China, India, Pak Nuclear Forces - SIPRI YB 2021

SIPRI Year Book 2021 provides an overview of World’s nuclear forces, a summary of relevant details of China, India and Pakistan is provided herein indicating incremental upgradation of capabilities in all dimensions.

Nuclear Warheads

SIPRI estimates China has 350 nuclear warheads, an increase of 30 from 2019, possibly due to DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) likely to carry more warheads. 270 warheads are assigned to China’s operational land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and to nuclear-configured aircraft and remainder for new systems in development.

India is estimated to have inventory of about 156 nuclear weapons, an increase of roughly 6 from 2019 which are operationally assigned to the nuclear triad as estimated by SIPRI.

Pakistan is estimated to possess approximately 165 nuclear warheads an annual increase of 5.


China’s nuclear doctrine continues to be of No First Use with minimum deterrence for national security as estimated by SIPRI. This is achieved by, “building a fully operational triad of nuclear forces with solid-fuelled land-based missiles, six nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and bombers,” for a credible second-strike capability.

The nuclear warheads are de-mated but China is assessed by the United States to be moving to a “launch-on-warning posture,” for land-based ICBMs. SIPRI however believes that mating has not taken place even for China’s SSBNs in nuclear deterrence patrols.

India’s deterrence is increasingly veering towards China with development of longer-range missiles with commitment to NFU which has been qualified with caveats as recorded by SIPRI. Canisterizing the Agni V is a step that may be ongoing as per SIPRI which may lead to pre-mating. This is also likely in the case of the SLBMs carried by nuclear submarines.

The role of nuclear weapons in Pakistani military doctrine is ‘full spectrum deterrence posture’ implying the use of nukes as a means for deterring a conventional military offensive by India which presupposes that multiple integrated battle groups could be below Pak nuclear threshold.

Development of, “short-range, lower-yield nuclear-capable weapon systems,” including tactical nuclear Aircraft and air-delivered weapons such as gravity bombs provides such a capability. Mention is made by SIPRI of Ra’ad (Hatf-8) air launched cruise missile (ALCM) with a range of 350 kilometres with an improved version, the Ra’ad-II with 600 km range though SIPRI believes that these have not been deployed as estimated by SIPRI.

Nuclear Triad - Air

China is developing the nuclear triad with the H-6N (B-6N) air-to-air refuelable bomber which is reported to be nuclear capable.

In line with the same China is also developing two new air-launched ballistic missiles (ALBMs), ‘one of which may include a nuclear payload,’ “ variants of the Dong Feng-21, or DF-21 (CSS-5), medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM)”. H 20 strategic bomber with 8500 kilometres and a stealthy design is now under development.

SIPRI estimates 48 nuclear bombs are assigned to aircraft by India with Mirage 2000H fighter-bombers certified for delivery of nuclear gravity bombs and the IAF’s Jaguar IS fighter-bombers also having a similar role. The Rafale could well take on this as 18 fighters have so far been delivered to the Indian Air Force.

Pakistan Air Force is estimated to use Mirage III and Mirage V aircraft for gravity bombs and nuclear-capable Ra’ad ALCM which is under development.


China has a vast array of land-based nuclear capable missiles undergoing gradual modernization, “as China replaces ageing silo-based, liquid-fuelled missiles with new mobile, solid-fuelled models and increases the number of road-mobile missile launchers,” essentially to match USA’s advances in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and in precision-guided conventional weapons.

China is estimated to have an arsenal of 100 ICBMs which will grow to 200 by 2025 as per US Department of Defence quoted by SIPRI.

With reference to the regional environment, PLA Rocket Force is developing dual-capable DF-26 (CSS-18) intermediate-range ballistic missile with estimated maximum range exceeding 4000 km which could also be possessing, “manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle (MaRV) that is reportedly capable of precision conventional or nuclear strikes against ground targets, as well as conventional strikes against naval targets,” as per SIPRI. 100 launchers are estimated to be deployed.

The DF-21 a two-stage, solid-fuelled mobile missile is another possibility.

SIPRI estimates that India’s Strategic Forces Command operates four types of mobile nuclear-capable ballistic missile: the short-range Prithvi-II (250 kilometres) and Agni-I (700 km); the medium-range Agni-II (>2000 km); and the intermediate-range Agni-III (>3200 km) which are held by the Army.

Agni-IV (>3500 km), Agni-V (>5000 km) could be under development for deployment shortly while Agni-VI (6000 km), is in the design stage of development as estimated by SIPRI.

Multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) are reportedly under development.

India has a sub sonic cruise missile development programme Nirbhaya but the contours of the same are not clear so far.

Pakistan’s current nuclear-capable ballistic missile arsenal comprises short and medium-range systems as estimated by SIPRI. These include Abdali (also designated Hatf-2), Ghaznavi (Hatf-3), Shaheen-I (Hatf-4) and Nasr (Hatf-9).

Ghaznavi was test launched at night in January 2020. Ghauri (Hatf-5), with a range of 1250 km; and the two-stage, solid-fuelled, road-mobile Shaheen-II (Hatf-6), with a range of 2000 km is also available for deployment. Shaheen-III, is currently in development but has been test launched only twice—in 2015 and early 2021—and is not yet deployed and has a claimed range of 2750 km as per SIPRI. Ababeel a version of Shaheen is said to capable of delivering MIRV in the future.

Babur (Hatf-7) ground-launched cruise missile is likely to be operational with 700 km range Babur 2 under development/


PLA Navy (PLAN) has six Type 094 SSBNs of which four are estimated to be operational, the Type 094A are not yet operational as estimated by SIPRI.

Type 094 submarines can each carry up to 12 three-stage, solid-fuelled Julang-2 (JL-2 or CSS-N-14) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) estimated maximum range in excess of 7000 km.

Type 096 next generation SLBM is under development which will be equipped with JL-3 capable of carrying multiple warheads and have a range of more than 10 000 km.

Indian Navy, INS Arihant has 12 two-stage, 700-km range K-15 SLBMs (B-05). 12 are being deployed with second SSBN, INS Arighat, which is being fitted out as estimated by SIPRI.

In November 2018 Arihant completed its first ‘deterrence patrol’.

Subsequent SSBNs will have 8 launch tubes to hold up to 24 K-15s or 8 K-4 missiles, a two-stage, 3500-km range SLBM that is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) with extended-range versions: the K-5 SLBM of 5000 kms range. India has trialled the Dhanush missile, a version of the dual-capable Prithvi-II can be launched from a surface ship

Pakistan has Babur-3 submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) with the Navy’s Hashmat-class diesel– electric submarines and may also be fielded with eight air-independent propulsion-powered submarines from China.