WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s rapidly ramped up nuclear arsenal is now 70-90 strong with increasingly sophisticated bomb designs and smart delivery systems aimed primarily at India, two US researchers have said, even as Islamabad is running from pillar to post seeking foreign aid to stem an economic collapse. In a paper written for the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists,
Robert Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists say Pakistan is “busily enhancing its capabilities across the board,” with new
nuclear-capable ballistic missiles being readied for deployment, and two nuclear capable cruise missiles under development. Two new plutonium production reactors and a second chemical separation facility also are under construction. The paper essentially upgrades Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal both quantitatively (from 60 weapons last year to 70-90 now) and qualitatively — from uranium-base to being plutonium-centric. “The fact that they are preparing nuclear-capable cruise missiles suggests their scientists have been able to miniaturize nuclear warheads by using plutonium,
” Kristensen told ToI. “They are shifting their nuclear base from uranium to plutonium…in a sense, they are turning a chapter.” Plutonium-based warheads are lighter and easier to handle, a better fit for nimble cruise missiles. India’s nuclear arsenal is largely plutonium-based. Kristensen said Pakistan’s weapons and deliver-systems can be assumed to be India-specific because Islamabad “has not declared any other adversary.
” The United States has been expressing concern to Pakistan about its accelerated program and urging it hold back, but there does not appear to be any concerted effort from Washington to influence Pakistan’s decisions, he added. Pakistan is an economically desperate situation and running from pillar to post for foreign aid, including beseeching the
so-called Friends of Democratic Pakistan on a monthly basis for financial support to stave off a collapse. But that does not seem to have impacted the multi-billion dollar ramping up of its nuclear arsenal in the absence of any US effort to leverage the economic handle it has on Islamabad. Islamabad, on its part, uses its role as a so-called ally in the war against extremists to keep expanding its nuclear program by implicitly threatening to cease helping the US – a nightmare scenario for Washington since most of teh supplies to its forces in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. “Both countries have a trump card to play. We have not heard any any descriptions about how they play it out,” Kristensen said. In their paper, Kristensen and Norris say Pakistan is improving its
weapon designs, moving beyond its first-generation nuclear weapons that relied on Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). After pursuing plutonium-based designs for more than a decade, Islamabad appears to have mastered the technology. Central to that effort, the paper says, is the 40–50-megawatt heavy water Khushab plutonium production reactor, which was completed in 1998 and is located at Joharabad in the Khushab district of Punjab.
Six surface-to-air missile batteries surround the site to protect against air strikes. Norris and Kristensen say as a sign of its confidence in its plutonium designs, Pakistan is building two additional heavy water reactors at the Khushab site, which will more than triple the country’s plutonium production.
explaining the changing nature of the Pak arsenal, they say all of these efforts suggest that Pakistan is preparing to increase and enhance its nuclear forces. In particular, the new facilities provide the Pakistani military with several options:
fabricating weapons that use plutonium cores; mixing plutonium with HEU to make composite cores; and/or using tritium to “boost” warheads’ yield. Without referencing the recent controversy in India about the success or otherwise of its thermo-nuclear test in 1998 (now dubbed the sizzle vs fizzle debate), the paper says “absent a successful full-scale thermonuclear test (by Pakistan), it is premature to suggest that Pakistan is producing two-stage thermonuclear weapons” – in other words,
it has yet to acquire a Hydrogen Bomb. But, they say, the types of facilities under construction suggest that Pakistan has decided to
supplement and perhaps replace its heavy uranium-based weapons with smaller, lighter plutonium-based designs that could be delivered further by ballistic missiles than its current warheads and that could be used in cruise missiles. Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/