Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been briefed that sweeping modifications to the command and control structure of India’s nuclear weapons are urgently needed, highly placed government sources have told The Hindu .
The proposals, which come as India becomes just one of six nations with a nuclear submarine operational, centre on the appointment of a tenured four-star general to wield operational responsibility for the arsenal.
The briefing on India’s most closely held secrets, the sources said, was given last week by outgoing National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and Strategic Forces Command chief Vice-Admiral P.S. Cheema, along with Defence Research and Development Organisation and Department of Atomic Energy experts.
Mr. Modi, the sources said, was told that the Naresh Chandra Committee on national security reforms had called for operational control of the arsenal to be given to a full-time chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, or the CJSOC, a four-star officer with a two-year tenure drawn by rotation from the three armed forces.Weak link
India’s Nuclear Command Authority, chaired by the Prime Minister, has control of the country’s estimated 90-110 nuclear warheads. In the event of a crisis, the NCA orders the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) to ready the arsenal. The SFC, working with experts at the DAE and the DRDO, is then tasked to work through the CJSOC to mate the warheads with air and missile-delivery platforms held by the three armed forces.
However, the CJSOC position now goes to the senior-most of the three service chiefs, leading to changes in just a few months sometimes — which, the Naresh Chandra Committee said in its classified 2011 report, created a weak link in the command chain.
“There are many complex issues that will present themselves in the course of an evolving nuclear crisis,” said strategic weapons expert Admiral Raja Menon, “which someone who is also struggling to command an armed service during a war will just not be able to handle.”
“India is unique in this gap among nuclear-weapons States,” Mr. Menon said.
Earlier, a Group of Ministers, led by the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, had recommended the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff, a supreme military office that exists in other nuclear weapons States.
The then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, however, shelved the idea after resistance from politicians wary of creating a single-point military leadership as well as the air force.