With an aim of increasing its lethal power, India's tri-services strike force is planning to acquire 40 fighter planes capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) has submitted a proposal to the Defence Ministry for setting up two dedicated squadrons of fighter aircraft which will act as "mini-Air Force", ministry sources said.
This will be the first time that SFC, which at present depends on the Indian Air Force for delivering nuclear weapons under its command, will have its own aerial assets, they said.
The SFC does not want untested fighters but the ones which are battle proven and have capabilities to deliver nuclear-tipped missiles, the sources said.
The aircraft planned to be procured are part of efforts to strengthen the nuclear delivery system which right now is based on land-based ballistic missiles such as the Agni and Prithvi and nuclear-capable fighters such as the Mirage 2000, Su-30 MKI and Jaguars.
Created in January 2003, the SFC is part of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) and is responsible for the management and administration of the country's tactical and strategic nuclear weapons stockpile.
Attempts are underway to complete the nuclear triad by developing the indigenous Arihant class nuclear submarine and under-sea launched versions of the existing ballistic missile systems.
India's nuclear doctrine envisages building a credible minimum deterrent for maintaining a 'second strike capability' which will be massive and designed to induce unacceptable damage on the enemy.
The SFC is headed by a three-star officer from any of the three services and is responsible for implementing directives of the NCA. At present, the force is headed by Lieutenant General B S Nagal.
The force manages and administers all strategic forces by exercising complete command and control over nuclear assets, and producing all contingency plans as needed to fulfil the required tasks.
The operational missile groups of the Army are armed with the 150-250 km short-range Prithvi missiles and the others with the Agni missiles of ranges above 1,5000 km form the nucleus of SFC.