Key Point: Each country has hundreds of nuclear weapons and deep historical enmity.
India and Pakistan have been rivals since 1947, when the two countries were born from the dissolution of the British Raj in India. The two countries have gone to war four times since then, in 1947, 1965, 1974 and 1999, and been on the brink of war as recently as 2008. The last war, the 1999 Kargil War, was particularly dangerous as both countries were avowed nuclear powers. If a war on the subcontinent went nuclear, how bad could it get?
India tested its first nuclear device, codenamed “Smiling Buddha,” in May 1974. India had been prompted to build nuclear weapons by China, with which it lost a border war in 1962, and which had considerable conventional forces. More importantly however, it had nuclear weapons, and India felt compelled to build its own. The country maintained a moratorium on further tests until May 1998, when it conducted five tests in rapid order, including four fission and one fusion bomb (which was a partial failure).
Today the country has between ninety and 110 nuclear warheads divided among India’s own version of the nuclear triad consisting of nuclear-capable strike aircraft, land-based missiles and the new ballistic-missile submarine INS Arihant. This is designed to give the country a flexible nuclear arsenal capable of surviving a first strike by another nuclear state. India has a No First Use policy, vowing not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
India’s aerial nuclear strike force consists of 272 Su-30MK1 twin engine fighters on order from Russia, sixty-nine MiG-29s and fifty-one Mirage 2000 fighters, at least some of which have likely been modified to carry nuclear weapons. The land-based missile leg of the triad consists of Prithvi tactical ballistic missiles. With a range of ninety-three miles, these could be used against enemy tactical targets such as air bases, artillery concentrations, headquarters sites or supply depots. The Agni 1–5 series of short, medium, intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles represent both tactical weapons and longer-range systems capable of Pakistan’s own nuclear-weapons sites, cities, ports and other high-value targets.