India’s ballistic missile arsenal is comprised of short-, medium- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, as well as submarine-launched and cruise missiles. The on-going tensions between India and Pakistan fuels the growth of both country’s missile arsenals. India also possesses nuclear weapons and is working towards a deployed nuclear triad.

Nuclear Program and Doctrine

India’s nuclear program was conceived by influential scientists in the early and mid- 1940s and began shortly after the country’s independence in August 1947. At the time, India’s nuclear program was seen as a way to produce inexpensive energy [1] and the program benefitted from the “Atoms for Peace” non-proliferation program in the 1950s. Through this program, India acquired dual-use technologies including a Cirus 40 megawatt heavy-water-moderated research reactor from Canada and purchased the heavy water required to operate the reactor from the United States. [2] In 1964, India commissioned a reprocessing facility at Trombay to separate plutonium and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri authorized theoretical work on the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion for Peaceful Purposes (SNEPP) project. [3]Under the SNEPP project, nuclear scientists developed the technical capacity for a nuclear explosion and on May 18, 1974 India detonated its first nuclear fission device in what it called a “peaceful nuclear explosion.”

After the 1974 nuclear test, India did not test nuclear device again until 1998, when it conducted a series of five nuclear tests: three on May 11 and two on May 13. The first in the series of five tests was a thermonuclear device with the next test being a fission device, followed by three low-yield devices. [4] After this round of testing, India formally declared itself a nuclear-weapon state.

Following its 1998 nuclear tests, India released a report on its nuclear doctrine outlining a no first-use policy and a defense posture of “credible minimum nuclear deterrence.” This policy, however, was further developed and expanded through a January 2003 press release saying that nuclear weapons could be used in retaliation to a biological or chemical attack, or to protect Indian forces operating in Pakistan. [5] India is also not currently a part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), although it has received a waiver from and is currently trying to gain membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Current estimates put India’s nuclear arsenal at around 90-110 weapons [6] with its highly enriched uranium (HEU) stockpile at roughly 2.4 tons, and its weapons-grade plutonium stockpile at about 0.54 tons. [7]

Ballistic Missile Program

India’s ballistic missile efforts began in 1958 when the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Defense Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) began work on projects to construct anti-tank guided missiles and examine liquid fueled sustainer engines to gain scientific expertise and a technological base to eventually build missiles indigenously. [8] These projects, however, were ultimately terminated due to a lack of political and monetary support and shortcomings in technological expertise. During the 1970s, the DRDL started two other missile programs Project Valiant and Project Devil. Project Valiant attempted to develop a long-range ballistic missile and Project Devil tried to reverse engineer a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile. Like earlier ballistic missile efforts, both projects were considered failures, but helped pave the way for future programs. [9]

India’s ballistic missile program gained traction in 1983 under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP). The IGMDP was tasked with simultaneously developing five different missile systems: a short-range surface-to-air missile, a medium-range surface-to-air missile, a third-generation anti-tank guided missile, a short-range surface-to-surface missile, and an intermediate-range surface-to-surface missile. [10] The program was later expanded to include ballistic missiles with longer ranges, cruise missiles, and naval and submarine-launched missiles. The IGMDP program has been successful in producing the Prithvi and Agni series of missiles along with the Brahmos and Dhanush.

Today, India deploys short-, medium- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, as well as, cruise missiles, ship-based missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, although the latter is not yet deployed. It also has a robust space-launch vehicle industry and routinely launches other country’s satellites into orbit. India continues to increase its ballistic missile capabilities, exploring multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology and increasing production of its proven missiles.

Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs)

Model Propellant Warhead Type Deployment Range (Km)
Prithvi 1 Liquid Conventional Road-Mobile 150
Prithvi 2 Liquid Conventional Road-Mobile 250
Dhanush Liquid Conventional Ship-Based 400
Agni-I Solid & Liquid Conventional Road-Mobile 700

Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs)

Model Propellant Warhead Type Deployment Range (Km)
Agni-II Solid Conventional/Nuclear Rail-Mobile 2,000+
Agni-III Solid Conventional/Nucear Rail-Mobile 3,200+
Agni-IV Solid Conventional/Nuclear Rail-Mobile 3,500+

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

Model Propellant Warhead Type Deployment Range (Km)
Agni-V Solid Conventional/Nuclear Undetermined 5,000+

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (S LBMs)

Model Propellant Warhead Type Deployment Range (Km)
K-15 Solid Nuclear Arihart Class 700
K-4 Solid Nuclear capable Unknown 3,500

Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM)

Model Launch Mode Warhead Type Range (Km)
Brahmos 1 Air, ground, ship, and sub Conventional Less than 300
Brahmos 2 Air, ground, ship, and sub Conventional Less than 300

Recent News


[1] http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/india/nuclear/

[2] http://fas.org/nuke/guide/india/nuke/

[3] http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/india/nuclear/

[4] http://fas.org/nuke/guide/india/nuke/

[5] http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/india/nuclear/

[6] http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/16/india_nuclear_city_top_secret_china_pakistan_barc/

[7] http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/india/nuclear/

[8] http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/india/delivery-systems/

[9] http://www.nti.org/learn/facilities/37/

[10] http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/india/delivery-systems/

Missile Threat and Proliferation


International Cooperation