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Operation Shakti

Template:Infobox Nuclear weapons test Pokhran-II refers to the series of five nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India at the Indian Army's Pokhran Test Range on May 1998. It was the second nuclear test since the first test, code-named Smiling Buddha, had been conducted in May 1974.

Pokhran-II consisted of five detonations, of which the first was a fusion bomb and the remaining four were fission bombs. These nuclear tests resulted in a variety of sanctions against India by a number of major states, including Japan and the United States.

On 11 May 1998, Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II) was initiated with the detonation of one fusion and three fission bombs; the word "Shakti" (Hindi: शक्ति) means "power" in Sanskrit. On 13 May 1998, two additional fission devices were detonated, and the Indian government led by prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shortly convened a press conference to declared India a full-fledged nuclear state.

Many names are attributed to these tests; originally they were called Operation Shakti–98 (Power–98), and the five nuclear bombs were designated Shakti-I through Shakti-V. More recently, the operation as a whole has come to be known as Pokhran II, and the 1974 explosion as Pokhran-I.

India's nuclear bomb project

Main article: Smiling Buddha

India has a long history of undertaking indigenous research and efforts in the nuclear sciences and related technology. The history of the Indian nuclear program dates back to 1944, when physicist Homi Bhabha submitted a report on nuclear energy to the Indian Congress; a year later he established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). As early as the 1950s, preliminary studies were carried out at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and plans were developed to produce plutonium and other bomb components. In 1962, India was intimidated by China when India lost its northern territory, and in 1964 the Chinese 596 nuclear test further goaded India into militarising its nuclear program. Following the deaths of Nehru and Bhabha, the nuclear program was revived and transferred to the chairmanship of Vikram Sarabhai, who in 1965 was also made director of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) by Lal Bahadur Shastri.

After the death of Shastri, the nuclear program was consolidated by prime minister Indira Gandhi and was delegated to Raja Ramanna in 1967. Indira Gandhi decided to develop nuclear weapons after learning of another test by China, Test No. 6. Finally, in 1974, Indira Gandhi authorised the Smiling Buddha nuclear test.

Post-Smiling Buddha

After the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India's nuclear program was severely effected as an impact of the test in 1974.[1] The world's major nuclear powers imposed nuclear embargo on both India and Pakistan, which was technologically racing to meet with India's challenge.[1] After the Pokhran-I, the nuclear program had struggled for years to gain credibility and its progress crippled by the lack of indigenous resources and dependent on imported technology and technical assistance.[1] Although, Indira Gandhi declared that India's nuclear program was not militarising, on the other hand, she did authorise preliminary work on developing a fusion boosted fission design.[1] But, after the 1975 state emergency and the ouster of Indira Gandhi in 1977 , the nuclear program was left with a vacuum of leadership and even basic management. The new group was set up to work on the fusion boosted design headed by M. Srinivasan, but progress was slow.[1]

Indian peace activist and anti-nuclear weapon advocate, Morarji Desai, took over the office Prime Minister.[1] On June 1978, desai removed Ramanna from the nuclear program and posted him at the Ministry of Defence.[1] His government was not entirely without progress in nuclear program and had the program continued to be grow at a desirable rate.[1][2] Disturbing news came from Pakistan when the world discovered the Pakistan's clandestine atomic bomb projects.[1] In contrast to India's nuclear program, Pakistan's atomic bomb program was under the military guidance with civilian scientists were left in charge of every scientific nature of the program.[1] Pakistan's atomic bomb program was extremely huge, lavishly funded, well administratively organised; India soon realised that Pakistan was likely to succeed in its project in matter of two years.[1] The 1980 general elections marked the return of Indira Gandhi who restarted the nuclear program. In 1981, Ramanna was returned as a director of the nuclear program and accelerated the program. In 1983–85, Indira Gandhi denied the nuclear test option as she saw Pakistan began exercising the Brinkmanship, though the nuclear program continued to advance.[1] It was the 1980s that the work on hydrogen bombs and the missile programme was initiated, and Dr. Abdul Kalam, an aerospace engineer who developed the launch vehicles for ISRO, was made the director of the missile programme.[1]

Political Momentum: 1988–1998

The BJP had down played the relationship with the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who came in power after the 1988 general elections. India's relations with Pakistan was severed, when India began accusing Pakistan supporting the Insurgency in Indian Kashmir. On 18 March 1989, India launched the missile program which led the successful development of the Prithvi missiles. Successive governments in India decided to observe this temporary moratorium for fear of inviting international criticism.[1] In 1995, the general public had been supportive towards the nuclear tests.[1] In 1995, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao decided to carry out further tests.[3] But the plans were halted after American satellites picked up signs of preparations for testing at Pokhran.[3] The Americans under president Bill Clinton exerted enormous pressure on Rao to stop the preparations.[3] Responding to India, Prime minister Benazir Bhutto issued harsh and severe statements against India on Pakistan's news channels, thus stressing further the relationship between two countries.[4] Tension between two countries began to arise when Benazir Bhutto intensified her policy on Kashmir in 1995.[5] In a speech delivered by Yousaf Raza Gillani (later 16th Prime Minister of Pakistan), stressed the "Kashmir issue" as continue to endanger the peace and security and security in the region.[5] The Indian delegation headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, reiterated that the "UN resolutions only call upon Pakistan— the occupying force to vacate the "Jammu and Kashmir Area."[5]

1998 Indian general elections

The right-wing conservative alliance, led by BJP, came to power in 1998 general elections with an exclusive public mandate.[6] BJP's political might had been growing steadily in strength over the past decade, riding on a wave of ethnic-religious politics advocating Hindu-based nationalism.[6] The alliance had consisted of right-wing populist parties, including the VHP and RSS, which had been believed to be involved in promoting religious separatism through agitations after the demolition of 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, UP State.[6] It resulted in 3000 nation-wide killings and an event that caused tensions with Pakistan.[6]

In Pakistan, the similar conservative force, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), was also in power with an exclusive mandate which was led by Prime minister Nawaz Sharif who defeated the left-wing forces led by Benazir Bhutto in 1997 general elections.[7] During the BJP campaign, Atal Bihari Vajpayee indulged in grandstanding— like when he declared on 25 February that his government would "take back that part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan's control."[6] Before this declaration, the BJP platform had clear intention to "exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons" and "India should become an openly nuclear power to garner the respect on the world stage that India deserved."[6] By 18 March 1998, Vajpayee had publicly begun his lobbying for nuclear explosion and declared that "there is no compromise on national security; all options including the nuclear options will be exercise to protect security and sovereignty."[6]

In the month of March and after the premiership inauguration of Vajpayee, the Prime minister Vajpayee began consulting Abdul Kalam, R. Chidambaram and officials of the Indian DAE on nuclear options. Chidambaram briefed Vajpayee extensively on the nuclear program; Kalam presented the status of the missile program. On 28 March 1998, The Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration asked the scientists to make preparations in the shortest time possible, and preparations were hastily made.[8] It was time of tense atmosphere when Pakistan, at a Conference on Disarmament, offered a peace rhetoric agreement with India for "an equal and mutual restraint in conventional, missile and nuclear fields."[6] Pakistan's equation was later reemphasised on 6 April and the momentum in India for nuclear tests began to built up which strengthened Vajpayee's position to order the tests.[6]

Preparations for the test

Main articles: CIA activities in India, ISI activities in India and Indo-US Relations

Unlike Pakistan's atomic–testing laboratories, there was very little India could do to hide its activity at Pokhran.[9] In contrast to high-altitude granite mountains, the bushes are sparse and the dunes in the Rajasthan Desert don't provide much cover from a probing satellite.[9] The Indian intelligence had been aware of US spy satellites and the American CIA had been detecting Indian test preparations since 1995; therefore, the tests required complete secrecy in India and also needed to avoid detection by other countries, specially the ISI.[9] The 58th Engineer Regiment of the Corps of Engineers of Indian Army was commissioned to prepare the test sites without being probed by the US spy satellites. The 58th Engineer's commander Colonel Gopal Kaushik supervised the test preparations and ordered his "staff officers take all measures to ensure total secrecy."[9]

Extensive plannings were done by a very small group of scientists, senior military officers and senior politicians to ensure that the test preparations would remain secret, and even senior members of the Indian government didn't know what was going on. The chief scientific adviser and the director of Defence Research and Development Organization , Abdul Kalam, and Dr. R. Chidambaram, the director of the Department of Atomic Energy, were the chief coordinators of this test planning.[6] The scientists and engineers of the BARC, the AMDER, and the DRDO were involved in the nuclear weapon assemble, layout, detonation and obtaining test data.[6] Very small group of senior scientists were involved in the detonation process, all scientists were required to wear army uniforms to preserve the secrecy of the tests. Since 1995, the 58th Engineer Regiment had learned to avoid satellite detection.[6] Work was mostly done during night, and equipment was returned to the original place to give the impression that it was never moved.[6]

Bomb shafts were dug under camouflage netting and the dug-out sand was shaped like shaped dunes. Cables for sensors were covered with sand and concealed using native vegetation.[6] They would not depart for Pokhran in groups of two or three.[6] They travelled to destination other than Pokhran under pseudonyms, and were then transported by the army. Technical staff at the test range wore military uniform, to prevent detection in satellite images.[9]

Nuclear weapon designs and development

Development and test teams

The main technical personnel involved in the operation were:[10]

  • Project Chief Coordinators
    • Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (later, President of India), Scientific Adviser to the prime minister and Head of the DRDO.
    • Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Atomic energy.
  • Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC)
    • Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Director of BARC.
    • Dr. Satinder Kumar Sikka, Director; Thermonuclear Weapon Development.
    • Dr. M.S. Ramkumar, Director of Nuclear Fuel and Automation Manufacturing Group; Director, Nuclear Component Manufacture.
    • Dr. D.D. Sood, Director of Radiochemistry and Isotope Group; Director, Nuclear Materials Acquisition.
    • Dr. S.K. Gupta, Solid State Physics and Spectroscopy Group; Director, Device Design & Assessment.
    • Dr. G. Govindraj, Associate Director of Electronic and Instrumentation Group; Director, Field Instrumentation.

Movement and logistics

Three laboratories of the DRDO were involved in designing, testing and producing components for the bombs, including the advanced detonators, the implosion and high-voltage trigger systems. These were also responsible for weaponising, systems engineering, aerodynamics, safety interlocks and flight trials.[10] The bombs were transported in four Indian Army trucks under the command of Colonel Umang Kapur; all devices from BARC were relocated at 3:00Hrs on 1 May 1998. From the CS International Airport, the bombs were flown in an Indian Air Force AN-32 plane to the Jaisalmer military base. They were transported to Pokhran in an army convoy of four trucks, and this required three trips. The devices were delivered to the device preparation building, which was designated as 'Prayer Hall'.[10]

The test sites was organised into two government groups and were fired separately, with all devices in a group fired at the same time. The first group consisted of the thermonuclear device (Shakti I), the fission device (Shakti II), and a sub-kiloton device (Shakti III). The second group consisted of the remaining two sub-kiloton devices Shakti IV and V. It was decided that the first group would be tested on 11 May and the second group on 13 May. The thermonuclear device was placed in a shaft code named 'White House', which was over 200 m deep, the fission bomb was placed in a 150 m deep shaft code named 'Taj Mahal', and the first sub-kiloton device in 'Kumbhkaran'. The first three devices were placed in their respective shafts on 10 May, and the first device to be placed was the sub-kiloton device in the 'Kumbhkaran' shaft, which was sealed by the army engineers by 8:30 pm. The thermonuclear device was lowered and sealed into the 'White House' shaft by 4 am, and the fission device being placed in the 'Taj Mahal' shaft was sealed at 7:30 am, which was 90 minutes before the planned test time. The shafts were L-shaped, with a horizontal chamber for the test device.[10]

The timing of the tests depended on the local weather conditions, with the wind being the critical factor. The tests were underground, but due to a number of shaft seal failures that had occurred during tests conducted by USA, USSR and UK, the sealing of the shaft could not be guaranteed to be leak-proof. By early afternoon, the winds had died down and the test sequence was initiated. Dr. K. Santhanam of the DRDO, in charge of the test site preparations, gave the two keys that activated the test countdown to Dr. M. Vasudev, the range safety officer, who was responsible for verifying that all test indicators were normal. After checking the indicators, Vasudev handed one key each to a representative of BARC and the DRDO, who unlocked the countdown system together. At 3:45 pm the three devices were detonated.[10]

Nuclear bombs and detonations

Five nuclear devices were detonated during Operation Shakti.[11] They were:[10]

  • Shakti I – A thermonuclear device yielding 45 kt, but designed for up to 200 kt.
  • Shakti II – A plutonium implosion design yielding 15 kt and intended as a warhead that could be delivered by bomber or missile. It was an improvement of the device detonated in the 1974 Smiling Buddha (Pokhran-I) test of 1974, developed using simulations on the PARAM supercomputer.
  • Shakti III – An experimental boosted fission design that used "non-weapon grade"[12] plutonium, but which likely omitted the material required for fusion, yielding 0.3 kt.
  • Shakti IV- A 0.5 kt experimental device.
  • Shakti V – A 0.2 kt experimental device that used uranium-233.

An additional, sixth device (Shakti VI) is suspected to have been present but not detonated.[10]

At 3:43 pm IST; three nuclear bombs (specifically, the Shakti I, II and III) were detonated simultaneously, as measured by international seismic monitors.[6] On 13 May, at 12.21 p.m.IST 6:51 UTC, two sub-kiloton devices (Shakti IV and V) were detonated. Due to their very low yield, these explosions were not detected by any seismic station.[6] On 13 May 1998, India declared the series of tests to be over after this.[13]

Reactions to the tests

Reactions in India

India became sixth country to have tested nuclear bombs and joined the elite nuclear club in 1998.[14] Shortly after the tests, a press meet was convened at the Prime Minister's residence in New Delhi. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared before the press corps and made the following short statement:


News of the tests were greeted with jubilation and large-scale approval by the society in India.[15] The Bombay Stock Exchange registered significant gains. Newspapers and television channels praised the government for its bold decision; editorials were full of praise for the country's leadership and advocated the development of an operational nuclear arsenal for the country's armed forces.[15] But, on the other hand, the Indian opposition, led by Congress Party criticised the Vajpayee government for carrying out the series of nuclear tests.[15] The Congress Party spokesman, Salman Khursheed (now Minister of External Affairs), accused the BJP of trying to use the tests for political ends rather than to enhance the country's national security.[15]

By the time India had conducted tests, the country had total of $44bn in loans in 1998, from IMF and the World Bank.[16] The industrial sectors of the Indian economy such as the chemicals industry, was likely to be hurt by sanctions.[16] The Western consortium companies, which has invested heavily in India, especially in construction, computing and telecoms, were generally the one who were harmed by the sanctions.[16] In 1998, Indian government announced that it has already allowed for some economic response, but is willing to take the consequences.[16]

U.N. Sanctions

The reactions from abroad started immediately after the tests were advertised. On 6 June, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1172 condemning the test and that of Pakistan's.[17] China issued a vociferous condemnation calling upon the international community to exert pressure on India to sign the NPT and eliminate its nuclear arsenal. With India joining the group of countries possessing nuclear weapons, a new strategic dimension had emerged in Asia, particularly South Asia.[17]

United States

The United States issued a strong statement condemning India and promised that sanctions would follow. The American intelligence community was embarrassed as there had been "a serious intelligence failure of the decade" in detecting the preparations for the test.[18]

In keeping with its preferred approach to foreign policy in recent decades, and in compliance with a 1994 anti-proliferation law, the United States imposed economic sanctions on India.[19] The sanctions on India consisted of cutting off all assistance to India except humanitarian aid, banning the export of certain defence material and technologies, ending American credit and credit guarantees to India, and requiring the US to oppose lending by international financial institutions to India.[20]


Japan also imposed economic sanctions on India. The sanctions consisted of freezing all new loans and grants except for humanitarian aid to India.[21]


On 12 May the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated: "The Chinese government is seriously concerned about the nuclear tests conducted by India," and that the tests "run counter to the current international trend and are not conducive to peace and stability in South Asia.".[22] The next day the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued the statement clearly stating that "it shocked and strongly condemned" the Indian nuclear tests and called for the international community to "adopt a unified stand and strongly demand that India immediate stop development of nuclear weapons".[23] China further rejected India's stated rationale of needing nuclear capabilities to counter a Chinese threat as "totally unreasonable".[23] In a meeting with Masayoshi Takemura of Democratic Party of Japan, Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China Qian Qichen was quoted as saying that India's nuclear tests were a "serious matter," particularly because they were conducted in light of the fact that more than 140 countries have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. "It is even more unacceptable that India claims to have conducted the tests to counter what it called a "China threat".[23] On 24 November 1998, the Chinese Embassy, New Delhi issued a formal statement:

(sic).... But regrettably, India conducted nuclear tests last May, which has run against the contemporary historical trend and seriously affected peace and stability in South Asia. Pakistan also conducted nuclear tests later on. India's nuclear tests have not only led to the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan and provocation of nuclear arms races in South Asia, but also dealt a heavy blow to international nuclear disarmament and the global nonproliferation regime. It is only natural that India's nuclear tests have met with extensive condemnation and aroused serious concern from the international community.
Chinese Embassy, New Delhi[24]


The most vehement and strong reaction to India's nuclear explosion was from its neighbouring country, Pakistan. Great ire was raised in Pakistan, which issued a severe statement blaming India for instigating a nuclear arms race in the region. Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that his country would give a suitable reply to the Indians.[6] The day after the first tests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gohar Ayub indicated that Pakistan was ready to conduct a nuclear test of its own. As he said: "[Pakistan] is prepared to match India, we have the capability.... We in Pakistan will maintain a balance with India in all fields", he said in an interview. "We are in a headlong arms race on the subcontinent."[6] On 13 May 1998, Pakistan bitterly condemned the tests, and Foreign minister Gohar Ayub by quoting that Indian leadership seemed to "have gone beserk and was acting in a totally unrestrained way."[25]

Prime Minister Navaz Sharif was much more subdued, refusing to say whether a test would be conducted in response: "We are watching the situation and we will take appropriate action with regard to our security", he said.[6] Sharif sought to mobilise the entire Islamic world in support of Pakistan and criticised India for nuclear proliferation.[6]

Given authorisation to the nuclear testing programme by Prime minister Navaz Sharif, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) carried out nuclear testing under the codename Chagai-I on 28 May 1998 and Chagai-II on 30 May 1998. These six underground nuclear tests at the Chaghi and Kharan test site were conducted just fifteen days after India's last test. The total yield of the tests were reported to be 40 kt (see codename: Chaghi-I).[26]

Pakistan's subsequent tests invited similar condemnations from multiple nations ranging from Argentina to Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.[27] American president Bill Clinton was quoted as saying "Two wrongs don't make a right", criticising Pakistan's tests as reactionary to India's Pokhran-II.[27] The United States, Japan, and a number of other states reacted by imposing economic sanctions on Pakistan. According to the Pakistan's science community, the Indian nuclear tests had given an opportunity to Pakistan to conduct nuclear tests after 14 years of conducting only cold tests (See: Kirana-I).[28]

Pakistan's leading nuclear physicist and one of the top scientists, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, held India responsible for Pakistan's nuclear test experiments in Chagai.[29]

Other countries

Some other nations also imposed sanctions on India, primarily in the form of suspension of foreign aid to India and government-to-government credit lines.[30]

Effect of sanctions

The overall effect of international sanctions on India's economy and technological progress was marginal. Most nations did not sanction India, and India's exports and imports together constituted only 4% of its GDP, with US trade accounting for only 10% of this total. Far more significant were the restrictions on lending imposed by the United States and its representatives on international finance bodies. Most of the sanctions were lifted within five years.


Other nuclear powers, such as France and Russia, refrained from condemning India.

Nuclear yields and prediction

The nuclear yields still remains highly debatable among international scholars and the Indian science community.[31] Calculating the exact yields are very difficult even in the control environment. The question of politicising the yields made the matter even more complicated and disputed the numbers of the nuclear yields. On 11 May, the yields from the three tests were put at 58 kilotons by the BARC data obtained at the site 3 km from the test shafts. The BARC officials described the tests as a "complete success, and it was determined that all the devices and their components had performed flawlessly." To remove all doubts, the senior scientists, including Abdul Kalam and R. Chidambaram, involved in the Pokhran operations addressed the press on 17 May.[6]

In this press meet the Indian scientists claimed that the two fission device produced a yield of 15kt and 0.3kt was obtained from the low yield device.[6] They also claimed that the thermonuclear device gave a total yield of 45kt; the 15kt force was generated from the fission trigger and 30kt from the fusion process and that the theoretical yield of the device (200 kt) was reduced to 45 kt to minimise seismic damage to villages near the test range.[6] The village closest to the test range, Khetolai, was a mere 5 kilometres away. Neutral assessment by western scholars estimates that Shakti-I was between 29–35 kt, and Shakti-2 was 12kt.[31]

In 2009 it was widely reported that a retired nuclear scientist, K. Santhanam who was closely associated with the tests, claims that the 1998 tests were not as successful as the government had claimed they were.[32][33] These claims were widely dismissed in India, including a specific dismissal by Abdul Kalam, who cited evidence and data to prove his point.[34] Another scientist, P.K. Iyengar, also echoed Santhanam's statement, and noted that: "there is a strong reason to believe that the thermonuclear device had not fully burnt."[35] While calling for more nuclear explosion in his last interview, Iyengar quoted to BBC India that the "India's 1998 nuclear test was not a deterrent against China, though it was against Pakistan."[36]


11 May has been officially declared as National Technology Day in India to commemorate the first of the five tests that were carried out on 11 May 1998. The day was officially signed by the then Prime Minister of India. The day is celebrated by giving awards to various individuals and industries in the field of science and industry.[37]


External links

  • Nuclear Weapons Archive: Operation Shakti
  • India aborted nuclear bomb plans in 1994
  • India's Pathway to Pokhran II: The Prospects and Sources of New Delhi's Nuclear Weapons Program


  • Chengappa, Raj. India Today. Retrieved 24 June 2012.

See also

Coordinates: 27°04′44″N 71°43′20″E / 27.07884°N 71.722113°E / 27.07884; 71.722113

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