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Does India Need Thermonuclear Weapons? [Mains Article]

Thermonuclear weapons should be an essential component in India’s arsenal as it offers variable yields and light-weight warheads that use less fissile material.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
October 05, 2017

Contents

  • What is Thermonuclear Weapons?
  • Difference between Conventional Nuclear Bomb and H-Bomb
  • Development of Hydrogen Bomb
  • Ambiguous and Unverified Claims
  • H-Bomb and North Korean Crisis
  • India and Thermonuclear Bomb: Does India Need Thermonuclear Weapons?
  • Conclusion

Does India Need Thermonuclear Weapons? [Mains Article]

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GS (M) Paper-3: “indigenization of technology and developing new technology.”

 

What is Thermonuclear Weapons?

  • A hydrogen bomb also called a ‘thermonuclear bomb’ is highly sophisticated and more powerful than the conventional nuclear bomb. It uses energy from a primary nuclear fission reaction to ignite a secondary nuclear fusion reaction.

Hydrogen-Bomb-620x575

Difference between Conventional Nuclear Bomb and H-Bomb

  • Both being nuclear weapon but are powered by different reactions. Atomic bomb explodes when large particles like Uranium breakup in a process called fission. The similar process is used in nuclear power stations.
  • Hydrogen bomb on the other hand have hydrogen particles fused together in process called fusion which requires lot of energy; thus resulting into an explosion thousands times powerful than a conventional nuclear bomb. It’s the same process through which powers the sun.
  • The technology of the hydrogen bomb is more sophisticated, and once attained, it is a greater threat. It can also be made small enough to fit on a head of an ICBM.

Development of Hydrogen Bomb

  • The US was the first country to develop an H-bomb. The first test explosion was carried out in 1954.
  • The former USSR carried out the first successful test of its thermonuclear bomb in November 1955.
  • Codenamed ‘Operation Grapple’ UK’s first successful Hydrogen weapon test in October 1957.
  • China detonated its first hydrogen bomb on June 1967.
  • France first successful detonation was carried out in August 1968.

Ambiguous and Unverified Claims 

  • India carried out a thermonuclear bomb explosion in its Operation Shakti tests in 1998.
  • Israel is believed to be in possession of Hydrogen bombs, even though the details including successful tests or the number or war heads are unclear.
  • In May 1998, Pakistan carried out six underground nuclear tests in Chagai Hills and Kharan Desert in Balochistan Province. Even though Pakistan says the test included a thermonuclear weapon, the claim is still unverified.
  • North Korea is the latest country to join the league. The country claim to have tested its miniaturised thermonuclear test on 6th January 2016.

H-Bomb and North Korean Crisis

iastoppers-H-Bomb-and-North-Korean-Crisis

  • North Korea has long sought the means to deliver an atomic warhead to the United States, its sworn enemy, and its latest nuclear test followed reports it could load a hydrogen bomb onto an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
  • The hydrogen bomb can be 1,000 times more powerful as compared to the atomic bomb dropped on Japan by the US in the closing days of World War II.
  • North Korea’s first three nuclear tests from 2006 to 2013 were atomic bombs on roughly the same scale as the ones used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but the latest test is estimated to have a yield of about 100 kilotons

India and Thermonuclear Bomb: Does India Need Thermonuclear Weapons?

Does India Need Thermonuclear Weapons

  • There is lot of controversy regarding the development of India’s thermonuclear bomb development. Some statements deny the existence of such a capability while others consider failure to acquire required yield.
  • Thermonuclear weapons achieve this superior weight to yield ratio by virtue of requiring less fissile material.
  • Since India has relatively modest reported fissile material stocks of weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium, thermonuclear weapons offer the prospect of making more efficient use of India’s fissile material stocks.
  • Indications are that the first Indian nuclear weapons design had a mass of about 1000 kg with a yield of 12 to 15 kilotons.
  • Subsequently, however, perhaps by 1982, when rumours of a fresh round of nuclear tests were in circulation, the said weapon had been scaled down to a more manageable mass of between 170 and 200 kg. It appears that a 100 kiloton fission weapon was later produced for aerial delivery with a mass of 200 to 300 kg.
  • If this information is indeed accurate, it would mean that India had perfected a relatively high-yield fission weapon with a relatively low mass for its class. One would expect that missile warheads of similar designs and yields would be feasible.
  • Thermonuclear weapons also offer the prospect of variable yield weapons
  • An operational nuclear weapon could have variable yields of 5, 50 and 500 kilotons. Such flexibility prevents the need for India to maintain a separate inventory of fission weapons to provide lower-yield options alongside larger fusion-boosted-fission weapons. Thus, making fusion weapons a potentially cost-effective option.

Conclusion

  • India has not defined its deterrent requirements in either quantitative or qualitative terms.
  • While thermonuclear weapons are not necessary for maintaining a credible deterrent, they serve the purpose of enabling India to make effective use of its relatively limited fissile material stockpile.
  • Thermonuclear weapons should be an essential component in India’s arsenal as it offers variable yields and light-weight warheads that use less fissile material.
[Ref: IDSA]

 

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