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

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

New Nuclear Notebook: Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2018

A Babur-3 dual-capable SLCM is test-launched from an underwater platform in the Indian Ocean on January 9, 2017.

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, and Julia Diamond

The latest FAS Nuclear Notebook has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Pakistani nuclear forces, 2018 (direct link to PDF). We estimate that Pakistan by now has accumulated an arsenal of 140-150 nuclear warheads for delivery by short- and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles and aircraft.

This is an increase of about ten warheads compared with our estimate from last year and continues the pace of the gradual increase of Pakistan’s arsenal we have seen for the past couple of decades. The arsenal is now significantly bigger than the 60-80 warheads the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in 1999 initially estimated Pakistan might have by 2020. If the current trend continues, we estimate that the Pakistani nuclear warhead stockpile could potentially grow to 220-250 warheads by 2025.

The future development obviously depends on many factors, not least the Pakistani military believes the arsenal needs to continue to grow or level out at some point. Also important is how the Indian nuclear arsenal evolves.

The Pakistani government and officials initially described Pakistan’s posture as a “credible minimum deterrent” but with development of tactical nuclear weapons later began to characterize it as a “full spectrum deterrent.” Moreover, development is now underway to add a sea-based leg to its nuclear posture, and a flight test was conducted in 2017 of a ballistic missile that Pakistani officials said would be capable of carrying multiple warheads to overcome missile defense systems.

Additional information can be found here:

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.


Pakistan’s Evolving Nuclear Weapons Infrastructure

Pakistan’s tactical NASR nuclear-capable mobile rocket launcher now appears to be deployed.

In our latest Nuclear Notebook on Pakistani nuclear forces, Robert Norris and I estimate that Pakistan has produced an estimated stockpile of 130-140 nuclear warheads for delivery by short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and fighter-bombers.

Pakistan now identifies with what is described as a full-spectrum nuclear deterrent posture, which is though to include strategic missiles and fighter-bombers for so-called retaliatory strikes in response to nuclear attacks, and short-range missiles for sub-strategic use in response to conventional attacks.

Although there have been many rumors over the years, the location of the nuclear-capable launchers has largely evaded the public eye for much of Pakistan’s 19-year old declared nuclear weapons history. Most public analysis has focused on the nuclear industry (see here for a useful recent study). But over the past several years, commercial satellite pictures have gradually brought into light several facilities that might form part of Pakistan’s evolving nuclear weapons launcher posture.

This includes 10 facilities, including 5 missile garrisons (soon possibly 6) as well 2 (possibly 4) air bases with fighter-bombers.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons related infrastructure includes at least 10 major industrial facilities and about 10 bases for nuclear-capable forces. Click map to view full size.

The nuclear warheads that would arm the launchers are thought to be stored at other secure facilities that have not yet been identified. In a crisis, these warheads would first have to be brought to the bases and mated with the launchers before they could be used.

Security at these and other Pakistani defense facilities is a growing concern and many have been upgraded with additional security perimeters during the past 10 years in response to terrorist attacks.

There are still many unknowns and uncertainties about the possible nuclear role of these facilities. All of the launchers are thought to be dual-capable, which means they can deliver both conventional and nuclear warheads. So even if a base has a nuclear role, most of the launchers might be assigned to the conventional mission. Further analysis in the future might disqualify some and identify others. But for now, this profile of potential road-mobile launcher garrisons and air bases are intended as a preliminary guide and accompany the recent FAS Nuclear Notebook on Pakistani nuclear forces.

Nuclear-Capable Road-Mobile Missile Launcher Bases

The total number and location of Pakistan’s nuclear-capable missile bases is not known. But analysis of commercial satellite photos has identified features that suggest that at least five bases might serve a role in Pakistan’s emerging nuclear posture. This includes army garrisons at Akro (Petaro), Gujranwala, Khuzdar, Pano Aqil, and Sargodha. A sixth base at Bahawalpur (29.2829, 71.7955) may be under construction. There is also a seventh base near Dera Ghazi Khan (29.9117, 70.4922), but the infrastructure is very different and not yet convincing.

An obvious difficulty in identifying nuclear missile bases is that the infrastructure is not yet publicly known, that commercial satellite photos do not have sufficient resolution to positively identify nuclear-capable launchers with certainty (especially smaller shorter-range types), that all launchers are dual-capable (not all bases with a certain launcher may have a nuclear role; and not all nuclear-capable launchers at a particular base may be assigned nuclear warheads), and that Pakistan (like other nuclear-armed states) most likely is engaged in considerable efforts to conceal and confuse identification of nuclear launchers.

With these caveats, here is a description with images of what we consider to be the five primary nuclear-capable bases and the primary TEL (Transporter Erector Launcher) production facility in Pakistan:

Akro Garrison: This base is located (25.5483, 68.3343) approximately 18 km (11 miles) north of Hyderabad between Akro and Petaro in the southern part of the Sindh Province approximately 145 kms (90 miles) from the Indian border. The garrison covers an area of 6.9 square kms (2.7 square miles) and has been expanded significantly since 2004 (the base was first pointed out to me by Martin Bulla, a German amateur satellite imagery enthusiast). The Akro Garrison includes a unique underground facility located under what appears to be a missile TEL garage complex. The underground facility consists of two star-shaped sections located along a central corridor that connects to two buildings with covered access ramps. The six TEL garages appear to be designed for 12 launchers.

The Akro Garrison has a TEL area with unique underground facility. 

It is not possible to identify the suspected launchers in the TEL complex from the available photos. But analysis of a vehicle training area in the northeast corner of the garrison shows what appears to be five-axel TELs for the Babur cruise missile weapon system.

In a hypothetical crisis the launchers presumably would load their complement of missiles at the base and disperse outside to predetermined launch locations in the region. The range of the Babur is uncertain; NASIC reports it as 350 km (217 miles) while the Pakistan government claims a range of more than 500 kms (373 miles), sometimes as much as 700 kms (435 miles). The Akro unit would be able to defend all of the southeastern part of Pakistan, including Karachi.

Gujranwala Garrison: This sprawling base complex covers an area of approximately 30 square kms (11.5 square miles) and is located (32.2410, 74.0730) in the northeastern part of the Punjab Province approximately 60 kms (37 miles) from the Indian border. Since 2010, the base has added what appears to be a TEL launcher area in the western part of the complex. There is also what appears to be a technical area for servicing the launchers. The TEL area became operational in 2014 or 2015. The TEL area appears to be made up of two identical sections (each consisting of launcher garages, a weapons loading hall, and a weapons storage igloo), each similar in design to the TEL area at Pano Aqil. The security perimeter appears to have room for a third TEL section. (This and other facilities have also been spotted by

Gujranwala Garrison appears to be a base for the NASR tactical nuclear-capable launcher.

Several trucks have been seen on the satellite pictures that strongly resemble the NASR short-range missile launcher. It is impossible to identify the launchers with certainty due to the relatively poor quality of the pictures (the launchers could potentially also be multiple rocket launchers), but the resemblance is strong with a drivers cabin, a power and hydraulics unit, and a twin box launcher seen on NASR test launch photos published by the Pakistan military. The range of the NASR is equal to the base’s distance from the Indian border.

Khuzdar Garrison: Of the missile garrisons located so far, the Khuzdar Garrison some 220 kms (136 miles) west of Sukkur in south-east Balochistan Province is the one located (27.7222, 66.6241) the farthest from the Indian border (295 kms or 183 miles). The base is split in two sections: a northern section and a southern section (where the TELs are based).

Possible launchers have not been seen and identified in Khuzdar photos, but the TEL garages are longer than at all the other bases except the Sargodha Garrison. This could potentially be a base for Shaheen-2 medium-range missile launchers.

The Khuzdar Garrison might deploy Shaheen-2 launchers.

The TEL area includes what appears to be an underground facility similar to the one identified at the Akro Garrison. It consists of two buildings on covered access ramps that probably provide TEL access to an underground weapons storage and handling facility.

Khuzdar appears to also have a second underground facility approximately 600 meters (1,800 feet) east of the TEL area. This facility has roughly the same overall dimensions as the suspected underground facility between the access ramps inside the TEL area, but the second facility has no TEL facilities on top of it and does not appear to have clear access points. One potential possibility is that this facility may be intended for a second TEL area in the future.

Pano Aqil Garrison: The Pano Aqil Garrison is split up in several sections that cover a combined area of nearly 20 square kms (7.7 square miles). This includes the main garrison area, a TEL area (27.8328, 69.1575), a munitions depot, an airfield, and a shooting range. The base is located approximately 80 kms (50 miles) from the Indian border in the northern part of the Sindh Province.

The TEL area is located 1.8 kms (1.2 miles) northeast of the main garrison and includes five TEL garages (a sixth is under construction) and a service building. At the north end of the facility are located a weapons storage igloo and a weapons handling hall. The layout of the TEL area is similar to the Gujranwala Garrison (which appears to have twice the capacity). The five TEL garages can potentially hold 25 TELs although some of the spaces are probably used by support vehicles.

The Pano Aqil Garrison has a remote TEL area.

Identification of TEL type is difficult due to the relatively poor quality of the satellite pictures, but it could potentially be NASR, Shaheen-1 or Ghaznavi short-range missile launchers.

Sargodha Garrison: The large munitions storage depot at Sargodha has long been rumored to include TEL garages. The facilities date back to the mid-1990s when Pakistan was first reported to have acquired M-11 missiles from China (DF-11 or CSS-7), which was used to produce what is now known as Pakistan’s Ghaznavi and Shaheen-1 short-range ballistic missiles. But the garages (31.9722, 72.6838) at Sargodha are nearly twice the size that would be needed by short-range Ghaznavi and Shaheen-1 launchers and seem better sized for medium-range Ghauri or Shaheen-2 launchers. There appear to be 10 TEL garages plus two garages with different dimensions that might be used for maintenance.

Yet the Sargodha complex has less of the type of infrastructure seen at other potential TEL bases. Much of the infrastructure seen might be used by personnel that maintain the large weapons depot itself. Whatever the large garages are used for, they are currently being upgraded and additional infrastructure is being added.

The Sargodha Garrison has large garages and underground facilities.

The Sargodha complex also includes several underground facilities, including a section with two large buildings that could potentially be missile handling halls. Additional tunnels are under construction.

National Development Complex: Several of the TEL types seen or suspected at the different missile garrisons are assembled at the National Development Complex (sometimes called National Defense Complex), or NDC. It consists of a string of facilities scattered across the Kala-Chitta Mountain Range west of Islamabad. But the heart of the complex is the TEL assembly section north of Fateh Jang (33.6292, 72.7106). NDC reportedly emerged in the mid-1990s to produce Gazhnavi and Shaheen-1 short-range ballistic missiles based on technology supplied by China.

Since then NDC has expanded considerably to include facilities west and east of the central TEL assembly area. The central area has expanded considerably since 2003, with the addition of a TEL truck assembly facility as well as three large high-bay TEL assembly halls for mounting missile compartments onto TEL trucks. For the past ten years, these facilities have been busy producing Shaheen-2 medium-range ballistic missile launchers and Babur ground-launched cruise missile launchers.

The National Development Complex assembles Shaheen and Babur missile launchers.

Satellite pictures give an example of the flow of production of different TEL types at NDC and also provide valuable reference points for comparing dimensions of TELs seen at individual missile garrisons. Several pictures from 2016, for example, show both 6-axel Shaheen-2 TELs and 5-axel Babur TELs, and possibly also 4-axel Shaheen-1 TELs, in the process of assembly or maintenance. The 8-axel Shaheen-3 TEL has not yet been seen as this weapon system is still very early in production and not yet operationally deployed.

Air Bases

Pakistan has a large number of air bases but only a small number is thought to be involved in the nuclear mission. This includes bases with Mirage and F-16 fighter-bombers. United States officials have stated that F-16s were sold to Pakistan on the conditions that they could not be uses to deliver nuclear weapons, but other sources have indicated that some of the planes were converted nonetheless. French-produced Mirage aircraft are widely assumed to be equipped to deliver the Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile.

Masroor Air Base: This base is located (24.8855, 66.9280) west of the city of Karachi and has long been suspected of serving a role in Pakistan’s airborne nuclear deterrent. The base is home to the 32nd Fighter Wing with Mirage fighter-bombers and is located only 5 kms (3 miles) from a potential nuclear weapons storage site (24.9429, 66.9083).

Over the past decade, unique facilities have been construction at Masroor Air Base that might potentially form part of Pakistan’s nuclear posture. This includes a large underground facility that is located inside a high-security area. The purpose of the facility has not been confirmed and could potentially also involve command and control. Yet the facility is clearly unique compared with other Air Bases and might potentially serve as an underground nuclear weapons storage and handling facility. (Update: the underground facility is possibly a command center.)

Masroor Air Base includes unique underground facilities.

Another unique facility at Masroor Air Base is a hardened aircraft shelter connected by an underground tunnel to what appears to be a weapons storage facility. The purpose of this facility (first spotted by is unknown but could potentially be designed to enable concealed nuclear weapons loading of Mirage fighter-bombers.

It should be emphasized that despite the interesting features of some of the facilities at Masroor Air Base, there is no official publicly available information that explicitly identifies them as nuclear.

Mushaf Air Base: One of Pakistan’s oldest suspected nuclear-capable air bases is Mushaf Air Base located (32.0431, 72.6710) near Sargodha in the Punjab Province. The base is the home of the 38th Wing with F-16 squadrons that have long been suspected of forming part of Pakistan’s air-borne nuclear deterrent.

One pair of hardened aircraft shelters at the base are located inside an area with additional security perimeter but there is little visible evidence of nuclear facilities at the base. The munitions storage area shows no unique structures that suggest a nuclear weapons storage role.

Mushaf Air Base has long been rumored to have a nuclear role.

Instead, nuclear bombs for the F-16s at Mushaf Air Base might be stored at the nearby Sargodha weapons storage facility less than 10 kms (6 miles) to the south.

Others Air Bases: There are a couple of other Mirage and F-16 Air Bases that could potentially also serve a role as part of Pakistan’s airborne nuclear strike mission. This includes the Mirage-equipped base at Rafiqui (30.7580, 72.2822), which has been upgrade over the past three years. The F-16 base at Shahbaz (28.2825, 68.4506) has been upgraded considerably to accommodate the new F-16s (Block 52).

These and other bases could potentially serve a dispersal bases for Mirage and F-16 nuclear-capable bombers. But there is little visible physical evidence to suggest they serve a nuclear role. Likewise, Kamra (Minhas) Air Base (33.8697, 72.4004) has often been suspected to have a nuclear role but appears to serve as conversion facility for aircraft.

Conclusions and Implications

Commercial satellite pictures provide new information about Pakistan’s emerging nuclear weapons posture that includes missile garrisons for short-range nuclear-capable missiles, unique underground facilities potentially intended for nuclear weapons storage, and air bases with possible nuclear-related facilities.

The tactical nuclear-capable launchers do not present a strategic threat to India due to their short range, but their introduction into the Pakistani armed forces raises important questions about early dispersal of nuclear warheads and launch authority in a crisis as well as potential earlier use of nuclear weapons in a conflict with India.

We estimate that Pakistan currently has a stockpile of 130-140 nuclear warheads and is building more. But we also take note of statements by some Pakistan officials that the country might not intend to continue to increase it arsenal indefinitely but may soon reach the goal for the size of its full-spectrum deterrent. Whether and when that will happen remains to be seen. For now the Pakistani arsenal is in a dynamic phase.

Additional 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.

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.

An AUMF Against the Islamic State, and More from CRS

Ongoing U.S. military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria lacks any specific authorization from Congress.  A comparative analysis of various proposals for Congress to enact an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State is provided in an updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Although the Obama Administration has claimed 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF authority for its recent and future actions against the Islamic State, these claims have been subject to debate,” the report said.

“Some contend that the Administration’s actions against the IS also fall outside the President’s Article II powers. Concerned with Congress’s constitutional role in the exercise of the war power, perceived presidential overreach in that area of constitutional powers, and the President’s expansion of the use of military force in Iraq and Syria, several Members of Congress have expressed the view that continued use of military force against the Islamic State requires congressional authorization. Members have differed on whether such authorization is needed, given existing authorities, or whether such a measure should be enacted.”

“This report focuses on the several proposals for a new AUMF specifically targeting the Islamic State made during the 113th and 114th Congresses. It includes a brief review of existing authorities and AUMFs, as well as a discussion of issues related to various provisions included in existing and proposed AUMFs that both authorize and limit presidential use of military force.”  See A New Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State: Issues and Current Proposals, January 15, 2016.

Other new and newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

North Korea: Legislative Basis for U.S. Economic Sanctions, updated January 14, 2016

North Korea: A Comparison of S. 1747, S. 2144, and H.R. 757, January 15, 2016

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation, updated January 15, 2016

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations: FY2016, updated January 14, 2016

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, updated January 14, 2016

Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons, updated January 14, 2016

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.

Keeping the Lights on: Fixing Pakistan’s Energy Crisis

Legal and illegal power connections in Lahore, Pakistan

A stable and thriving Pakistan is the key to preserving harmony and facilitating progress in the broader South Asia region. Afghanistan, which is to the west of Pakistan, has a long border that divides the Pakhtun people between the countries. As a result of this border, Pakistan not only has a significant role in the Afghan economy, but instability in the loosely governed Pakistani frontier region spills across the border into Afghanistan. Because of this relationship, Pakistan has a direct impact on the outcome on the 13 year U.S. led war in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, an unstable Pakistan would not only shatter budding trade relations with India, but could also spark conflict between the two nuclear armed rivals.

From frequent attacks by Islamic militants across the country to a slowing economy, it is clear that there are many issues that threaten Pakistan’s stability. However, the most pressing issue that Pakistan faces today is its deteriorating economy. In particular, a crushing energy shortage across the country significantly constrains economic growth. This fiscal year, Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is forecasted to grow by measly 3.4 percent. At the same time, the country’s population is expected to grow by 1.8 percent adding to the 189 million people living there today. If there aren’t jobs available for the millions of young Pakistanis entering the work force, not only will poverty increase, but there is a strong possibly that some of these youth could vent their frustrations by joining the countless Islamic militant groups active in the country.

To build a more prosperous economy, Pakistan needs to address its energy problems. Without a reliable source of electricity or natural gas, how can Pakistani businesses compete on the global market? Large parts of the country today face blackouts lasting an average of 10 hours each day because of the electricity shortage. The current gap between electricity generation and demand is roughly 2500 MW, a shortage large enough to keep a population of 20 million or the city of Karachi in the dark.

These power shortages are only expected to become worse in the coming summer months. This is because demand for electricity peaks in the sizzling heat, while hydroelectric generation decreases as the water flow in the rivers drops due to seasonal fluctuation. This article will focus on the causes of the country’s energy problems involving the electricity sector and explore possible directions Pakistan can take to improve its energy situation, building its economy in the process.

How Does Pakistan Generate its Electricity?

Figure 1: Pakistan’s Electricity Generation by Source

Figure 1 breaks down Pakistan’s electricity generation by source. Thermal power, which includes natural gas, oil, and coal generated electricity, accounts for 70 percent of Pakistan’s total electricity generation, while hydroelectric generation is roughly responsible for the remaining 30 percent.

Electricity generated from furnace oil accounts for slightly over a third of Pakistan electricity. In the early 1990s, the country faced a power shortage of about 2000 MW when there was a peak load on the electricity grid. To resolve the growing crisis, the Pakistani government implemented a new policy in 1994, which was designed to attract foreign investment in the power sector and as a result there was construction of oil based power plants. These power plants were cheaper and faster to construct compared to other electricity generation plants such as hydroelectric dams. At the same time, the relatively low prices (below $17 a barrel) of crude oil meant that these plants generated electricity fairly cheaply. Fast forward to present times, the price of crude oil has risen to hover roughly around $100 a barrel. Unlike nearby Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is naturally not well endowed in crude oil reserves. This means that Pakistan must ship increasing amount of valuable currency abroad to secure the oil it needs to keeps these power plants running.

Along with furnace oil power plants, natural gas is used to generate about another third of electricity; it is provided by domestic reserves, thereby helping Pakistan’s economy and energy security. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pakistan has proven natural gas reserves of 24 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2012. These reserves will last Pakistan an estimated 17 years based on the country’s annual consumption rate of 1.382 Tcf in 2012. At the same time, consumption rates are estimated to increase four fold to nearly 8 Tcf per year by the year 2020, further reducing the size of the domestic reserves.

The Pakistani government in 2005 under President Pervez Musharraf promoted the conversion of cars to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) instead of gasoline. The rationale was that this conversion would reduce the amount of money spent on purchasing and importing oil abroad. At the same time, CNG is cleaner for the environment than burning gasoline. As a result of this policy, more than 80 percent of Pakistan’s cars today run on CNG.But because of this surging demand for its limited natural gas, there is a critical shortage of it which has adversely impacted the country’s ability to use this fuel source to generate electricity. Essentially Pakistanis are forced to decide whether to use natural gas to fuel their cars, cook their food, or generate electricity.

Power Theft and the Circular Debt Issue

The reliance on oil and natural gas to generate electricity is incredibly inefficient, but these inefficiencies alone are not responsible for the crippling power shortages. The other source of tension involves the accumulation of circular debt in the electricity sector over the past few years. Circular debt is a situation where consumers, electricity producers and the government all owe each other money and are unable to pay. By June 2013 when the new government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took control, this circular debt had ballooned to $5 billion.

There are several reasons for the accumulation of this debt; the largest problem stems from power theft. Many Pakistani elites and even parts of the government do not pay their electricity bills. The law and order situation also prevent power companies from collecting bills in certain parts of the country. As a result, Pakistani electricity companies currently recover only 76 percent of the money that electricity consumers owe them. In fact, the Pakistani Minister for Water and Power, Mr. Khwaja Muhammad Asif, has acknowledged that the Pakistani government is one of the country’s largest defaulters of electricity bills. As part of recent crackdown, the power ministry cut supplies to the Prime Minister’s home and the Parliament House (among many government offices) because they were delinquent on their electricity bills. While many Pakistanis don’t pay their electricity bills, others steal power by illegally hooking into the power grid. This theft coupled with an inefficient electricity grid and the associated transmission loss means that Pakistan’s electricity generators are left with huge financial losses.

All these losses accumulate to form the circular debt and it places power producers in a position where they are unable to purchase enough fuel from abroad to operate power plants at full capacity. With an installed generation capacity of 22500 MW, Pakistan currently has more than enough installed capacity to meet peak demand levels today. The power producers are in reality only able to generate between 12000MW and 15000MW because of both inefficient energy infrastructure and circular debt. This actual amount of electricity generated is far less than the 17000 MW of demand nationwide during peak hours of electricity usage.

The circular debt also makes it more difficult for power producers to invest in upgrading existing electricity infrastructure. If power producers don’t have the money to operate oil based power plants at full capacity, they certainly do not have enough capital to build newer, more efficient power plants. Even when the lights are on, the inefficient electricity system takes an additional toll on the country’s economy. Pakistanis today pay more than double their Indian neighbors for electricity (16.95 Pakistani Rupees vs. 7.36 Pakistani Rupees per KWh respectively), putting Pakistani firms at a further disadvantage compared to regional competitors.

Fixing Pakistan’s Electricity Problems

One of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s first actions after taking office was to pay off the $5 billion in circular debt that had accumulated by July 2013. Unfortunately, this step alone will not solve the power woes as it does not fix the underlying causes of the country’s power crisis. In fact, the circular debt has accumulate again, and stood at $1.8 billion by January 2014.  To sustainably address the power crisis, Pakistanis need to change their attitude towards power theft by forcing the government and those delinquent to clear outstanding bills. At the same time, Pakistan must improve the efficiency of its electricity sector as well as expand and diversify its electricity generating capacity in order to ensure that the country can handle the expected growth in demand over the coming years.

Hydroelectric Generation

Pakistan has tremendous potential to expand its electricity generating capacity by developing its renewable energy resources. At nearly 30 percent, hydroelectricity is already a major source of electricity generation, but according to the Pakistani government, this reflects only 13 percent of the total hydroelectric potential of the country. There are several drawbacks of major hydroelectric projects including that they are capital intensive and require extensive time to build. Furthermore, hydroelectric dams are harmful to the local ecosystem and can displace large populations. The U.S. government is actively investing in helping Pakistan develop its hydroelectric resources; in 2011, USAID funded the renovation of the Tarbela Dam. In the process, this added generation capacity of 128 MW, which is enough electricity for 2 million Pakistanis.

Solar Energy

Figure 2: Pakistan’s Solar Generation Potential

According to the USAID map of solar potential in Pakistan, the country has tremendous potential in harnessing the sun to generate electricity.  Pakistan has an average daily insolation rate of 5.3 kWH/m2, which is similar to the average daily insolation rate in Phoenix (5.38 kWH/m2) or Las Vegas (5.3 kWH/m2), which are some of the best locations in the United States for solar generated electricity. So far, Pakistan has begun construction on a photovoltaic power plant in Punjab that will begin to produce 100 MW by the end of 2014.According to the World Bank some 40,000 villages in Pakistan are not electrified. Tapping into these solar resources could easily electrify many of these off the grid villages, while avoiding an increase in demand on the national electricity grid.

Nuclear Energy

Pakistan has three currently active nuclear power plants: two located in Punjab and one in the southern port city of Karachi. The two Chinese built nuclear power plants in Punjab each have a net generation capacity of 300 MW. The Karachi power plant, which was built with a reactor supplied by Canada in 1972, has a net generation capacity of 125 MW, enough to provide power to 2 million Pakistanis. China has been a key supplier and investor in Pakistani nuclear energy, but there are some concerns regarding the transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan, where A.Q. Khan’s nuclear network was headquartered. Specifically, China argues that its alliance with Pakistan predates its joining of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which has restricted nuclear sales to Pakistan, so this justifies its desire to supply Pakistan with the technology. The Chinese are helping construct four more nuclear power plants, the first of which is expected to be online starting in 2019. While these plants will add 2,200 MW of generation capacity, these nuclear power projects are expensive; the current nuclear power plants under construction are said to cost about $5 billion per plant, an investment that China is helping finance.

Coal Power

There is a large amount of coal located in the Thar Desert in the southeastern part of the country. While the quality of the coal isn’t the best, Pakistan has a lot of it, nearly 175 billion tons, which is enough to meet current electricity demands for more than 300 years. However, Pakistan currently only has one operational coal power plant.

Pakistan is taking steps to develop this resource. In January 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Zardari broke ground on a $1.6 billion coal power project in the Thar Desert. This particular project is expected to be operational by 2017.

Pakistan has taken some clear steps such as developing its renewable resources and tapping its coal reserves, which can help expand and diversify where and how it generates its electricity. Further harnessing these resources will help alleviate the electricity shortfall. However, these steps alone will not solve the energy crisis. The more difficult solution involves changing the country’s attitude toward power theft, both by private citizens and the government. Convincing people to pay their electricity bills is difficult when even the government itself doesn’t pay its fair share. At the same time, there is less incentive to pay when citizens don’t even have access to a dependable source of electricity when they need it. As long as this attitude is prevalent among Pakistanis from all walks of life as well as the government, the country cannot sustainably solve its energy woes. Circular debt will continue to accumulate and large sections of the country will face hours of darkness each day.

Tackling the energy problem is the first step to strengthening the economy; over time, a growing economy will attract greater investment in the energy sector. Pakistan’s sensitive geographic location could become a strategic asset as it would serve as a bridge linking the economies of Afghanistan and Central Asia with the broader Indian subcontinent. Not only does the population provide Pakistan with a large domestic market, but it also empowers the country with a young, entrepreneurial workforce. This gives Pakistan tremendous potential, but can only be unleashed if the country figures out a way to keep the lights on and the factories humming.

Population Projection Tables by Country: Pakistan. The World Bank. 2014.

“Global Economic Prospects: Pakistan,” The World Bank, 2014.

Ghumman, Khawar, “Increased loadshedding worries Prime Minister,” Dawn, April 24 2014.

“Electricity shortfall reaches 2,500MW,” The Nation, Jan 2 2014.

“Pakistan Energy Yearbook,” Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan, 2012.

“Policy Framework and Package of Incentives for Private Sector Power Generation Projects in Pakistan,” Government of Pakistan, 1994.

Beg, Fatima and Fahd Ali, “The History of Private Power in Pakistan,” Sustainable Development Policy Institute, 2007.

“Crude Oil Purchase Price.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014.

Pakistan. U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Tirmizi, Farooq, “The Myth of Pakistan’s infinite gas reserves,” The Express Tribune, Mar 14 2011.

“Natural Gas Allocation and Management Policy,” Government of Pakistan: Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Resources, Sept 2005.

Boone, Jon, “Pakistan’s government deflates dream of gas-powered cars,” The Guardian, Dec 25 2013.

Bhutta, Zafar, “Circular debt: Power sector liabilities may cross Rs1 trillion by 2014,” The Express Tribune, May 26 2013.

Pakistan’s Energy Crisis: Power Politics. The Economist, May 21 2012.

Jamal, Nasir. “Amount of unpaid power bills increases to Rs286bn.” Dawn. Apr 16 2014.

“Govt one of the biggest electricity defaulters, says Khawaja Asif.” Dawn, May 2 2014.

“Pakistan cuts prime minister’s electricity for not paying bills” Reuters. Apr 29 2014.

Kazmi, Shabbir. “Pakistan’s Energy Crisis.” The Diplomat, Aug 31 2013.

Abduhu, Salman. “Lack of funds real reason behind loadshedding.” The Nation, May 9 2014.

Electricity Shock: “Pakistanis Paying the Highest Tariffs in Region.” The Express Tribune, Jan 31 2014.

Chaudhry, Javed. “Circular Debt: ‘All dues will be cleared by July’.” The Express Tribune, June 14 2013.

“Hydropower Resources of Pakistan.” Private Power and Infrastructure Board, Feb 2011.

USAID Issues $6.66 m for Tarbela Units. Dawn. Mar 9 2011.

“Tarbela Dam Project.” USAID, Sept 26 2013.

“Pakistan Resource Maps.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Aug 2006.

The Feasibility of Renewable Energy in Pakistan, Triple Bottom-Line, 2012.

“Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy,” NASA, 2013.

Quad-e-Azam Solar Power.

Renewable Energy in Pakistan: Opportunities and Challenges, COMSATS-Science Vision, December 2011.

CHASNUPP-1. Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2014.

CHASNUPP-2. Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2014.

KANUPP. Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2014.

Shah, Saeed. “Pakistan in Talks to Acquire 3 Nuclear Plants From China.” The Wall Street Journal, Jan 20 2014.

Mahr, Krista. “How Pakistan and China Are Strengthening Nuclear Ties.” Time, Dec 2 2013.

“Pakistan’s Thar Coal Power Generation Potential.” Private Power and Infrastructure Board, July 2008.

“Discovery Of Ignite Coal In Thar Desert.” Geological Survey of Pakistan, 2009.

“Nawaz, Zardari launch Thar coal power project.” Dawn, Jan 31 2014.

Ravi Patel is a student at Stanford University where he recently completed a B.S. in Biology and is currently pursuing an M.S. in Biology. He completed an honors thesis on developing greater Indo-Pakistan trade under Sec. William Perry at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). Patel is the president of the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum. He also founded the U.S.-Pakistan Partnership, a collaborative research program linking American and Pakistani university students. In the summer of 2012, Patel was a security scholar at the Federation of American Scientists. He also has extensive biomedical research experience focused on growing bone using mesenchymal stem cells through previous work at UCSF’s surgical research laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Nelson Zhao is a fourth year undergraduate at University of California, Davis pursuing degrees in economics and psychology. Nelson is the Vice-President at the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum and the Program Director at the U.S.-Pakistan Partnership. At the U.S.-Pakistan Partnership, he aims to develop a platform to convene the brightest students in order to cultivate U.S.-Pakistan’s bilateral relations.

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.

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.