New Delhi: India could “deeply unsettle” its neighbours Pakistan and China as it is building a secret facility in its southern Karnataka state to augment its nuclear power for civilian use and upgradation of its weapons, a foreign policy journal has reported.
According to an exhaustive report published on December 16 in the international US magazine Foreign Policy, the work on the project in southern Karnataka began early in 2012.
The 14-page report said tribal pastureland was blocked off with a barbed-wire fence at Challakere for “a project that experts say will be the subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories, and weapons- and aircraft-testing facilities when it’s completed, probably sometime in 2017”.
The project’s primary aim was to expand the government’s nuclear research, to produce fuel for India’s nuclear reactors, and to help power the country’s fleet of new submarines, says the Foreign Policy journal.
“But another, more controversial ambition, according to retired Indian government officials and independent experts in London and Washington, is to give India an extra stockpile of enriched uranium fuel that could be used in new hydrogen bombs, also known as thermonuclear weapons, substantially increasing the explosive force of those in its existing nuclear arsenal,” the report reads.
New Delhi has never made public details of its nuclear arsenal, which it first developed in 1974, the magazine said.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent agency, estimates that India already possesses between 90 and 110 nuclear weapons, as compared to neighbour Pakistan’s estimated stockpile of up to 120. China, which borders India to the north, has approximately 260 warheads.
The report says that China and Pakistan would see the secret project as a provocation. “Experts say they might respond by ratcheting up their own nuclear firepower. Pakistan, in particular, considers itself a military rival, having engaged in four major conflicts with India, as well as frequent border skirmishes.”
“I believe that India intends to build thermonuclear weapons as part of its strategic deterrent against China,” Gary Samore, who served from 2009 to 2013 as the White House coordinator for arms control, was quoted by ‘Foreign Policy’ as saying.
Other than the Challakere project, Western monitoring agencies were keeping an eye on a similar nuclear facility near Mysuru, also in Karnataka.
“However, Western knowledge about how India’s weapons are stored, transported, and protected, and how the radiological and fissile material that fuels them is guarded and warehoused — the chain of custody — remains rudimentary,” the report added.
According to the magazine, a retired official who served inside the nuclear cell at the Indian prime minister’s office, the apex organisation that supervises the military nuclear programme, conceded that other uses besides submarines had been anticipated “for many years”.
He pointed to a “thermonuclear bomb programme” as “a beneficiary” and suggested India had had no choice but to “develop a new generation of more powerful megaton weapons” if it was to maintain “credible minimum deterrence”