Washington: Pakistan’s atomic weapons stockpile has jumped to an estimated 70-90 warheads from a previous figure of 60 and it is also developing two new types of nuclear-capable cruise missiles, according to a top American scientist.
Writing for the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Hans M Kristensen cited the latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to highlight Pakistan’s expansion of its nuclear warheads.
The estimate of 70-90 nuclear warheads in Pakistan’s atomic weapons stockpile is an increase compared with the previous estimate of approximately 60 warheads due to Islamabad’s pending introduction of a new ballistic missile and cruise missiles, he said.
Kristensen wrote that Pakistan’s nuclear-capable Shaheen-II medium-range ballistic missile also appears to be approaching operational deployment after long preparation.
The Army test-launched two missiles within three days in April 2008, and the US Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Centre (Nasic) reported in June 2009 that the weapon “probably will soon be deployed,” he noted.
Two types of nuclear-capable cruise missiles are also under development—the ground-launched Barbur and the air-launched Ra-ad, Kristensen said.
Two new plutonium production reactors and a second chemical separation facility are also under construction by Pakistan.
Kristensen said that the development of cruise missiles with nuclear capability is interesting because it suggests that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons designers have been successful in building smaller and lighter plutonium warheads.
He also noted that a recent article in the CTC Sentinel news letter of the Combating Terrorism Centre at the US Military Academy at West Point had said that “most” of Pakistan’s nuclear sites might be close to or even within terrorist dominated areas.
Senior US officials were quoted as saying that the weapons were mostly located south of Islamabad, Kristensen said.
According to the latest Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it is exceedingly difficult to estimate precisely how many nuclear weapons Pakistan has produced, how many are deployed and of what types. However, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may not have reached 100 warheads as of yet.
Pakistan is thought to have produced approximately 2,000kg of highly enriched uranium and 90kg of separated military plutonium by early 2008, it said.
Pakistan is also expanding its capabilities to reprocess plutonium. Satellite images show that Pakistan is constructing a second separation facility adjacent to the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology in Rawalpindi, that could handle the plutonium produced in the two new Khushab reactors, it said.
The bulletin said Pakistan may have also resumed work on a partially-built separation plant located at Chasma, where it operates the 300-MW commercial reactors, and plans to build three more.
Additionally, Pakistan is expanding its facilities at Dera Ghazi Khan in southern Punjab, where uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal are produced, it said.
“All these efforts suggest that Pakistan is preparing to increase and enhance its nuclear forces,” the bulletin said.