India should not stop nuclear tests but carry on with Pokhran like tests till the point of a reliable, proven, safe thermonuclear arsenal is attained, writes Jay Desai

In 1998 the then Defence Minister of India, George Fernandes had said that the Government of India conducted Pokhran II tests due to the nuclear threat from China. But China does not consider India a credible threat when it comes to the existence of Indian State as a nuclear weapon state. Does the Indian nuclear arsenal face a credibility crisis with respect to China? Is it primarily due to India not having thermonuclear weapons similar to China?

India has nuclear weapons which is the fission weapons (20 kiloton yield) that are absolutely not enough to deter China. As India completed the 23rd anniversary on 13 May 2021 of the May 1998 nuclear test that is the Shakti series of test (also called Pokhran II); these tests were basically a mid station between what India should have done and where India should have gotten to and where India stopped. So basically the 1998 series of test was merely a passage to more testing until India developed more sophisticated design that is thermonuclear weapons ranging from low to high yield in two stages.

That was the entire logic behind the ‘Operation Shakti’ except it was short circuited by the then Vajpayee Government which stopped as known all test at five in May 1998. So this was a truncated kind of testing that has not served any purpose with respect to the Chinese. It is primarily because of Shakti I also called the S1 test (thermonuclear bomb) that design did not quite work, it did not work simply because there were flaws in the design which needed to be rectified.

DRDO Scientist Dr. Santhanam who was Director of field testing in Pokhran II, wrote a letter immediately to the GOI after the 1998 nuclear explosions saying that more testing is essential because S1 did not quite work out to the yield requirements it was designed for. This is apart from the fact that Prime Minister Vajpayee had announced on 28 May 1998 that no further test will be done. In my opinion India should continue with its nuclear tests because in those 1998 nuclear test the device tested, worked only 7% to 20% of its designed yield; not good enough for thermonuclear.

Therefore, it is urgently essential for the GOI to resume nuclear testing. Countries like America are not going to allow India to reach technological parity, which is why Indian technology is frozen at the sub thermonuclear level. At that time in 1998, the then US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott wanted to ensure India does not become a country having nuclear weapons beyond the rudimentary stage like India’s moderate nuclear deterrent of 20 Kiloton (up to which only the Pokhran II was a success).

So India should not stop nuclear tests and carry on like Pokhran III, IV….. till the point a reliable, proven, safe and credible thermonuclear arsenal is attained; unless India gets it, one cannot claim thermonuclear weapons status because as of now no credible thermonuclear weapons exists! Bharat Karnad says A “megaton thermonuclear-ICBM” will also permit India to “stare down” China and deter China from seeking a military confrontation.

Simulation in the case of a thermonuclear bomb cannot become a valid argument by substituting nuclear test. Bharat Karnad says “According to a senior DRDO official involved in the nuclear testing, some six months after the May 1998 tests, he recommended resumption of testing to the government because he was convinced that the test of the hydrogen bomb was inadequate for the purposes of developing simulation software and designing performance-capable thermonuclear weapons.”

If these nuclear tests are not done in the time to come and the thermonuclear bomb (also called big bomb and fusion weapon) is not attained then one is relying on the fact that China will not prefer to test India’s nuclear arsenal. After the S1 test on 11 May 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee had officially claimed that we have successfully tested a thermonuclear device.

If the Chinese experiment with India’s capability by launching a first strike, then India would be stuck that is unable to deliver a massive retaliation due to the only proven, tested weapon being the 20 kiloton after the Pokhran-II test.

So India’s nuclear weapons capabilities are at a sub-optimal level and as a Security Analyst to my mind that is a very infirm kind of situation for a country like India to be in, especially when India intends to become a great power!