Key Issues Nuclear Weapons The Basics Nuclear Stockpiles

Nuclear Stockpiles

Global Stockpiles
There are currently about 31,000 nuclear warheads deployed or in reserve in the stockpiles of eight countries: China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Of these about 13,000 are deployed and 4,600 of these are on high alert, i.e. ready to be launched within minutes notice. The combined explosive yield of these weapons is approximately 5,000 megatons, which is about 200,000 times the explosive yield of the bomb used on Hiroshima.

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Note: There are sometimes variances in numbers cited for stockpiles due to uncertainties of the status of some weapons, i.e. whether they are deployed, in non-active reserve, or dismantled.

United Kingdom
In July 1998 Britain's Labour government announced several changes to its nuclear forces following a Strategic Defense

Only one British submarine will patrol at any given time carrying 48 warheads. The submarine will patrol at a reduced state of alert - capable of firing its missiles within several days instead of within several minutes. Britain will maintain fewer than 200 operationally available warheads.

The weapons are configured flexibly in order to obtain a low yield for "sub-strategic missions" or higher yields for strategic missions.

Bombers: China's bomber force is reportedly antiquated based on Chinese-made versions of outdated Soviet aircraft. A supersonic fighter-bomber currently being developed is not believed to have a nuclear mission.

Ballistic Missiles: China uses liquid fuelled missiles which would take some time to prepare for launch, and reportedly stores the warheads separate from these missiles. However, a solid fueled missile, the DF-31, is under development. Each missile carries one warhead. However, China has the technical capability to develop multiple reentry vehicles and could deploy these in response to US development of Ballistic Missile Defence.

Non-strategic warheads: There is no official evidence of existence of non-strategic weapons. However, the US Defense Intelligence Agency believes that China has developed nuclear artillery, demolition munitions and nuclear capable short-range missiles. Land attack cruise missiles currently under development might be nuclear capable.

Warheads: China's strategic weapons have high yields - mostly in the megaton range - but are not as accurate as those of the US or Russia. It is believed that China has developed a neutron bomb.

Bombers: Both the Navy and Airforce deploy nuclear capable aircraft. France is developing a new nuclear capable fighter-bomber, the Rafale.

Submarines: France has four nuclear capable submarines, two of the Triomphant class, one L'Inflexible class and one Redoubtable class. Two more Triomphant class submarines are currently being built.

France dismantled its 18 intermediate range missiles from 1996-98. The nuclear testing facilities at Moruroa and Fangataufa were closed following France's accession to the CTBT. France ceased production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium in 1992 and 1996 respectively.

United States:
Intercontinental ballistic missiles: Under START II, all operational MX missiles are to be deactivated by 2007. Despite their planned deactivation, MXs continue to be flight tested under the Force Development and Evaluation Program. Minuteman III missiles continue to be upgraded. The Guidance Replacement Program will extend the life of the guidance system beyond the year 2020 and improve Minuteman III accuracy to near that of the current MX--a circular error probable of 100 meters.

Submarine launched ballistic missiles:
a) Modernisation. All Trident I submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) are expected to be replaced with longer-range and more accurate Trident II D5s by 2006.
b) Numbers. Under START II arrangements, SLBMs will be allowed to carry no more than 2,160 warheads by the end of 2004, and no more than 1,750 by the end of 2007

Bombers: Long-range bombers are equipped with air launched cruise missiles and free fall bombs. The B-2 bomber is capable of carrying the B61-11, an earth-penetrating nuclear bomb, introduced in November 1997. The US is continuing to produce nuclear capable advanced cruise missiles (ACM)

Non-strategic forces: Nuclear weapons were removed from surface ships in 1991. However, the US maintains a robust stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and on its territory and is not expected to reduce these while Russia maintains a large stockpile.

Stockpile: In addition to the active stockpile, the U.S. maintains a large inactive stockpile as a "hedge" in case arms control expectations fail to materialise.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles: Russia is continuing to test and modernise its SS-27 missile.

Submarines: Russia has reduced its operational nuclear submarines from 62 in 1990 to 17 in 2001. All Delta I and Delta II subs have been withdrawn from service. Russia continues to produce SS-N-23 SLBMs to keep the Delta IVs in service.

Non-strategic forces: Russia agreed to remove tactical nuclear weapons from surface ships in 1991, but there is no confirmation that this has happened. Russia keeps a large stockpile of additional tactical weapons in regional storage sites. There has been a strong call from sectors of the government and military to increase reliance on tactical weapons in response to NATO's eastward expansion and to offset NATO's superior conventional forces.

Israel neither acknowledges nor denies that it has nuclear weapons. Israel is generally regarded as a de facto nuclear weapon state. Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician at the Dimona facility, revealed that Israel could have up to 200 nuclear warheads (Revealed: The Secrets of Israel's Nuclear Arsenal, Sunday Times, London, October 5, 1986). Vanunu also reported that Israel had produced tritium and lithium, indicating that Israel may have developed boosted nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh has claimed that Israel has developed low-yield weapons for artillery and land-mines, as well as thermo-nuclear weapons (The Sansom Option, Random House, New York, 1991). Some analysts assume that Israel could not have advanced to the point of producing thermonuclear weapons because they are not known to have conducted any physical nuclear testing. However, it is reported that Israel has been able to acquire data on thermonuclear tests from France and the U.S. Also, there is speculation that a signal detected by a US satellite over the Atlantic on September 22, 1979 was in fact a nuclear test conducted by either Israel or South Africa.

Israel currently deploys two nuclear capable ballistic missile systems: the Jericho I (range 660 km) and the Jericho II (range 1500 km). In addition, the Shavit space launch vehicle could be modified to carry nuclear weapons giving it an intercontinental capability (range 7800 km).

India demonstrated a nuclear weapons capability in 1974 by detonating a device in what it called a peaceful nuclear experiment. Then in May 1998, India openly tested nuclear weapons and declared itself a nuclear weapons power. India has enough separated weapons grade plutonium to make about 85 nuclear warheads.

India has developed two missiles which could be adapted to nuclear capability. They are the Prithvi (range 200 km) and the Agni (range 1,500 - 2,500 km). India has also been enhancing its nuclear air-delivery capability by purchasing and re-producing the Russian Su-30MK fighter-bomber. In addition, India claims to be developing a submarine launched ballistic missile known as Sagarika, and nuclear capable cruise missiles.

Pakistan is believed to have started developing its nuclear weapons program in 1971, following its war with India. By1998, it was believed that Pakistan had built a small arsenal of unassembled nuclear weapons. In response to the Indian tests of May 1998, Pakistan followed with nuclear tests itself in Chagai Hills. It is now possible that Pakistan would have built and assembled up to 25 nuclear warheads.

Pakistan possesses about 30 nuclear capable surface-to-surface missiles provided by China. Pakistan has built and tested its own ballistic missiles including the Haft-3 (range 600 km) and the Ghauri (range 1500 km).

Nuclear Notebook: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Chicago.
The High Energy Weapons Archive: A Guide to Nuclear Weapons. Federation of American Scientists.
Tracking Nuclear Proliferation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington 1998.

Prepared by Alyn Ware, coordinator of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament, a project of the Middle Powers Initiative.