China, Russia, and the United States are not the only states that deploy ambiguous delivery systems. Five out of the other six nuclear-armed states also have them (the only exception is the United Kingdom, which deploys nuclear weapons exclusively aboard submarines that do not carry nonnuclear weapons, except for self-defense). However, while Israel almost certainly fields dual-use capabilities—F-16 aircraft, most notably—none of its plausible adversaries are currently nuclear-armed, significantly mitigating the nuclear escalation risks of any conflict involving Israel.1 As a result, this appendix focuses on France, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
France fields two types of dual-use aircraft: land-based Rafale BF3 and carrier-based Rafale MF3 fighters-bombers.2 Both can carry nuclear-armed supersonic cruise missiles and are used for conventional operations; indeed, French experts stress that such versatility is a major advantage.3 France’s one aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, does not carry nuclear weapons on a day-to-day basis but could be loaded with them in a crisis or conflict, making it NATO’s only potentially ambiguous surface ship.
The ambiguity associated with French forces stems exclusively from the challenge of determining whether individual delivery systems or platforms that are known to be dual-use have been armed with nuclear or nonnuclear weapons. In the cases of India, Pakistan, and North Korea, this challenge is compounded by the additional difficulty of determining what warhead types are available for various types of missiles.
India and Pakistan have deployed a wide variety of delivery systems for nuclear operations, many of which are known or suspected, especially by one another, to be dual-use. All of India’s and Pakistan’s aircraft that are used to carry nuclear weapons are also available for conventional operations. However, there is a question about whether some Indian aircraft—notably legacy MiG-27s and Rafale fighter-bombers being acquired from France—are, or will be, conventional-only or dual-use.4
India and Pakistan also field a variety of ground-launched missiles, many of which have been described by official sources as, or are otherwise suspected to be, dual-use.5 In 2003, when India tested its short-range Prithvi missile, anonymous officials described it as such.6 India’s Agni-2 IRBM and its other land-based ballistic missiles with shorter ranges are probably also dual-use, though official confirmation is not available.7 One Indian official has also hinted that the short-range Prahaar battlefield missile, which is under development and is expected to replace the Prithvi, will be dual-use.8 Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, there is a widespread belief within the Pakistani strategic community that this is probably the case.9 There is more uncertainty about the Agni-3 IRBM, but it is probably nuclear-only because of accuracy limitations (even if there would be no technical barrier to loading it with a nonnuclear warhead). Similarly, the longer-range ballistic missiles that India is planning to deploy will also likely be nuclear-only.
Official Pakistani sources, meanwhile, have stated or implied that at least four of the country’s land-based ballistic missiles can carry nuclear or conventional warheads: the short-range Abdali (Hatf-2) and Ghaznavi (Hatf-3) and the medium-range Shaheen-1 (Hatf-4) and Shaheen-3 (Hatf-6).10 That said, one former officer with Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division suggests that Pakistan may be deliberately cultivating ambiguity and that the Abdali is actually conventional-only.11 In any case, since the Shaheen-3, which has yet to be fielded, is Pakistan’s longest-range ballistic missile, it is possible that other Pakistani missiles are also dual-use. The Nasr (Hatf-9), with a reported range of only 60–70 kilometers (38–44 miles), is the most likely candidate.12
According to the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), Pakistan’s Babur (Hatf-7) ground-launched cruise missile is dual-use.13 Conversely, India’s BrahMos cruise missile, which can be deployed on a ground-based launcher among other options, has not officially been assigned a nuclear role, and NASIC assesses it to be conventional-only, in spite of speculation that it is “nuclear-capable.”14
Pakistani diesel-electric submarines will become ambiguous when they are used to carry a sea-launched cruise missile, Babur-3, which official sources have implied is dual-use.15 Meanwhile, there may already be a degree of ambiguity around the two Indian Sukanya-class patrol vessels on which Dhanush ship-launched ballistic missiles are deployed.16 This missile is based on the dual-use Prithvi-2, and there has been speculation that it has a nuclear role.
One factor that may mitigate the escalation risks associated with pre-launch warhead ambiguity in South Asia is ISR limitations. After all, if one state failed to detect another’s weapons, it could not mischaracterize them. Pakistan, in particular, could face significant challenges in detecting Indian ground-launched missiles after dispersal.17 India, by contrast, has deployed a fairly sophisticated suite of ISR assets that could probably detect at least some Pakistani missiles prior to launch (though its partial reliance on drones represents a significant weakness).18 However, both states have well-developed air-defense systems that have a proven ability to detect each other’s aircraft.
North Korea has deployed a variety of ambiguous land-based ballistic missiles and is developing more. Because of U.S. defense commitments and the deployment of U.S. forces to Japan and South Korea, ambiguous North Korean missiles that lack the range to reach the United States could still exacerbate escalation risks in a U.S.–North Korean crisis or conflict.
Even the U.S. intelligence community may face challenges in assessing which North Korean missiles are dual-use. That said, some are more likely candidates than others. North Korea’s longest-range land-based missiles—in particular, the HS-12 IRBM and the HS-14 and HS-15 ICBMs—are probably exclusively nuclear-armed. Even though there would be no technical barrier to loading them with conventional (or even chemical) warheads, presumed accuracy limitations make such a choice unlikely.19 Conversely, North Korea may not have developed small enough nuclear warheads to be loaded onto the very short-range KN-02 or KN-09 missiles.20 However, some, or perhaps even all, of its other missiles—those with ranges of between roughly 300 and 1,500 kilometers (190 and 940 miles)—may be dual-use.
Beyond these technological considerations, the organization of North Korea’s missile forces may provide some hints about how missiles are armed. Missiles assigned to the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Artillery Bureau may be exclusively nonnuclear (these include the various ground-launched ballistic missile types first tested in 2019). Missiles assigned to the KPA Strategic Force, which include at least some Scuds and Nodongs, may be nuclear or dual-use.21 Recent references to nuclear-armed “Hwasong artillery” units within the Strategic Force may suggest that nuclear-armed and conventionally armed dual-use missiles have become organizationally distinct.22 That said, there is significant uncertainty about the organization of North Korea’s ballistic missile forces and how this organization, which is apparently in flux, will change further in response to future technological and doctrinal developments.
1 The development of longer-range missiles could plausibly foment a deterrence relationship between Israel and Pakistan in the not-too-distant future. However, for the time being, deficiencies in Pakistani (and perhaps Israeli) ISR capabilities would mitigate the risks associated with pre-launch warhead ambiguity.
2 For an overview of French capabilities, see Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “French Nuclear Forces, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 75, no. 1 (2019): 51–55.
3 Bruno Tertrais, French Nuclear Deterrence Policy, Forces and Future (Paris: Fondation Pour La Recherche Stratégique, January 2019), 64 and 65, https://www.frstrategie.org/web/documents/publications/recherches-et-documents/2019/201901.pdf.
4 Christopher Clary and Vipin Narang, “India’s Counterforce Temptations: Strategic Dilemmas, Doctrine, and
Capabilities,” International Security 43, no. 3 (Winter 2018/19): 26; and Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2018,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 74, no. 6 (2018): 363.
5 Pakistan may soon deploy a dual-use air-launched cruise missile, Ra’ad (Hatf-8), though it will not contribute directly to pre-launch warhead ambiguity. Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, and Julia Diamond, “Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2018,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 74, no. 5 (2018): 355.
6 Agence France Presse, “India Tests Nuclear-Capable Missile, Surprises Analysts,” March 26, 2003.
7 Kristensen and Korda, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2018,” 363.
8 Clary and Narang, “India’s Counterforce Temptations,” 29. See also the discussion of the longer-range Shouyra missile.
9 See, for example, Feroz Hassan Khan, Going Tactical: Pakistan’s Nuclear Posture and Implications for Stability, Proliferation Papers 53 (Paris: Ifri, September 2015), 34, https://www.ifri.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/pp53khan_0.pdf.
10 Kristensen, Norris, and Diamond, “Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2018,” 353–354; and Director-General, Inter-Services Public Relations, Twitter post, November 18, 2019, 3:22am, https://twitter.com/OfficialDGISPR/status/1196342816777084929.
11 Khan, Eating Grass, 237–238.
12 Khan, Eating Grass, 249.
13 Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat 2017, 37. See also, Khan, Eating Grass, 247. Additionally, official Pakistani sources have implied that an improved version of this missile, currently under development, is dual-use. Kristensen, Norris, and Diamond, “Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2018,” 355.
14 Clary and Narang, “India’s Counterforce Temptations,” 30; and Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat 2017, 37. An Indian ground-launched cruise missile, Nirbhay, that is also under development may be dual-use. Kristensen and Korda, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2018,” 365.
15 Christopher Clary and Ankit Panda, “Safer at Sea? Pakistan’s Sea-Based Deterrent and Nuclear Weapons Security,” The Washington Quarterly 40, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 156. See also page 149 for the suggestion that the missile will be dual-use.
16 Kristensen and Korda, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2018,” 365.
17 Personal communication, Toby Dalton, November 2019. For Pakistani concerns about an “asymmetry” in ISR capabilities, see Mansoor Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Their Impact on Stability,” Regional Insight, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 30, 2016, https://carnegieendowment.org/2016/06/30/pakistan-s-tactical-nuclear-weapons-and-their-impact-on-stability-pub-63911.
18 Clary and Narang, “India’s Counterforce Temptations,” 31–34.
19 North Korean statements that tests of the HS-12 were conducted by Hwasong Artillery units further suggest (for reasons discussed below) that this missile is exclusively nuclear-armed. See, for example, KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Guides Strategic Ballistic Rocket Launching Drill of KPA Strategic Force,” August 30, 2017, https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1504044160-212341135/kim-jong-un-guides-strategic-ballistic-rocket-launching-drill-of-kpa-strategic-force/?t=1573847540317.
20 Joshua Pollack, personal communication, November 2019.
21 Joshua Pollack, personal communication, November 2019; and see, for example, KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Watches Demonstration Fire of New-Type Tactical Guided Missiles,” August 7, 2019, https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1565332217-70577589/supreme-leader-kim-jong-un-watches-demonstration-fire-of-new-type-tactical-guided-missiles/?t=1574043719125. The Scud-B, Scud-C, and Nodong are particularly likely to be dual-use because they were acquired before North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
22 KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Supervises Ballistic Rocket Launching Drill of Hwasong Artillery Units of KPA Strategic Force,” March 7, 2017, https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/270276/kim-jong-un-supervises-ballistic-rocket-launching-drill-of-hwasong-artillery-units-of-kpa-strategic-force/. For a contrary analysis that suggests the KN-23 may be dual-use, see Jeffrey Lewis, “Preliminary Analysis: KN-23 SRBM,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 5, 2019, https://www.nonproliferation.org/preliminary-analysis-kn-23-srbm/.