Vasundhara Singh
February 27, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Dr. Homi J. Bhabha. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nuclear weapons have been coveted by states world over for a variety of reasons including security concerns, prestige, technological imperatives, and domestic politics. [1] Often, it is a combination of the above-mentioned factors which ultimately incentivize states to develop lethal military forces such as nuclear weapons. In the case of India, the nuclear program was created and tested in secret due to the presence and pressure of international powers, who did not want India to become a nuclear power. This was especially true for the first generation nuclear powers (the USA, the USSR, the UK, France and China). Nevertheless, the Indian government believed it to be essential for the prestige of the nation, particularly in the wake of the Chinese nuclear threat which referred to the modernization of the Chinese nuclear force, with a test conducted in 1964, especially given the background of the Sino-Indian war of 1962. This created pressure on the Indian government to forge forward their own nuclear ambitions. [2]

Indias nuclear program was incepted during the time of World War 2; in fact, origins of the nuclear program date back to 1944 thanks to Physicist Homi Bhabha. [3] Dr. Homi J. Bhabha (see Fig. 1) was the visionary of India's nuclear program. Under him, post a long-held policy of nuclear restraint and then ambiguity, it was not until Pokhran- II that India became a full-fledged nuclear state. [4]


Pokhran-II was assigned the code name Operation Shakti for the first detonation on 11 May 1998. Under this first phase, one fusion and two fission bombs were detonated. On 13 May 1998, the second phase of Pokhran-II was implemented and two additional fission devices were detonated. [1]

Specifically, the five devices detonated during Operation Shakti were weapon-grade plutonium and further details on their core yields measured in kilotons are:

  1. Shakti I: yielding 45kt, designed for up to 200kt.

  2. Shakti II: yielding 15kt.

  3. Shakti III: yielding 0.3kt.

  4. Shakti IV: yielding 0.5kt.

  5. Shakti V: yielding 0.2kt.


Pokhran-II was an immense undertaking by the Indian government. What was especially astounding about this entire operation was that it was conducted entirely in secret from the rest of the world; despite the USA and the CIAs careful watch and probing by several spy satellites, the Indian Army went to great lengths and managed to keep the entire operation under cover. This goes beyond the magnitude of the operation or its political implications, which were sizeable in their own right, as the Indian government was aware that the operation would be unequivocally condemned by majority of the great powers, yet chose to disregard the likely adverse consequences and venture forward to make India a nuclear state. [3]

© Vasundhara Singh. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Ganguly, "India's Pathway to Pokhran II" Int. Security 23, No. 4, 148 (Spring, 1999).

[2] S. Parekh, "India's Three Stage Nuclear Program," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2014.

[3] B. Chakma, "Toward Pokhran II: Explaining India's Nuclearisation Process," Mod. Asian Stud. 39, No. 1, 189 (2005).

[4] A. Zhao, "India's Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.