SIPRI Report: India Now Has More Nuclear Warheads Than Pakistan

For the first time since their nuclear tests in 1998, India has outpaced Pakistan in the number of nuclear warheads it possesses, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Released during the Eid holidays, the report shows India having 172 warheads compared to Pakistan's 170, marking a significant shift in the nuclear balance between the two arch-rivals.

Historically, Western assessments, including those from SIPRI and the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), have always placed Pakistan slightly ahead of India, usually by a margin of five to ten warheads. This latest development reflects a change in the dynamics of nuclear arsenals in South Asia.

The data from SIPRI, while based on satellite imagery and operational histories of uranium enrichment and plutonium production facilities, raises questions about the precision of these estimates due to the opacity of both countries' nuclear programs. Neither India nor Pakistan openly verify these Western assessments, contributing to ongoing skepticism about the accuracy of such reports.

There are claims that political motivations influence Western estimates of South Asian nuclear capabilities. India, with a comprehensive nuclear triad and vast indigenous uranium reserves, logically would have a robust nuclear arsenal. The 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver further enabled India to import nuclear fuel, allowing it to conserve its own uranium for weapons development.

Despite the SIPRI report's findings, it notes that neither country currently has deployed nuclear weapons. However, India is reportedly moving towards a strategy of pre-attaching some warheads to their launchers during peacetime, indicating a shift in its nuclear posture.

As of January 2024, Pakistan's estimated 170 nuclear warheads are distributed across its developing nuclear triad, which includes aircraft, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, and sea-launched cruise missiles. Pakistan's military doctrine, which does not adhere to a no-first-use policy, emphasizes the right to pre-emptive nuclear strikes, particularly due to perceived conventional force imbalances with India. The focus on non-strategic nuclear weapons is seen as a counter to India’s 'Cold Start' doctrine.

Pakistan’s air-delivered nuclear force comprises a small stockpile of gravity bombs and developing cruise missiles like the Ra’ad (Hatf-8). Combat aircraft such as the Mirage-III, Mirage-V, F-16, and JF-17 serve as potential nuclear delivery platforms. The land-based arsenal includes various missile systems like the Shaheen and Ghauri series, with the Shaheen-III and the Ababeel, which explores MIRV technology, still in development.

For sea-based capabilities, Pakistan is advancing the Babur-3 submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM), although it currently lacks a submarine platform capable of deploying nuclear weapons, trailing behind India in this aspect.

India's 172 nuclear warheads form part of its developing triad, including aircraft, land-based missiles, and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). India’s airborne nuclear capability features aircraft like the Mirage 2000H, Jaguar IS, and Rafale. The land-based missile arsenal includes several types of ballistic missiles, with new models like the Agni-P nearing deployment. The sea-based leg is expanding with plans for multiple SSBNs, enhancing India’s second-strike capabilities.

Globally, all nine nuclear-armed countries are modernizing their arsenals and deploying new nuclear-capable weapon systems. The SIPRI report highlights the persistent modernization efforts, including the development of new technologies like multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, which could significantly increase the number of deployable warheads.

Pakistan and India are both increasing their nuclear capabilities, with India now having a slight lead in the number of nuclear weapons, amid growing global tensions.

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