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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

India Nuclear Testing

India conducted its first nuclear detonation, described by India as a "peaceful nuclear explosion," on 18 May 1974. This test, which may have only been partially successful, demonstrated a claimed yield of perhaps 12 kt. It is reported that Western intelligence estimated the probable yield at 4-6 kilotons.

The nuclearisation of India has been an article of faith for the BJP. One of the few concrete steps taken by BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee in his brief 13-day term as Prime Minister in May 1996 was approval for DRDO and DAE to begin preparations for a nuclear test. However, the Government fell two days before the tests could begin, and the succeeding United Front government of H.D. Deve Gowda declined to proceed.

A statement to the press by Prime Minister Deve Gowda in September 1996 noted that India had no plans to build nuclear weapons or to test. Senior Indian officials reaffirmed statements of restraint concerning nuclear testing, while preserving the option to test if New Delhi's security situation changed significantly. In late October 1996, one of India's prominent nuclear scientists said publicly that India's present nuclear capability was sufficient and there was no need to conduct further nuclear tests.

Despite promoting a test ban treaty for decades, India voted against the UN General Assembly resolution endorsing the CTBT, which was adopted on September 10, 1996, by an overwhelming margin (158-3, with 5 abstentions). Not prepared to take steps that it feared will constrain its "nuclear option," India objected to the lack of provision for universal nuclear disarmament "within a time-bound framework." India also demanded that the treaty ban laboratory simulations. In addition, India opposed the provision in Article XIV of the CTBT that requires its ratification for the treaty to enter into force, which it argued was a violation of its sovereign right to choose whether it would sign the treaty. In early February 1997, Foreign Minister Gujral reiterated India's opposition to the treaty, saying that "India favors any step aimed at destroying nuclear weapons, but considers that the treaty in its current form is not comprehensive and bans only certain types of tests." Nevertheless, India's poor showing in the vote in October 1996 for a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council, coming so closely on the heels of its isolation on the CTBT, caused some in India to question the wisdom of New Delhi's hard-line tactics in trying to block the CTBT.

Operation Shakti was authorised two days after the Ghauri missile test-firing in Pakistan. On 08 April 1998 Prime Minister Vajpayee met with Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) chief R. Chidambaram and head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and gave the go-ahead for nuclear weapons tests. On the morning of 08 May 1998 scientists from DRDO and DAE arrived at Pokhran, and soon thereafter, the devices were emplaced.

On 11 May 1998 India carried out three underground nuclear tests at the Pokhran range. Two days later, after carrying out two more underground sub-kiloton tests, the Government announced the completion of the planned series of tests. The three underground nuclear tests carried out at 1545 hours on 11 May were claimed to be with three different devices - a fission device with a yield of about 12 KT, a thermonuclear device with a yield of about 43 KT and a sub-kiloton device. All the 3 devices were detonated simultaneously. The two tests carried out at 1221 hours on 13 May were also detonated simultaneously. The yields of the sub-kiloton devices were claimed to be in the range of 0.2 to 0.6 KT."

Fission device   18 May 1974 12-15 kiloton 4-6 kiloton
Shakti 1 Thermonuclear device   11 May 1998 43-60 kiloton 12-25 kiloton
Shakti 2 Fission device 11 May 1998 12 kiloton ??
Shakti 3 Low-yield device 11 May 1998 0.2 kiloton low
Shakti 4 Low-yield device 13 May 1998 0.5 kiloton low
Shakti 5 Low-yield device 13 May 1998 0.3 kiloton low

1197413805/18/74 02:34:55.027.095N71.752E5.012--GUPTA+PABIAN2042415960
2199813105/11/98 10:13:42.027.100N71.860E5.2--Shakti-1PDE-Q13920741349
3199813305/13/98 00:00:00.0---.6-Shakti-4NEWSPAPER204245250

Based on seismic data, US government sources and independent experts estimated the yield of the so-called thermonuclear test in the range of 15-25 kilotons [versus the 43-60 kiloton yield claimed by India]. Observers initially suggested that the test could have been a boosted fission device, rather than a true multi-stage thermonuclear device. By late 1998 analysts at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had concluded that the second stage of a two-stage Indian hydrogen bomb device failed to ignite as planned.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:40:46 ZULU