Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal of 110 to 130 warheads, up from an estimated 90 to 110 warheads four years ago, and could become the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons state by 2025, a leading US think tank has said.
Though the US Defense Intelligence Agency had projected in 1999 that Pakistan would have 60 to 80 warheads by 2020, it reached that level more than a decade early in 2006 or 2007, said the report released by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to coincide with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the US.
The report said two key factors will determine how quickly Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal will grow in the coming years – the number of nuclear-capable launchers it plans to deploy, and how much the Indian nuclear arsenal grows.
“We estimate that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons stockpile of 110 to 130 warheads, an increase from an estimated 90 to 110 warheads in 2011,” said the report authored by Hans M Kristensen and Robert S Norris.
“With several delivery systems in development, four operating plutonium production reactors, and its uranium facilities, however, Pakistan’s stockpile will likely increase over the next 10 years,” said the report titled “Pakistani nuclear forces 2015”.
The researchers dismissed speculation that Pakistan may become the world’s third largest nuclear weapon state with a stockpile of some 350 warheads by 2025, saying this was “exaggerated because that would require a build-up two to three times faster than growth over the past two decades”.
The report said: “Pakistan simply does not have the industrial capacity to develop, produce, and deploy that many additional nuclear weapon systems in a decade. Based on Pakistan’s performance over the past 20 years and its current and anticipated weapons deployments, we estimate that its stockpile could more realistically grow to 220 to 250 warheads by 2025.
As of late 2014, the International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated Pakistan had an inventory of approximately 3,100 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and roughly 170 kg of weapon-grade plutonium. “This is enough to potentially produce 200 to 300 warheads, assuming that each warhead’s solid core uses either 12 to 18 kg of HEU or 4 to 6 kg of plutonium,” the report said.
“With a well-established uranium enrichment capacity and four plutonium production reactors in operation, Pakistan is currently probably producing enough fissile material to potentially build 14 to 27 new warheads per year,” the report added.
Pakistan currently appears to have six operational nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, plus at least two more under development – the short-range Shaheen-1A and medium-range Shaheen-3.
It is also developing two cruise missiles, the ground-launched Babur or Hatf-7, and the air-launched Ra’ad or Hatf-8, the report said. There are also signs that Pakistan is developing a nuclear-capable cruise missile for deployment on submarines.
“One of the most controversial new nuclear-capable missiles in the Pakistani arsenal is the Nasr (Hatf-9), a shortrange, solid-fuel missile with a range of only 60 km. With a range too short to attack strategic targets inside India, Nasr appears intended for battlefield use against invading Indian troops,” the report said.
In 2012, the Pakistan Navy established the Headquarters Naval Strategic Forces Command for development and deployment of a sea-based strategic nuclear force.
The government said this command would be the “custodian of the nation’s second-strike capability” to “strengthen Pakistan’s policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence and ensure regional stability”.