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On Nuclear Modernisation in Pakistan - 2012

by Zia Mian, 24 May 2013

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in "Assuring Destruction Forever: Nuclear Weapon Modernization Around the World", edited by Ray Acheson (Reaching Critical Will, New York, March, 2012)

Since its nuclear tests in May 1998, Pakistan has been rapidly developing and expanding its nuclear arsenal. It is producing highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium—the key ingredients for nuclear weapons—and is increasing its capacity to produce plutonium by building new production reactors. It is also testing and deploying a diverse array of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles, with ranges from 60 km to 2000 km.

Even though Pakistan is still developing its nuclear arsenal, there is some modernization taking place. Pakistan is moving from an arsenal of weapons based wholly on HEU to greater reliance on lighter and more compact plutonium-based weapons. The shift to plutonium based weapons is being made possible by a rapid expansion in plutonium production capacity, with two production reactors under construction to add to the two reactors that are currently operating. Pakistan is also moving from aircraft-delivered nuclear bombs to nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles, and from liquid-fueled to solid-fueled medium range missiles. Pakistan has received direct assistance from China for both its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, and from North Korea for its missile programme.

There is almost no information about the funding of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and little useful information about Pakistan’s overall military spending. It is clear, however, that a significant fraction of Pakistan’s financial resources go to its nuclear weapons programme, but that this cost is not a large share of its overall military spending. Pakistan’s military spending is subsidized by large amounts of military aid from the United States and subsidized arms sales from China. Pakistan also receives large amounts of international aid to help it meet basic social and economic development needs.

Status of Pakistan’s nuclear forces

Estimates of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stockpile have grown as it continues to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons and to expand its fissile material production capacity, especially for plutonium. According to a secret US cable published by Wikileaks, US officials suggested in 2008 that Pakistan was “producing nuclear weapons at [a] faster rate than any other country in the world.”1

As of 2011, the US government estimates Pakistan’s stockpile to range from 90 to over 110 weapons.2 This compares to early 2008 US estimates of a Pakistani arsenal of 70 to 80 weapons, but possibly ranging from 60 to 90 weapons. These government estimates are similar to those made by independent analysts (see Table 1).3

There is little information on the yields of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The yields of the six nuclear weapon tests carried out on 28 and 30 May 1998 are disputed, with Pakistan claiming explosive yields of tens of kilotons, while independent seismologists estimate the total yields were about 10 kt and 5 kt for the tests on 28 May and 30 May respectively.4

Table 1: Growth of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, 1998–2011

Year 1998 99 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 2011
Estimated no. of weapons 2 8 14 20 26 32 38 44 50 60 7080 90 100

Source: Adapted and updated from Robert S. Norris and Hans Kristensen, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2010, Vol. 66, No. 4, pp. 77–83.

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by Zia Mian
in "Assuring Destruction Forever: Nuclear Weapon Modernization Around the World", edited by Ray Acheson (Reaching Critical Will, New York, March, 2012)