into the Pacific.

The new DF-41 (CSS-20) has lost its “-X-“ designation (CSS-X-20), which indicates that NASIC considers the missile has finished development is now being deployed. A total of 16+ launchers are listed, probably based on the number attending the 2019 parade in Beijing and the number seen operating in the Jilantai training area.

The number of DF-31A and DF-31AG launchers is very low, 15+ and 16+ respectively, which is strange given the number of bases observed with the launchers. Of course, “+” can mean anything and we estimate the number of launchers is probably twice that number. Also interesting is that the DF-31AG is listed as “UNK” (unknown) for warheads per missile. The DF-31A is listed with one warhead, which suggests that the AG version potentially could have a different payload. Nowhere else is the AG payload listed as different or even multiple warheads.

The NASIC report projection for the increase in Chinese nuclear ICBM warheads that can reach the United States is inconsistent and self-contradicting. In one section (p. 3) the report predicts “the number of Chinese ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States potentially expanding to well over 200 within the next 5 years.” But in another section (p. 27), the report states that the “number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 5 years.” The projection of “well over 100” was also listed in the 2017 report, and the “well over 200” projection matches the projection made in the DOD annual report on Chinese military developments. So the authors of the NASIC might simply have forgotten to update the text.

On Chinese shorter-range ballistic missiles, the NASIC report only mentions DF-21A (CSS-5 Mod 2) as nuclear, but not the CSS-5 Mod 6 version. The Mod 6 version (potentially called DF-21E) was first mentioned in the 2016 DOD report on Chinese military developments and has been included since.

Newer missiles finally get designations: The dual-capable DF-26 is called the CSS-18, and the conventional (possibly) DF-17 is called the CSS-22. NASIC continues to list the DF-26 range as less (3,000+ km) than the annual DOD China report (4,000 km).

An in case anyone was tempted, no, none of China’s cruise missiles are listed as nuclear-capable.

Pakistani Nuclear Forces

The report provides no new information about Pakistani nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. As with several other sections in the report, the information does not appear to have been updated much beyond 2018, if at all. As such, status information should be read with caution.

The Shaheen-III MRBM is still not deployed, nor is the Ababeel MRBM that NASIC describes as a “MIRV version.” It has only been flight-tested once.

The tactical nuclear-capable NASR is listed with a range of 60 km, the same as in 2017, even though the Pakistani government has since claimed the range has been extended to 70 km.

Because the new NASIC report no longer includes data on Pakistan’s cruise missiles, neither the Babur nor the RAAD programs are described. Nor is any information provided about the efforts by the Pakistani navy to develop a submarine-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile.

Indian Nuclear Forces

Similar to other sections of the report, the data on Indian programs are tainted by the fact that some information does not appear to have been updated since 2018, and that the cruise missile section does not include India at all.

According to the report, Agni II and Agni III MRBMs are still deployed in very low numbers, fewer than 10 launchers, the same number reported in 2017. That number implies only a single brigade of each missile. But, again, it is not clear this information has actually been updated.

Nor are the Agni IV or the Agni V listed as deployed yet.

North Korean Forces

The North Korean sections are main interesting because of the inclusion of data on several systems test-launched since the previous report in 2017. This  contrasts several other data set in the report, which do not appear to have been updated past 2018. But since the North Korean long-range tests occurred in 2017, this may explain why they are included.

NASIC provides official (unclassified) range estimates for these missiles:

The Hwasong-12 IRBM range has been increased from 3,000+ km in 2017 to 4,500+ km in the new report.

On the ICBMs, the Taepo Dong 2 no longer has a range estimate. The Hwasong-13 and Hwasong-14 range estimates have been raised from the generic 5,500+ km in the 2017 report to 12,000 km and 10,000+ km, respectively, in the new report, and the new Hwasong-15 has been added with a range estimate of 12,000+ km. The warhead loading estimates for the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 are “unknown” and none of the ICBMs are listed as deployed.

On submarine-launched missiles, the NASIC report lists two: the Puguksong-1 and Pukguksong-3. Both have range estimates of 1,000+ km and the warhead estimate for the Pukguksong-3 is unknown (“UNK”). Neither is deployed. The new Pukguksong-4 paraded in October 2020 is not listed, not is the newest Pukguksong-5 displayed in early 2021 mentioned.

Additional background information:

Russian nuclear forces, 2020

Chinese nuclear forces, 2020

Status of world nuclear forces

Review of NASIC Report 2017: Nuclear Force Developments

Click on image to download copy of report. Note: NASIC later published a corrected version, available here

By Hans M. Kristensen

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) at Wright-Patterson AFB has updated and published its periodic Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report. The new report updates the previous version from 2013.

At a time when public government intelligence resources are being curtailed, the NASIC report provides a rare and invaluable official resource for monitoring and analyzing the status of ballistic and cruise missiles around the world.

Having said that, the report obviously comes with the caveat that it does not include descriptions of US, British, French, and most Israeli ballistic and cruise missile forces. As such, the report portrays the international “threat” situation as entirely one-sided as if the US and its allies were innocent bystanders, so it will undoubtedly provide welcoming fuel for those who argue for increasing US defense spending and buying new weapons.

Also, the NASIC report is not a top-level intelligence report that has been sanctioned by the Director of National Intelligence. As such, it represents the assessment of NASIC rather than necessarily the coordinated and combined conclusion of the US Intelligence Community.

Nonetheless, it’s a unique and useful report that everyone who follows international security and ballistic and cruise missile developments should consult.

Overall, the NASIC report concludes: “The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in ballistic missile capabilities to include accuracy, post-boost maneuverability, and combat effectiveness.” During the same period, “there has been a significant increase in worldwide ballistic missile testing.” The countries developing ballistic and cruise missile systems view them “as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power” that “present an asymmetric threat to US forces” and many of the missiles “are armed with weapons of mass destruction.” At the same time, “numerous types of ballistic and cruise missiles have achieved dramatic improvements in accuracy that allow them to be used effectively with conventional warheads.”

Some of the more noteworthy individual findings of the new report include:

Below I go into more details about the individual nuclear-armed states:


Russia is now more than halfway through its modernization, a generational upgrade that began in the mid/late-1990s and will be completed in the mid-2020s. This includes a complete replacement of the ICBM force (but at lower numbers), transition to a new class of strategic submarines, upgrades of existing bombers, replacement of all dual-capable SRBM units, and replacement of most Soviet-era naval cruise missiles with fewer types.

The NASIC report states that “Russian in September 2014 surpassed the United States in deployed warheads capable of reaching the United States,” referring to the aggregate number reported under the New START treaty. The report does not mention, however, that Russia since 2016 has begun to reduce its deployed strategic warheads and is expected meet the treaty limit in 2018.

ICBMs: Contrary to many erroneous claims in the public debate (see here and here) about a Russia nuclear “build-up,” the NASIC report concludes that “the number of missiles in the Russian ICBM force will continue to decrease because of arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints…” This conclusion fits the assessment Norris and I have made for years that Russia is modernizing its nuclear forces but not increasing the size of the arsenal.

The report counts about 330 ICBM launchers (silos and TELs), significantly fewer than the 400 claimed by the Russian military. The actual number of deployed missiles is probably a little lower because several SS-19 and SS-25 units are in the process of being dismantled.

The development continues of the heavy Sarmat (RS-28), which looks very similar to the existing SS-18. The lighter SS-27 known as RS-26 (Rubezh or Yars-M) appears to have been delayed and still in development. Despite claims by some in the public debate that the RS-26 is a violation of the INF treaty, the NASIC report lists the missile with an ICBM range of 5,500+ km (3,417+ miles), the same as listed in the 2013 version. NASIC says the RS-26, which is designated SS-X-28 by the US Intelligence Community, has “at least 2” stages and multiple warheads.

Overall, “Russia retains over 1,000 nuclear warheads on ICBMs,” according to NASIC, another assessment that fits our estimate from the Nuclear Notebook. The NASIC report states that “most” of those missiles “are maintained on alert, capable of being launched within minutes of receiving a launch order.” (In comparison, essentially all US ICBMs are maintained on alert: see here for global alert status.)

SLBMs: The Russian navy is in the early phase of a transition from the Soviet-era Delta-class SSBNs to the new Borei-class SSBN. NASIC lists the Bulava (SS-N-32) SLBM as operational on three Boreis (five more are under construction). The report also lists a Typhoon-class SSBN as “not yet deployed” with the Bulava (the same wording as in the 2013 report), but this is thought to refer to the single Typhoon that has been used for test launches of the Bulava and not imply that the submarine is being readied for operational deployment with the missile.

While the new Borei SSBNs are being built, the six Delta-IVs are being upgrade with modifications to the SS-N-23 SLBM. The report also lists 96 SS-N-18 launchers, corresponding to 6 Delta-III SSBNs. But that appears to include 3-4 SSBNs that have been retired (but not yet dismantled). Only 2 Delta-IIIs appear to be operational, with a third in overhaul, and all are scheduled to be replaced by Borei-class SSBNs in the near future.

Cruise Missiles: The report lists five land-attack cruise missiles with nuclear capability, three of which are Soviet-era weapons. The two new missiles that “possibly” have nuclear capability include the mysterious ground-launched cruise missile that Russia has developed and deployed in violation of the INF treaty. The US first accused Russia of treaty violation in 2014 but has refused to name the missile, yet the NASIC report gives it a name: 3M-14. The weapon exists in both “ground, ship & sub” versions and is credited with “conventional, nuclear possible” warhead capability. [Note: A corrected version of the NASIC report published in June removed the reference to a “ground” version of the 3M-14.]

Ground- and sea-based versions of the 3M-14 have different designations. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) identifies the naval 3M-14 as the SS-N-30 land-attack missile, which is part of the larger Kalibr family of missiles that include:

The US Intelligence Community uses a different designation for the GLCM version, which different sources say is called the SSC-8, and other officials privately say is a modification of the SSC-7 missile used on the Iskander-K. (For public discussion about the confusing names and designations, see here, here, and here.)

The range has been the subject of much speculation, including some as much as 5,472 km (3,400 miles). But the NASIC report sets the range as 2,500 km (1,553 miles), which is more than was reported by the Russian Ministry of Defense in 2015 but close to the range of the old SS-N-21 SLCM.

The “conventional, nuclear possible” description connotes some uncertainty about whether the 3M-14 has a nuclear warhead option. But President Vladimir Putin has publicly stated that it does, and General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of US European Command (EUCOM), told Congress in March that the ground-launched version is “a conventional/nuclear dual-capable system.”

ONI predicts that Kalibr-type missiles (remember: Kalibr can refer to land-attack, anti-ship, and/or anti-submarine versions) will be deployed on all larger new surface vessels and submarines and backfitted onto upgraded existing major ships and submarines. But when Russian officials say a ship or submarine will be equipped with the Kalibr, that can potentially refer to one or more of the above missile versions. Of those that receive the land-attack version, for example, presumably only some will be assigned the “nuclear possible” version. For a ship to get nuclear capability is not enough to simply load the missile; it has to be equipped with special launch control equipment, have special personnel onboard, and undergo special nuclear training and certification to be assigned nuclear weapons. That is expensive and an extra operational burden that probably means the nuclear version is only assigned to some of the Kalibr-equipped vessels. The previous nuclear land-attack SLCM (SS-N-21) is only assigned to frontline attack submarines, which will most likely also received the nuclear SS-N-30. It remains to be seen if the nuclear version will also go on major surface combatants such as the nuclear-propelled attack submarines.

The NASIC report also identifies the 3M-55 (P-800 Oniks (Onyx), or SS-N-26 Strobile) cruise missile with “nuclear possible” capability. This weapon also exists in “ground, ships & sub” versions, and ONI states that the SS-N-26 is replacing older SS-N-7, -9, -12, and -19 anti-ship cruise missiles in the fleet. All of those were also dual-capable.

It is interesting that the NASIC report describes the SS-N-26 as a land-attack missile given its primary role as an anti-ship missile and coastal defense missile. The ground-launched version might be the SSC-5 Stooge that is used in the new Bastion-P coastal-defense missile system that is replacing the Soviet-era SSC-1B missile in fleet base areas such as Kaliningrad. The ship-based version is replacing the SS-N-19 on the nuclear-propelled Kirov-class cruisers and Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier. Presumably it will also replace the SS-N-12 on the Slava-class cruisers and SS-N-9 on smaller corvettes. The submarine version is replacing the SS-N-19 on the Oscar-class nuclear-propelled attack submarine.

NASIC lists the new conventional Kh-101 ALCM but does not mention the nuclear version known as Kh-102 ALCM that has been under development for some time. The Kh-102 is described in the recent DIA report on Russian Military Power.

Short-range ballistic missiles: Russia is replacing the Soviet-era SS-21 (Tochka) missile with the SS-26 (Iskander-M), a process that is expected to be completed in the early-2020s. The range of the SS-26 is often said in the public debate to be the 500-700 km (310-435 miles), but the NASIC report lists the range as 350 km (217 miles), up from 300 km (186 miles) reported in the 2013 version.

That range change is interesting because 300 km is also the upper range of the new category of close-range ballistic missiles. So as a result of that new range category, the SS-26 is now counted in a different category than the SS-21 it is replacing.


The NASIC report projects the “number of Chinese ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States could expand to well over 100 within the next 5 years.” Four years ago, NASIC projected the “well over 100” warhead number might be reached “within the next 15 years,” so in effect the projection has been shortened by 6 years from 2028 to 2022.

One of the reasons for this shortening is probably the addition of MIRV to the DF-5 ICBM force (the MIRVed version is know as DF-5B). All other Chinese missiles only have one warhead each (although the warheads are widely assumed not to be mated with the missiles under normal circumstances). It is unclear, however, why the timeline has been shortened.

The US military defines the “United States” to include “the land area, internal waters, territorial sea, and airspace of the United States, including a. United States territories; and b. Other areas over which the United States Government has complete jurisdiction and control or has exclusive authority or defense responsibility.”

So for NASIC’s projection for the next five years to come true, China would need to take several drastic steps. First, it would have to MIRV all of its DF-5s (about half are currently MIRVed). That would still not provide enough warheads, so it would also have to deploy significantly more DF-31As and/or new MIRVed DF-41s (see graph below). Deployment of the DF-31A is progressing very slowly, so NASIC’s projection probably relies mainly on the assumption that the DF-41 will be deployed soon in adequate numbers. Whether China will do so remains to be seen.

Click on graph to view full size.

China currently has about 80 ICBM warheads (for 60 ICBMs) that can hit the United States. Of these, about 60 warheads can hit the continental United States (not including Alaska). That’s a doubling of ICBM warheads that can hit the United States (including Guam) over the past 25 years – and a tripling of the number of warheads that can hit the continental United States. The NASIC report does not define what “well over 100” means, but if it’s in the range of 120, and NASIC’s projection actually came true, then it would mean China by the early-2020s would have increased the number of ICBM warheads that can hit the United States threefold since the early 1990s. That a significant increase but obviously but must be seen the context of the much greater number of US warheads that can hit China.

Land-Based Ballistic Missiles: The report describes the long and gradual upgrade of the Chinese ballistic missile force. The most significant new development is the fielding of the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with 16+ launchers. The missile was first displayed at the 2015 military parade, which showed 16 launchers – potentially the same 16 listed in the report. NASIC sets the DF-26 range at 3,000+ km (1,864 miles), 1,000 km less than the 2017 DOD report.

China does not appear to have converted all of its DF-5 ICBMs to MIRV. The report lists both the single-warhead DF-5A and the multiple-warhead DF-5B (CSS-4 Mod 3) in “about 20” silos. Unlike the A-version, the B-version has a Post-Boost Vehicle, a technical detail not disclosed in the 2013 report. A rumor about a DF-5C version with 10 MIRVs is not confirmed by the report.

Deployment of the new generation of road-mobile ICBMs known as DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs appears to have stalled; the number of launchers listed in the new report is the same as in the 2013 report: 5-10 DF-31s and “more than 15” DF-31As.

Yet the description of the DF-31A program sounds like deployment is still in progress: “The longer range CSS-10 Mod 2 will allow targeting of most of the continental United States” (emphasis added).

For the first time, the report includes a graphic illustration of the DF-31 and DF-31A side by side, which shows the longer-range DF-31A to be little shorter but with a less pointy nosecone and a wider third stage (see image).

The long-awaited (and somewhat mysterious) DF-41 ICBM is still not deployed. NASIC says the DF-41 is “possibly capable of carrying MIRV,” a less certain determination than the 2017 DOD report, which called the missile “MIRV capable.” The report lists the DF-41 with three stages and a Post-Boost Vehicle, details not provided in the previous report.

One of the two nuclear versions of the DF-21 MRBM appears to have been retired. NASIC only lists one: CSS-5 Mod 2. In total, the report lists “fewer than 50” launchers for the nuclear version of the DF-21, which is the same number it listed in the 2013 report (see here for description of one of the DF-21 launch units. But that was also the number listed back then for the older nuclear DF-21 (CSS-5 Mod 1). The nuclear MRBM force has probably not been cut in half over the past four years, so perhaps the previous estimate of fewer than 50 launchers was intended to include both versions. The NASIC report does not mention the CSS-5 Mod 6 that was mentioned in the DOD’s annual report from 2016.

Sea-Based Ballistic Missiles: The report lists a total of 48 JL-2 SLBM launchers, corresponding to the number of launch tubes on the four Jin-class (Type 094) SSBNs based at the Longpo Naval Base on Hainan Island. That does not necessarily mean, however, that the missiles are therefore fully operational or deployed on the submarines under normal circumstances. They might, but it is yet unclear how China operates its SSBN fleet (for a description of the SSBN fleet, see here).

The 2017 report no longer lists the Xia-class (Type 092) SSBN or the JL-1 SLBM, indicating that China’s first (and not very successful) sea-based nuclear capability has been retired from service.

Cruise Missiles: The new report removes the “conventional or nuclear” designation from the DH-10 (CJ-10) ground-launched land-attack cruise missile. The possible nuclear option for the DH-10 was listed in the previous three NASIC reports (2006, 2009, and 2013). The DH-10 brigades are organized under the PLA Rocket Force that operates both nuclear and conventional missiles.

A US Air Force Global Strike Command document in 2013 listed another cruise missile, the air-launched DH-20 (CJ-20), with a nuclear option. NASIC has never attributed nuclear capability to that weapon and the Office of the Secretary of Defense stated recently that the Chinese Air Force “does not currently have a nuclear mission.”

At the same time, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently told Congress that China was upgrading is cruise missiles further, including “with two, new air-launched ballistic [cruise] missiles, one of which may include a nuclear payload.”


The NASIC report surprisingly does not list Pakistan’s Babur GLCM as operational.

The NASIC report states that “Pakistan continues to improve the readiness and capabilities of its Army Strategic Force Command and individual strategic missile groups through training exercises that include live missile firings.” While all nuclear-armed states do that, the implication probably is that Pakistan is increasing the reaction time of its nuclear missiles, particularly the short-range weapons.

The report states that the Shaheen-2 MRBM has been test-launched “seven times since 2004.” While that fits the public record, NASIC doesn’t mention that the Shaheen-2 for some reason has not been test launched since 2014, which potentially could indicate technical problems.

The Abdali SRBM now has a range of 200 km (up from 180 km in the 2013 report). It is now designated as close-range ballistic missile instead of a short-range ballistic missile.

NASIC describes the Ababeel MRBM, which was first test-launch in January 2017, as as “MIRVed” missile. Although this echoes the announcement made by the Pakistani military at the time, the designation “the MIRVed Abadeel” sounds very confident given the limited flight history and the technological challenges associated with developing reliable MIRV systems.

Neither the Ra’ad ALCM nor the Babur GLCM is listed as deployed, which is surprising especially for the Babur after 13 flight tests. Babur launchers have been fitting out at the National Development Complex for years and are visible at some army garrisons. Nor does NASIC mention the Babur-2 or Babur-3 (naval version) versions that have been test-flown and announced by the Pakistani military.


It is a surprise that the NASIC report only lists “fewer than 10” Agni-2 MRBM launchers. This is the same number as in 2013, which indicates there is still only one operational missile group equipped with the Agni-2 seven years after the Indian government first declared it deployed. The slow introduction might indicate technical problems, or that India is instead focused on fielding the longer-range Agni-3 IRBM that NASIC says is now deployed with “fewer than 10” launchers.

Neither the Agni-4 nor Agni-5 IRBMs are listed as deployed, even though the Indian government says the Agni-4 has been “inducted” into the armed forces and has reported three army “user trial” test launches. NASIC says India is developing the Agni-6 ICBM with a range of 6,000 km (3,728 miles).

For India’s emerging SSBN fleet, the NASIC report lists the short-range K-15 SLBM as deployed, which is a surprise given that the Arihant SSBN is not yet considered fully operational. The submarine has been undergoing sea-trials for several years and was rumored to have conducted its first submerged K-15 test launch in November 2016. But a few more are probably needed before the missile can be considered operational. The K-4 SLBM is in development and NASIC sets the range at 3,500 km (2,175 miles).

As for cruise missiles, it is helpful that the report continue to list the Bramos as conventional, which might help discredit rumors about nuclear capability.

North Korea

Finally, of the nuclear-armed states, NASIC provides interesting information about North Korea’s missile programs. None of the North Korean ICBMs are listed as deployed.

The report states there are now “fewer than 50” launchers for the Hwasong-10 (Musudan) IRBM. NASIC sets the range at 3,000+ km (1,864 miles) instead of the 4,000 km (2,485 miles) sometimes seen in the public debate.

Likewise, while many public sources set the range of the mobile ICBMs (KN-08 and KN-14) as 8,000 km (4,970 miles) – some even longer, sufficient to reach parts of the United States, the NASIC report lists a more modest range estimate of 5,500+ km (3,418 miles), the lower end of the ICBM range.

Additional Information:

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the New Land Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.


Nuclear Transparency and the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan

ssmp2016By Hans M. Kristensen

I was reading through the latest Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and wondering what I should pick to critique the Obama administration’s nuclear policy.

After all, there are plenty of issues that deserve to be addressed, including:

– Why NNSA continues to overspend and over-commit and create a spending bow wave in 2021-2026 in excess of the President’s budget in exactly the same time period that excessive Air Force and Navy modernization programs are expected to put the greatest pressure on defense spending?

– Why a smaller and smaller nuclear weapons stockpile with fewer warhead types appears to be getting more and more expensive to maintain?

– Why each warhead life-extension program is getting ever more ambitious and expensive with no apparent end in sight?

– And why a policy of reductions, no new nuclear weapons, no pursuit of new military missions or new capabilities for nuclear weapons, restraint, a pledge to “put an end to Cold War thinking,” and the goal of disarmament, instead became a blueprint for nuclear overreach with record funding, across-the-board modernizations, unprecedented warhead modifications, increasing weapons accuracy and effectiveness, reaffirmation of a Triad and non-strategic nuclear weapons, continuation of counterforce strategy, reaffirmation of the importance and salience of nuclear weapons, and an open-ended commitment to retain nuclear weapons further into the future than they have existed so far?

What About The Other Nuclear-Armed States?

Despite the contradictions and flaws of the administration’s nuclear policy, however, imagine if the other nuclear-armed states also published summaries of their nuclear weapons plans. Some do disclose a little, but they could do much more. For others, however, the thought of disclosing any information about the size and composition of their nuclear arsenal seems so alien that it is almost inconceivable.

Yet that is actually one of the reasons why it is necessary to continue to work for greater (or sufficient) transparency in nuclear forces. Some nuclear-armed states believe their security depends on complete or near-compete nuclear secrecy. And, of course, some nuclear information must be protected from disclosure. But the problem with excessive secrecy is that it tends to fuel uncertainty, rumors, suspicion, exaggerations, mistrust, and worst-case assumptions in other nuclear-armed states – reactions that cause them to shape their own nuclear forces and strategies in ways that undermine security for all.

Nuclear-armed states must find a balance between legitimate secrecy and transparency. This can take a long time and it may not necessarily be the same from country to country. The United States also used to keep much more nuclear information secret and there are many institutions that will always resist public access. But maximum responsible disclosure, it turns out, is not only necessary for a healthy public debate about nuclear policy, it is also necessary to communicate to allies and adversaries what that policy is about – and, equally important, to dispel rumors and misunderstandings about what the policy is not.

Nuclear transparency is not just about pleasing the arms controllers – it is important for national security.

So here are some thoughts about what other nuclear-armed states should (or could) disclose about their nuclear arsenals – not to disclose everything but to improve communication about the role of nuclear weapons and avoid misunderstandings and counterproductive surprises:

ssmp_russiaRussia should publish:

– Full New START aggregate data numbers (these numbers are already shared with the United States, that publishes its own numbers)

– Size and history of overall nuclear weapons stockpile

– Number of history of nuclear warhead dismantlement (has made statements about percentage reductions since 1991 but not disclosed numbers or history)

– Basic overview of which nuclear forces are nuclear-capable (has made some statements about strategic forces but not shorter-range forces)

– Plans for future years force levels of long-range nuclear forces (has made occasional statements about modernizations but no detailed plan)

– Overall status and out-year budgets for nuclear weapons and nuclear forces


ssmp-chinaChina should publish:

– Size and history of overall nuclear weapons stockpile (stated in 2004 that it possessed the smallest arsenal of the nuclear weapon states but has not disclosed numbers or history)

– Basic overview of its nuclear-capable forces

– Plans for future years force levels of long-range nuclear forces

– Overall status and out-year budgets for nuclear weapons and nuclear forces


ssmp-franceFrance should publish:

– History of overall nuclear weapons stockpile (has disclosed the size of its nuclear stockpile in 2008 and 2015 (300 weapons), but not the history)

– Number and history of nuclear warhead dismantlement (has declared dismantlement of some types but not history)

(France has disclosed its overall force structure and some nuclear budget information is published each year.)



ssmp-ukBritain should publish:

– History of overall nuclear weapons stockpile (has declared some approximate historic numbers, declared the approximate size in 2010 (no more than 225), and has declared plan for mid-2020s (no more than 180), but has not disclosed history)

– Number and history of nuclear warhead dismantlement (has announced dismantlement of systems but not numbers or history)

(Britain has published information about the size of its nuclear force structure and part of its nuclear budget.)


ssmp-pakistanPakistan should publish:

– History of overall nuclear weapons stockpile

– Basic overview of nuclear-capable forces (occasionally declares that a missile test involves nuclear-capable weapon)

– Plans for future years force levels of longer-range nuclear forces

– Overall status and out-year budgets for nuclear weapons and nuclear forces



ssmp-indiaIndia should publish:

– History of overall nuclear weapons stockpile

– Basic overview of nuclear-capable forces (occasionally declares that a missile test involves nuclear-capable weapon)

– Plans for future years force levels of longer-range nuclear forces

– Overall status and out-year budgets for nuclear weapons and nuclear forces



ssmp-israelIsrael should publish:

…or should it? Unlike other nuclear-armed states, Israel has not publicly confirmed it has a nuclear arsenal and has said it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Some argue Israel should not confirm or declare anything because of fear it would trigger nuclear arms programs in other Middle Eastern countries.

On the other hand, the existence of the Israeli nuclear arsenal is well known to other countries as has been documented by declassified government documents in the United States. Official confirmation would be politically sensitive but not in itself change national security in the region. Moreover, the secrecy fuels speculations, exaggerations, accusations, and worst-case planning. And it is hard to see how the future of nuclear weapons in the Middle East can be addressed and resolved without some degree of official disclosure.


ssmp-northkoreaNorth Korea should publish:

Well, obviously this nuclear-armed state is a little different (to put it mildly) because its blustering nuclear threats and statements – and the nature of its leadership itself – make it difficult to trust any official information. Perhaps this is a case where it would be more valuable to hear more about what foreign intelligence agencies know about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Yet official disclosure could potentially serve an important role as part of a future de-tension agreement with North Korea.


Additional information:

Status of World Nuclear Forces with links to more information about individual nuclear-armed states.

Nuclear Weapons Base Visits: Accident and Incident Exercises as Confidence-Building Measures,” briefing to Workshop on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Practice, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, 27-28 March 2014.

Nuclear Warhead Stockpiles and Transparency” (with Robert Norris), in Global Fissile Material Report 2013, International Panel on Fissile Materials, October 2013, pp. 50-58.

The research for this publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

New Nuclear Notebook: Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2015

Click to download report

Click image to download report

By Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris

In our latest FAS Nuclear Notebook we estimate that Pakistan now has 110-130 warheads in its nuclear arsenal. This is an increase of about 20 warheads from the 90-110-warhead level we estimated in our previous Pakistani Notebook in 2011.

The Notebook is published as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is arriving in Washington D.C. for a state visit and foreign minister Aizaz Chaudhry acknowledged for the record what everybody already knew: that Pakistan has developed “low-yield, tactical” nuclear weapons.

The warhead increase is due to several developments in the past four years: Deployment (or near-deployment) of two new short-range ballistic missiles (including the one Chaudhry was probably thinking about: the NASR) and a new medium-range ballistic missile. Moreover, development is underway of two extended-range ballistic missiles and two cruise missiles that will require production of additional warheads.

If the current trend continues, we estimate that Pakistan a decade from now could potentially have a stockpile of 220-250 warheads, which would make Pakistan the world’s fifth largest nuclear power. We do not believe that Pakistan has the capacity to increase its stockpile to 350 warheads, as has been suggested by some.

Pakistan’s archenemy, India, is also modernizing and increasing its nuclear arsenal. For an overview of India’s nuclear arsenal, see here.

With both Pakistan and India engaged in rapid and broad buildup of their nuclear arsenals, it is essential that their governments, as well as other state leaders, increase efforts to limit the nuclear arms competition that is in full swing in South Asian.

Note: The Notebook version on the Bulletin web site has two typos that are being fixed. Until that happens, a corrected version can be downloaded from here.

For more information:

This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Pentagon Report: China Deploys MIRV Missile

By Hans M. Kristensen

The biggest surprise in the Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military power is the claim that China’s ICBM force now includes the “multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV)-equipped Mod 3 (DF-5).”

This is (to my knowledge) the first time the US Intelligence Community has made a public claim that China has fielded a MIRVed missile system.

If so, China joins the club of four other nuclear-armed states that have deployed MIRV for decades: Britain, France, Russia and the United States.

For China to join the MIRV club strains China’s claim of having a minimum nuclear deterrent. It is another worrisome sign that China – like the other nuclear-armed states – are trapped in a dynamic technological nuclear arms competition.

A Little Chinese MIRV History

There have been rumors for many years that China was working on MIRV technology. Some private analysts have even claimed – incorrectly – that China had developed MIRV for the DF-31 ICBM and JL-2 SLBM.

Fifteen years ago, CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate on foreign missile developments concluded that “China has had the technical capability to develop multiple RV payloads for 20 years. If China needed a multiple-RV (MRV) capability in the near term, Beijing could use a DF-31-type RV to develop and deploy a simple MRV or multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) for the CSS-4 in a few years.” (For a review of earlier information and assessments, see here.)

The Pentagon echoed this conclusion in July 2002, when it stated that any Chinese multiple warhead capability will “most likely [be] for the CSS-4.”

Chinese MIRVing of a mobile ICBM such as the DF-31 “would be many years off” the CIA told Congress. This was also the conclusion of the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate in 2001, which concluded that “Chinese pursuit of a multiple RV capability for its mobile ICBMs and SLBMs would encounter significant technical hurdles and would be costly.”

A DF-5 ICBM is launched from a silo. The Pentagon says China has equipped some of its DF-5s with MIRV.

A DF-5 ICBM is launched from a silo. The Pentagon says China has equipped some of its DF-5s with MIRV.

In an exchange with Senator Cochran in 2002, CIA’s Robert Walpole explained that MIRVing a mobile ICBM would require a much smaller warhead and possibly require nuclear testing:

Sen. Cochran. How many missiles will China be able to place multiple reentry vehicles on?

Mr. Walpole. In the near term, it would be about 20 CSS-4s that they have, the big, large ICBMs. The mobile ICBMs are smaller and it would require a very small warhead for them to put multiple RVs on them.

Sen. Cochran. … [D]o you think that China will attempt to develop a multiple warhead capability for its new missiles?

Mr. Walpole. Over time they may look at that. That would probably require nuclear testing to get something that small, but I do not think it is something that you would see them focused on for the near term.

What makes the Pentagon’s report on the MIRVed DF-5A payload noteworthy is that it was not included in several other intelligence assessments published in the past few months: the prepared threat assessment by the Director of National Intelligence; the prepared threat assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency; and STRATCOM’s prepared testimony.

Nor were a MIRVed DF-5A mentioned in the Pentagon’s report from 2014 or the Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) report from July 2013.

The Pentagon report also repeats an earlier assertion that “China also is developing a new road-mobile ICBM, the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), possibly capable of carrying MIRVs.” STRATCOM commander Admiral Cecil Haney also mentioned this, saying China is “developing a follow-on mobile system capable of carrying multiple warheads.”

“Possibly capable of” and “capable of” are not equal assessments; the first includes uncertainty, the second does not. Assuming CIA’s prediction from 15 years ago is correct, the DF-5 MIRV payload might consist of three warheads developed for the DF-31/31A.

Whatever the certainty, the MIRVed version of the DF-5 – which I guess we could call DF-5B – is not thought to be loaded with warheads under normal circumstances. In a crisis, the warheads would first have to be brought out of storage and mated with the missile.

Moreover, The Pentagon lists two versions of the DF-5 deployed: the DF-5A (CSS-4 Mod 2) and the new DF-5 MIRV (CSS-4 Mod 3). So only a portion of the 20 missiles in as many silos apparently have been equipped for MIRV.

Why Chinese MIRV?

The big question is why the Chinese leadership has decided to deploy MIRV on the silo-based, liquid-fuel DF-5A.

Chinese officials have for many years warned, and US officials have predicted, that advanced US non-nuclear capabilities such as missile defense systems could cause China to deploy MIRV on some of its missiles. The Pentagon report repeats this analysis by stating that China’s “new generation of mobile missiles, with warheads consisting of MIRVs and penetration aids, are intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent in the face of continued advances in U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Russian strategic ISR, precision strike, and missile defense capabilities.”


Chinese MIRV on the DF-5 ICBM is a bad day for nuclear constraint.

Seen in the context of China’s other ongoing nuclear modernization programs – deployment of several types of mobile ICBMs and a new class of sea-launched ballistic missile submarines – the deployment of a MIRVed version of the DF-5 ICBM reported by the Pentagon’s annual report strains the credibility of China’s official assurance that it only wants a minimum nuclear deterrent and is not part of a nuclear arms race.

MIRV on Chinese ICBMs changes the calculus that other nuclear-armed states will make about China’s nuclear intensions and capacity. Essentially, MIRV allows a much more rapid increase of a nuclear arsenal than single-warhead missile. If China also develops MIRV for a mobile ICBM, then it would further deepen that problem.

To its credit, the Chinese nuclear arsenal is still much smaller than that of Russia and the United States. So this is not about a massive Chinese nuclear buildup. Yet the development underscores that a technological nuclear competition among the nuclear-armed states is in full swing – one that China also contributes to.

Although it is still unclear what has officially motivated China to deploy a MIRVed version of the DF-5 ICBM now, previous Chinese statements and US intelligence assessments indicate that it may be a reaction to the US development and deployment of missile defense systems that can threaten China’s ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

If so, how ironic that the US missile defense system – intended to reduce the threat to the United States – instead would seem to have increased the threat by triggering development of MIRV on Chinese ballistic missiles that could destroy more US cities in a potential war.

The deployment of a MIRVed DF-5 also raises serious questions about China’s strategic relationship with India. The Pentagon report states that in addition to US missile defense capabilities, “India’s nuclear force is an additional driver behind China’s nuclear force modernization.” There is little doubt that Chinese MIRV has the potential to nudge India into the MIRV club as well.

Indian weapons designers have already hinted that India may be working on its own MIRV system and the US Defense Intelligence Agency recently stated that “India will continue developing an ICBM, the Agni-VI, which will reportedly carry multiple warheads.”

If Chinese MIRV triggers Indian MIRV it would deepen nuclear competition between the two Asian nuclear powers and reduce security for both. This calls for both countries to show constraint but it also requires the other MIRVed nuclear-armed states (Britain, France, Russia and the United States) to limit their MIRV and offensive nuclear warfighting strategies.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Nuclear Modernization Briefings at the NPT Conference in New York


By Hans M. Kristensen

Last week I was in New York to brief two panels at the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (phew).

The first panel was on “Current Status of Rebuilding and Modernizing the United States Warheads and Nuclear Weapons Complex,” an NGO side event organized on May 1st by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While describing the U.S. programs, I got permission from the organizers to cover the modernization programs of all the nuclear-armed states. Quite a mouthful but it puts the U.S. efforts better in context and shows that nuclear weapon modernization is global challenge for the NPT.


The second panel was on “The Future of the B61: Perspectives From the United States and Europe.” This GNO side event was organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on May 2nd. In my briefing I focused on providing factual information about the status and details of the B61 life-extension program, which more than a simple life-extension will produce the first guided, standoff nuclear bomb in the U.S. inventory, and significantly enhance NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.


The two NGO side events were two of dozens organized by NGOs, in addition to the more official side events organized by governments and international organizations.

The 2014 PREPCOM is also the event where the United States last week disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has only shrunk by 309 warheads since 2009, far less than what many people had anticipated given Barack Obama’s speeches about “dramatic” and “bold” reductions and promises to “put an end to Cold War thinking.”

Yet in disclosing the size and history of its nuclear weapons stockpile and how many nuclear warheads have been dismantled each year, the United States has done something that no other nuclear-armed state has ever done, but all of them should do. Without such transparency, modernizations create mistrust, rumors, exaggerations, and worst-case planning that fuel larger-than-necessary defense spending and undermine everyone’s security.

For the 185 non-nuclear weapon states that have signed on to the NPT and renounced nuclear weapons in return of the promise made by the five nuclear-weapons states party to the treaty (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at early date and to nuclear disarmament,” endless modernization of the nuclear forces by those same five nuclear weapons-states obviously calls into question their intension to fulfill the promise they made 45 years ago. Some of the nuclear modernizations underway are officially described as intended to operate into the 2080s – further into the future than the NPT and the nuclear era have lasted so far.

Download two briefings listed above: briefing 1 | briefing 2

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

India’s Missile Modernization Beyond Minimum Deterrence


An Agni V missile is test launched from Wheeler’s Island on September 15, 2013.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Every time India test-launches a new ballistic missile, officials from the defense industry go giddy about the next missile, which they say will be bigger, more accurate, fly longer, and carry more nuclear warheads.

Until now, all Indian ballistic missile types have carried only one warhead each, an important feature that has helped constrain India’s so-called minimum deterrence posture.

But the newest missile, the 5000+ kilometer-range Agni V, had not even completed its second test launch last month, before senior officials from India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) declared that the next Agni variant will be equipped to carry multiple warheads.

While the single-warhead Agni V is a major defense weapon, the multiple-warhead Agni VI will be a “force multiplier,” declared the former head of DRDO.

Moreover, the DRDO chief said that all future missiles will be deployed in large canisters on a road- or rail-mobile launchers to get “drastically” shorter response time with an ability to launch in “just a few minutes.“

It still remains to be seen if these are just the dreams of excited weapons designers or if the Indian government has actually authorized design, development, and deployment of longer-range missiles with multiple warheads and quick-launch capability.

If so, it is bad news for South Asia. The combination of multiple warheads, increased accuracy, and drastically reduced launch time would indicate that India is gradually designing its way of out its so-called minimum deterrence doctrine towards a more capable nuclear posture.

This would almost certainly trigger counter-steps in Pakistan and China, developments that would decrease Indian security. And if China were to deploy multiple warheads on its missiles, it could even impede future reductions of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.


Indian defense contractors, engineers, analysts and news media reports have for years described efforts to develop multiple-warhead capability for India’s ballistic missiles. Some have even claimed – incorrectly – that some current ballistic missiles are capable of delivering MIRV. A couple of definitions will help:

MRV is relatively simple to deploy but MIRV is a much more complex and expensive technology. News reports and private web sites rarely differentiate between the two but automatically equate multiple warheads with MIRV. Similarly, multiple payloads don’t necessarily mean warheads but can involve penetration aids such as decoys or chaff. MRV might involve 2-3 warheads but 4 or more warheads imply MIRV.

For reasons that are still unclear, Indian defense industry officials have for several years described development of multiple warheads for future Agni variants. In 2007, about a year after Agni III failed its first test launch and before Agni V had even left the launch pad, Avinash Chander, who has since been appointed to head the DRDO, said the next Agni variant would have a range of over 5,000 kilometers and “be a multiple warhead missile with a capacity to carry four to 12 warheads.”

So far that hasn’t happened and DRDO leaders have been unclear about what Agni version would receive the MIRV they are so busy working on. Vijay Kumar Saraswat, for example, made the following statement to NDTV shortly before he retired in May 2013 as DRDO chief:

“Saraswat: Agni Series of missiles are in an advanced stage of production. Today, as you remember, we have completed development of Agni I, Agni II, and Agni III. Agni IV and Agni V are in an advanced stage of development. And this year, you will see two more launches of Agni V, which will culminate its complete developmental activity and it will be led to production. Agni IV is already getting into production mode. So with this – Agni I, Agni II, Agni III, Agni IV, Agni V – getting into production mode, the next logical corollary as far as the long-range ballistic missile deterrents capability of this country is concerned, we will switch over to force multiplication. Force multiplication in the case of ballistic missiles will be by way of multiple independently manouevreable [sic] re-entry vehicles (MIRV).

NDTV: Meaning one missile which can carry many warheads?

Saraswat: Carry multiple warheads. Our design activity on the development and production of MIRV is at an advanced stage today. We are designing the MIRVs, we are integrating it with Agni IV and Agni V missiles, and that would also give us the capability to cover a vast area plus deliver in the event any activity requires a number of payloads at a required place.

NDTV: So will the next test be with a multiple warheads system or…

Saraswat: No. The present task, as I was mentioning, will be only with the normal configuration of Agni V. But there will be an experimental test in which we will be testing the MIRV capability.

NDTV: So that would be what? Agni VI or…

Saraswat: No we are not naming it Agni VI… it will be Agni V missile with MIRVs. 

NDTV: So Agni V plus?

Saraswat: You can name is Agni V plus or Agni VI, but certainly it is not Agni VI.

NDTV: It is not Agni VI but Agni V will have multiple warheads so we can have a single missile going and hitting several targets at the same time?

Saraswat: Yes it will be in that category.”

But only three months earlier, Saraswat was quoted by numerous newspapers as explicitly crediting the Agni VI, not the Agni V, with multiple warhead capability: “Agni-V is a major strategic defence weapon. Now, we want to make Agni-VI, which will be a force multiplier.” The new Agni variant “will have force multiplier capability by the MIRV approach which would enable us to deliver many payloads at the same time using only one missile. Work is on in this area and designs have been completed. We are now in the hardware realisation phase,” he said.


ZeeNews quoted an unnamed “top scientists from DRDO” saying “Agni-VI missiles will carry four or six warheads depending upon their weight.”

After Agni IV and Agni V are handed over to the armed forces, DRDO’s “two major focus areas will be maneuvering warheads or reentry vehicles to defeat enemy ballistic missile defence systems and MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles),” Chander said.

Shorter Launch Time

Ignore for the moment that none of India’s potential adversaries have missile defense systems that can intercept Indian missiles, DRDO is also working on making the missiles more mobile and quicker to launch by deploying them in “canistered” Transportable Erector Launchers (TEL).


DRDO’s prototype missile canister-launcher, which looks similar to China’s DF-21 and DF-31 launchers, is intended to “drastically” shorten the launch-time of India’s nuclear missiles. Credit: DRDO.

The new canister-launchers “will reduce the reaction time drastically…just a few minutes from ‘stop-to-launch’,” according to Chander. “We are committed to making [the missiles] much more agile, much more fast-reacting, much more stable so that the response can be within minutes,” he said. In an interview with India Today, Chander explained: “In the second strike capability, the most important thing is how fast we can react,” he claimed and said: “All future strategic missiles will be canisterised,” with the first canister Agni V launch scheduled for early 2014.

Contrary to the DRDO chief’s claim, however, “the most important thing” in a second-strike posture is not how fast India can react but simply that it can retaliate. The ability to launch quickly is only relevant for two scenarios: One, if India’s adversaries have military forces that are capable of destroying Indian missile launchers on the ground before they can be used. China faces such a capability from the United States and Russia but neither China nor Pakistan has a capability to conduct a disarming first strike against India’s nuclear forces.

The second scenario where a quick-strike capability could be relevant is if India planned to conduct a first strike against its adversaries, but only if the adversaries were able to detect preparations to strike. But planning for first strike would contradict India’s no-first-use policy.

Nor is a quick-launch capability necessarily “more stable,” as Chander asserts. On the contrary, it could significantly decrease stability both in peacetime – by stimulating Chinese and Pakistani planners to further increase the responsiveness of their nuclear missiles – and in a crisis by shortening decision time and increasing risk of overreaction and escalation.


DRDO leaders Chander (second from left) and Saraswat (second from right) say they are working on multiple-warhead and quick-launch capabilities for India’s nuclear missiles.

In addition to increasing warhead loading and responsiveness, DRDO is also working on improving the accuracy of warheads delivered by the missiles, although media reports about “pinpoint accuracy” are probably greatly exaggerated. Even the statement by the Ministry of Defense that the payload from the recent Agni V test reached the target area “within a few meters of accuracy” seems over the top. In contrast, back in 2007 when the Agni V was being designed, Chander said: “We are trying to attain an accuracy level of 100 metres.”

There is probably some overlap with conventional missions (the Agni missiles are dual-capable), but accuracy of 100 meters (300 feet) would bring Agni V well within range of the accuracy of the best U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles (in itself a reason to be skeptical). But their accuracy was pursued in support of highly offensive counterforce strategies designed to target and destroy each other’s ICBM silos, missions that are incompatible with India’s minimum deterrence doctrine.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Statements made by Indian defense officials over the past few years about increasing the payload, responsiveness, and accuracy of nuclear ballistic missiles are worrisome signs that India may be designing its way out of its minimum deterrence posture towards one with more warfighting-like capabilities.

This includes development of multiple-warhead capability to move India’s nuclear missiles beyond “a defense weapon” to “a force multiplier” that can strike more targets with each missile. It includes upgrading launchers to “drastically” shorten the launch-time to “minutes.” And it includes increasing the accuracy of the reentry vehicles to more effectively strike their targets.

Where these requirements come from and who sets them is anyone’s guess, but they demonstrate a need for the Indian government to constrain its weapons designers and more clearly reaffirm its adherence to a minimum deterrence doctrine. Not only does the combination of multiple warheads, increased accuracy, and quick-launch capability challenge the credibility of minimum deterrence. It also sends all the wrong signals about India’s intensions and will almost inevitably trigger weapons developments in the nuclear postures of India’s neighbors – developments that would decrease Indian security and that of the whole region.

India is, to be fair, not alone in taking worrisome nuclear steps in the region. Pakistan is developing short-range nuclear missiles envisioned for tactical use below the strategic level that appears to envision potential use of nuclear weapons sooner in a conflict. China is mixing nuclear and conventional missiles that could trigger misunderstandings in a crisis and researching MIRV capability that may well be motivating Indian planners to follow now rather than catch up later.

Together, India, Pakistan and China have embarked upon extensive nuclear arms development and deployment programs with no apparent or declared end in sight. They seem to be making many of the same decisions (and mistakes) as the United States, Russia, Britain and France did during their Cold War. Now it is necessary to complement the nuclear postures with nuclear arms control measures for the region to constrain the forces.

A first step could be to block deployment of multiple warheads on ballistic missiles to prevent what otherwise appears to be a dangerous new phase of the nuclear arms competition in the region.

For its part, the Indian government should make a pledge not to deploy multiple warheads on its missiles a formal part of its minimum deterrence doctrine. Pakistan could easily join such an initiative.

China should join its southern neighbor in a no-multiple-warhead pledge, which would reaffirm its existing minimum deterrence posture and also help reduce India’s interest in multiple warheads. Moreover, a Chinese pledge not to deploy multiple warheads on its missiles would ease U.S. and Russian concerns about China’s potential to “sprint to parity” and therefore help ease the way for further U.S. and Russian reductions – something that both Beijing and Delhi favor.

All sides would seem to benefit from banning multiple warheads on ballistic missiles and India could take the first and honorable step toward a safer future.

[See also additional descriptions of the nuclear forces of India, China, and Pakistan.]

This publication was made possible by grants from the New-Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles


Click to download full report

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded.


The report estimates that Russia retains about 1,200 nuclear warheads deployed on ICBMs, slightly higher than our estimate of 1,050. That is probably a little high because it would imply that the SSBN force only carries about 220 warheads instead of the 440, or so, warheads we estimate are on the submarines.

“Most” of the ICBMs “are maintained on alert, capable of being launched within minutes of receiving a launch order,” the report states. This excessive alert posture is similar to that of the United States, which has essentially all of its ICBMs on alert.

The report also confirms that although Russia is developing and deploying new missiles, “the size of the Russia missile force is shrinking due to arms control limitations and resource constraints.”

Unfortunately, the report does not clear up the mystery of how many warheads the SS-27 Mod 2 (RS-24, Yars) missile carries. Initially we estimated thee because the throw-weight is similar to the U.S. Minuteman III ICBM. Then we considered six, but have recently settled on four, as the Strategic Rocket Forces commander has stated.

The report states that “Russia tested a new type of ICBM in 2012,” but it undercuts rumors that it not an ICBM by listing its range as 5,500+ kilometers. Moreover, in an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile, the report concludes: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

The report also describes how Russian designers are working to modify missiles to overcome U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. The SS-27 Mod 1 (Topol-M) deployed in silos at Tatishchevo was designed with countermeasures to ballistic missile systems, and Russian officials claim that a new class of hypersonic vehicle is being developed to overcome ballistic missile defense systems, according to NASIC.

The report also refers to Russian press report that a rail-mobile ICBM is being considered, and that a new “heavy” ICBM is under development.

One of the surprises in the report is that SS-N-32/Bulava-30 missile on the first Borei-class SSBN is not yet considered fully operational – at least not by NASIC. The report lists the missile as in development and “not yet deployed.”

Another interesting status is that while the AS-4 and AS-15 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles are listed as operational, the new Kh-102 nuclear cruise missile that Russian officials have said they’re introducing is not listed at all. The Kh-102 was also listed as already “fielded” by a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing.

Finally, while the report lists the SS-N-21 sea-launched cruise missile as operational, it does not mention the new Kalibr cruise missile for the Yasen-class attack submarine that U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command recently listed a having been “fielded” within the past five years.


The NASIC report states that the Chinese ballistic missile force is expanding both in size and types of missiles.

Deployment of the DF-31A (CSS-10 Mod 2) ICBM continues at a slow pace with “more than 15” launchers deployed six years after the system was first introduced.

Despite many rumors about a new DF-41 ICBM, the NASIC report does not mention this system at all.

Deployment of the shorter-range DF-31 (CSS-10 Mod 1) ICBM, on the contrary, appears to have stalled or paused, with only 5-10 launchers deployed seven years after it was initially introduced (see my recent analysis of this trend here). Moreover, the range of the DF-31 is lowered a bit, from 7,200+ km in the 2009 report to 7,000+ in the new version.

Medium-range nuclear missiles include the DF-21 (CSS-5) (in two versions: Mod 1 and Mod 2, but with identical range etc.) and the old DF-3A (CSS-2), which is still listed as deployed. Only 5-10 launchers are left, probably in a single brigade that will probably convert to DF-21 in the near future.

An important new development concerns conventional missiles, where the NASIC report states that several new systems have been introduced or are in development. This includes a “number of new mobile, conventionally armed MRBMs,” apparently in addition to the DF-21C and DF-21D already known. As for the DF-21D anti-ship missile, report states that “China has likely started to deploy” the missile but that it is “unknown” how many are deployed.

More dramatic is the development on five new short-range ballistic missiles, including the CSS-9, CSS-11, CSS-14, CSS-X-15, and CSS-X-16. The CSS-9 and CSS-14 come in different versions with different ranges. The CSS-11 Mod 1 is a modification of the existing DF-11, but with a range of over 800 kilometers (500 miles). None of these systems are listed as nuclear-capable.

Concerning sea-based nuclear forces, the NASIC report echoes the DOD report by saying that the JL-2 SLBM for the new Jin-class SSBN is not yet operational. The JL-2 is designated as CSS-NX-14, which I thought it was a typo in the 2009 report, as opposed to the CSS-NX-3 for the JL-1 (which is also not operational).

NASIC concludes that JL-2 “will, for the first time, allow Chinese SSBNs to target portions of the United States from operating areas located near the Chinese coast.” That is true for Guam and Alaska, but not for Hawaii and the continental United States. Moreover, like the DF-31, the JL-2 range estimate is lowered from 7,200+ km in the 2009 report to 7,000+ km in the new version. Earlier intelligence estimates had the range as high as 8,000+ km.

One of the surprises (perhaps) in the new report is that it does not list the CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile, which was listed in the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing as a nuclear cruise missile that had been “fielded” within the past five years.

Concerning the overall size of the Chinese nuclear arsenal, there have been many rumors that it includes hundreds or even thousands of additional warheads more than the 250 we estimate. STRATCOM commander has also rejected these rumors. To that end, the NASIC report lists all Chinese nuclear missiles with one warhead each, despite widespread rumors in the news media and among some analysts that multiple warheads are deployed on some missiles.

Yet the report does echo a projection made by the annual DOD report, that “China may also be developing a new road-mobile ICBM capable of carrying a MIRV payload.” But NASIC does not confirm widespread news media rumors that this system is the DF-41 – in fact, the report doesn’t even mention the DF-41 as in development.

As for the future, the NASIC report repeats the often-heard prediction that “the number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 15 years.” This projection has continued to slip and NASIC slips it a bit further into the future to 2028.


Most of the information about the Pakistani system pretty much fits what we have been reporting. The only real surprise is that the Shaheen-II MRBM does still not appear to be fully deployed, even though the system has been flight tested six times since 2010. The report states that “this missile system probably will soon be deployed.”


The information on India also fits pretty well with what we have been reporting. For example, the report refers to the Indian government saying the Agni II IRBM has finally been deployed. But NASIC only lists “fewer than 10” Agni II launchers deployed, the first time I have seen a specific reference to how many of this system are deployed. The Agni III IRBM is said to be ready for deployment, but not yet deployed.

North Korea

The NASIC report lists the Hwasong-13 (KN-08), North Korea’s new mobile ICBM, but confirms that the missile has not yet been flight tested. It also lists an IRBM, but without naming it the Musudan.

The mysterious KN-09 coastal-defense cruise missile that U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command recently listed as a new nuclear system expected within the next five years is not mentioned in the NASIC report.

Full NASIC report: Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat 2013

See also previous NASIC reports: 2009 | 2006 | 1998

This publication was made possible by grants from the New-Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Air Force Briefing Shows Nuclear Modernizations But Ignores US and UK Programs


Click to view large version. Full briefing is here.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China and North Korea are developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles, according to U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC).

The new Chinese and North Korean systems appear on a slide in a Command Briefing that shows nuclear modernizations in eight of the world’s nine nuclear weapons states (Israel is not shown).

The Chinese missile is the CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile for delivery by the H-6 bomber. The North Korean missile is the KN-09 coastal-defense cruise missile. These weapons would, if for real, be important additions to the nuclear arsenals in Asia.

At the same time, a closer look at the characterization used for nuclear modernizations in the various countries shows generalizations, inconsistencies and mistakes that raise questions about the quality of the intelligence used for the briefing.

Moreover, the omission from the slide of any U.S. and British modernizations is highly misleading and glosses over past, current, and planned modernizations in those countries.

For some, the briefing is a sales pitch to get Congress to fund new U.S. nuclear weapons.

Overall, however, the rampant nuclear modernizations shown on the slide underscore the urgent need for the international community to increase its pressure on the nuclear weapon states to curtail their nuclear programs. And it calls upon the Obama administration to reenergize its efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons.



The briefing lists seven Russian nuclear modernizations, all of which are well known and have been underway for many years. Fielded systems include SS-27 ICBM, Bulava SLBM, Kalibr SLCM, and KH-102 ALCM.

It is puzzling, however, that the briefing lists Bulava SLBM and Kalibr SLCM as fielded when their platforms (Borei SSBN and Yasen SSGN, respectively) are not. The first Borei SSBN officially entered service in January 2013.


Nuclear Cruise Missile For Yasen SSGN

It is the first time I’ve seen a U.S. government publication stating that the non-strategic Kalibr land-attack SLCM is nuclear (in public the Kalibr is sometimes called Caliber). The first Yasen SSGN, the Severodvinsk, test launched the Kalibr in November 2012. The weapon will also be deployed on the Akula-class SSGN. The Kalibr SLCM, which is dual-capable, will probably replace the aging SS-N-21, which is not. There are no other Russian non-strategic nuclear systems listed in the AFGSC briefing.

A new warhead is expected within the next five years, but since no new missile is listed the warhead must be for one of the existing weapons.



The briefing lists six Chinese nuclear modernizations: DF-31A ICBM, DF-41 ICBM, Jin SSBN, JL-2 SLBM, CJ-20 ALCM, and a new warhead.

The biggest surprise is the CJ-20 ALCM, which is the first time I have ever seen an official U.S. publication crediting a Chinese air-launched cruise missile with nuclear capability. The latest annual DOD report on Chinese military modernization does not do so.


H-6 with CJ-20. Credit: Chinese Internet.

The CJ-20 is thought to be an air-launched version of the 1,500+ kilometer ground-launched CJ-10 (DH-10), which the Air Force in 2009 reported as “conventional or nuclear” (the AFGSC briefing does not list the CJ-10). The CJ-20 apparently is being developed for delivery by a modified version of the H-6 medium-range bomber (H-6K and/or H-6M) with increased range. DOD asserts that the H-6 using the CJ-20 ALCM in a land-attack mission would be able to target facilities all over Asia and Russia (east of the Urals) as well as Guam – that is, if it can slip through air defenses.

The elusive DF-41 ICBM is mentioned by name as expected within the next five years. References to a missile known as DF-41 has been seen on and off for the past two decades, but disappeared when the DF-31A appeared instead. The latest DOD report does not mention the DF-41 but states that, “China may also be developing a new road-mobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV).” (Emphasis added).

AFGSC also predicts that China will field a new nuclear warhead within the next five years. MIRV would probably require a new and smaller warhead but it could potentially also refer to the payload for the JL-2.



Pakistan is listed with five nuclear modernizations, all of which are well known: Hatf-8 (Shaheen II) MRBM, Hatf-9 (NASR) SRBM, Hatf-7 (Babur) GLCM, Hatf-8 (Ra’ad) ALCM, and a new warhead. Two of them (Hatf-8 and Hatf-7) are listed as fielded.

The briefing mistakenly identifies the Hatf-9 as an ICBM instead of what it actually is: a short-range (60 km) ballistic missile.

The new warhead might be for the Hatf-9.



India is listed with four nuclear modernizations, all of which are well known: Agni V ICBM, Arihant SSBN, “Sagurika” SLBM, and a new warhead. The U.S. Intelligence Community normally refers to “Sagurika” as Sagarika, which is known as K-15 in India.

Neither the Agni III nor Agni IV are listed in the briefing, which might indicate, if correct, that the two systems, both of which were test launched in 2012, are in fact technology development programs intended to develop the technology to field the Agni V.

The U.S. Intelligence Community asserts that the Agni V will be capable of carrying multiple warheads, as recently stated by an India defense industry official – a dangerous development that could well motivate China to deploy multiple warheads on some of its missiles and trigger a new round of nuclear competition between India and China.

The new warhead might be for the SLBM and/or for Agni V.

North Korea


North Korea is listed with five nuclear modernizations: Musudan IRBM, TD-2 SLV/ICBM, KN-08 ICBM, KN-09 CDCM, and a warhead.


The biggest surprise is that AFGSC asserts that the KN-09 is nuclear-capable. There are few public reports about this weapon, but the South Korean television station MBC reported in April that it has a range of 100-120 km. MBC showed KN-09 as a ballistic missile, but AFGSC lists it as a CDCM (Coastal Defense Cruise Missile).


The Musudan IRBM is listed as “fielded” even though the missile, according to the U.S. Intelligence Community, has never been flight tested. In this case, “fielded” apparently means it has appeared but not that it is operational or necessarily deployed with the armed forces.

The Mushudan is listed as “fielded,” similar to the Russian SS-27, even though the North Korean missile has never been flight tested.


The KN-08 ICBM, which was displayed at the May 2012 parade, was widely seen by non-governmental analysts to be a mockup. But AFGSC obviously believes the weapon is real and expected to be “fielded” within the next five years. There were rumors in January 2013 that North Korea had started moving KN-08 launchers around the country at the beginning of a saber-rattling campaign that lasted through March.

Finally, the AFGSC briefing also predicts that North Korea will field a nuclear warhead within the next five year. Whether this refers to North Korea’s first weaponized warhead or newer types is unclear.

United Kingdom


The UK section does not include any weapons modernizations, which doesn’t quite capture what’s going on. For example, Britain is deploying the modified W76-1/Mk4A, which British officials have stated will increase the targeting capability of the Trident II D5 SLBM. Accordingly, a warhead icon has been added to the U.K. bar above.

Moreover, although the final approval has not been given yet, Britain is planning construction of a new SSBN to replace the current fleet of four Vanguard-class SSBNs. The missile section is under development in the United States. The new submarine will also receive the life-extended D5 SLBM.

United States


The U.S. section also does not show any nuclear modernizations, which glosses over important upgrades.

For example, the Minuteman III ICBM is in the final phases of a decade-long multi-billion dollar life-extension program that will extend the weapon to 2030. Privately, Air Force officials are joking that everything except the shell is new. Accordingly, a fielded ICBM icon has been added to the U.S. bar.

Moreover, full-scale production and deployment of the W76-1/Mk4A warhead on the Trident II D5 SLBM is underway. The combination of the new reentry body with the D5 increases the targeting capability of the weapon. Accordingly, a fielded warhead icon has been added to the U.S. bar.

In addition, from 2017 the U.S. Navy will begin deploying a modified life-extended version of the D5 SLBM (D5LE) on Ohio-class SSBNs. Production of the D5LE is currently underway, which will be “more accurate” and “provide flexibility to support new missions,” according to the navy and contractor. Accordingly, a forthcoming SLBM icon has been added to the U.S. bar.

Finally, the United States has begun design of a new SSBN class, a long-range bomber, a long-range cruise missile, a fighter-bomber, a guided standoff gravity bomb, and is studying a replacement-ICBM.

Hardly the dormant nuclear enterprise portrayed in the briefing.



France is listed with four nuclear modernizations, all well known: Triomphant SSBN, M51 SLBM, ASMP-A ALCM, and a new warhead.

The introduction of the ASMP-A is complete but the M51 SLBM is still replacing M45 SLBMs on the SSBN fleet.

The warhead section only appears to include the TNA warhead for the ASMP-A but ignores that France from 2015 will begin replacing the TN75 warhead on the M51 SLBM with the new TNO.

What is Meant by Nuclear and Fielded?

The AFGSC briefing is unclear and somewhat confusing about what constitutes a nuclear-capable weapon system and when it is considered “fielded.”

AFGSC confirmed to me that the slide only lists nuclear-capable weapon systems.

Air Force regulations are pretty specific about what constitutes a nuclear-capable unit. According to Air Force Instruction 13-503 regarding the Nuclear-Capable Unit Certification, Decertification and Restriction Program, a nuclear-capable unit is “a unit or an activity assigned responsibilities for employing, assembling, maintaining, transporting or storing war reserve (WR) nuclear weapons, their associated components and ancillary equipment.”

This is pretty straightforward when it comes to Russian weapons but much more dubious when describing North Korean systems. Russia is known to have developed miniaturized warheads and repeatedly test-flown them on missiles that are operationally deployed with the armed forces.

North Korea is a different matter. It is known to have detonated three nuclear test devices and test-launched some missiles, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. Despite its efforts and some worrisome progress, there is no public evidence that it has yet turned the nuclear devices into miniaturized warheads that are capable of being employed successfully by its ballistic or cruise missiles. Nor is there any public evidence that nuclear-armed missiles are operationally deployed with the armed forces.

Moreover, the U.S. Intelligence Community has recently issued strong statements that cast doubt on whether North Korea has yet mastered the technology to equip missile with nuclear warheads. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate on April 18, 2013, that despite its efforts, “North Korea has not, however, fully developed, tested, or demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear-armed missile.”

So how can the AFGSC briefing label North Korean ballistic missiles as nuclear-capable – and also conclude that the KN-09 cruise missile is nuclear-capable?

There are similar questions about the determination of when a weapon system is “fielded.” Does it mean it is fielded with the armed forces or simply that it has been seen? For example, how can a North Korean Musudan IRBM be considered fielded similarly to a Russia SS-27 ICBM?

Or how can the Musudan IRBM be identified as already “fielded” when it has not been flight tested and only displayed on parade, when the KN-08 is identified as not “fielded” even though it has also not been flight tested, also been displayed on parade, and even moved around North Korea?

Finally, how can the Russian Bulava SLBM and Kalibr SLCM be listed as “fielded” when their delivery platforms (Borei SSBN and Yasen SSGN, respectively) are listed as not fielded?

These inconsistencies cast doubt on the quality of the AFGSC briefing and whether it represents the conclusion of a coordinated Intelligence Community assessment, or simply is an effort to raise money in Congress for modernizing U.S. bombers and ICBMs.

Implications and Recommendations

There are still more than 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world and all the nuclear weapon states are busy maintaining and modernizing their arsenals. After Russia and the United States have insisted for decades that nuclear cruise missiles are essential for their security, the AFGSC briefing claims that China and North Korea are now trying to follow their lead.

For some, the AFGSC briefing will be (and probably already is) used to argue that nuclear threats against the United States and its allies are increasing and that Congress therefore should oppose further reductions of U.S. nuclear forces and instead approve modernizations of the remaining arsenal.

But Russia is not expanding its nuclear forces, the nuclear arsenals of China and Pakistan are much smaller than U.S. forces, and North Korea is in its infancy as a nuclear weapon state.

Instead, the rampant nuclear modernizations shown in the briefing symbolize struggling arms control and non-proliferation regimes that appear inadequate to turn the tide. They are being undercut by recommitments of a small group of nuclear weapon states to retain and improve nuclear forces for the indefinite future. The modernizations are partially being sustained by non-nuclear weapon states – often the very same who otherwise say they want nuclear disarmament – that insist on being protected by nuclear weapons.

The AFGSC briefing shows that there’s an urgent need for the international community to increase its pressure on the nuclear weapon states to curtail their nuclear programs. Especially limitations on MIRVed missiles are urgently needed. For its part, the Obama administration must reenergize its efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons.

There have been many nice speeches about reducing nuclear arsenals but too little progress on limiting the endless cycle of modernizations that sustain them.

Document: Air Force Global Strike Command Command Briefing

This publication was made possible by grants from the New-Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.