INS Arihant’s patrol over: Nuclear-triad in place, submarine our shield against blackmail
- India announced the completion of its survivable nuclear triad by adding maritime strike capability to land and air-based delivery platforms for nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while declaring that India’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine had completed its maiden “deterrence” patrol, said INS Arihant was an “open warning” (khuli chetavni) to “enemies of India and peace” and a “fitting response to nuclear blackmail”.
- INS Arihant, a strategic asset, was developed for over two decades under the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme, which comes directly under the Nuclear Command Authority headed by the Prime Minister.
- INS Arihant is India’s first indigenously-designed, developed and manufactured nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, and three more such submarines are reportedly under various stages of construction.
- Designed in the 1990s, the INS Arihant development project was officially acknowledged in 1998 and the submarine was launched in 2009. The nuclear reactor of the submarine went critical in 2013 and it was commissioned three years later.
About INS arihant:
How long did it take to develop INS Arihant?
- INS Arihant was launched on July 26, 2009 by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mark 10 years since the end of the Kargil War. In August 2013, the submarine’s atomic reactor was activated. In August 2016, Prime Minister Modi inducted the submarine into the Navy.
What is the composition of INS Arihant?
- INS Arihant is a 6,000-tonne submarine with a length of 110 metres and a breadth of 11 metres. The vessel will be able to carry 12 Sagarika K 15 submarine launched ballistic missiles that have a range of over 700 km.
How INS Arihant is different from other submarines?
- India has been vying to equip its naval forces with nuclear arsenal ever since it successfully conducted Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarines (SSBNs) are a way forward in this direction. They are different from conventional SSK submarines, which use a diesel-electric engine as their power source, and have to surface daily to get oxygen for fuel combustion.
- SSBNs are bigger in size and are powered by a nuclear reactor and as a result, they can function submerged for months without having to surface. This feature allows them to travel further and with greater stealth. SSBNs are supposed to be the best guarantor of a second-strike capability in a nuclear exchange. India has said it is committed to not using nuclear weapons first.
- SSBNs like the INS Arihant are also different from the nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), as they can carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
What missiles does the INS Arihant have for a nuclear strike?
- INS Arihant is fitted with 12 Sagarika K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The missile, however, has a strike radius of about 750 to 800 km, which pales in comparison with what Chinese nuclear submarines carry. The DRDO is working on two longer-range SLBMs: the 3,500-km range K-4 and the 5,000-km range K-5.
So what submarines does the Indian Navy now have?
- The Navy currently has 14 SSKs — nine Sindhughosh-class (Russian Kilo class), four Shishumar-class (German Type 209) and one Kalvari-class (Scorpene class) submarines. Besides these, the navy also has one SSN, INS Chakra, a Russian Akula-class submarine taken on lease in 2012 for 12 years.
- INS Arihant will be the first SSBN-type submarine in the Navy. It has also been reported that it’s sister vessel, the INS Aridhaman, is nearing completion.
- Interestingly, the size of the Arihant is similar to the first nuclear submarine in the world that was launched four decades ago by the US. Besides the US, which has 74 nuclear submarines, Russia (44), UK (13), France (10) and China (10) also possess nuclear-powered submarines. The last nation to enter the nuclear submarine club was China when it launched its Han class submarines in the early 1980s.
- India has become the sixth country — after US, Russia, UK, France and China — to have a fully operational nuclear triad.
- “In an era such as this, a credible nuclear deterrence is the need of the hour. The success of INS Arihant gives a fitting response
- Modi underlined that “as a responsible nation, India has put in place a robust nuclear command and control structure, effective safety assurance architecture and strict political control, under its Nuclear Command Authority. It remains committed to the doctrine of Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use
- India’s nuclear triad will be an important pillar of global peace and stability
- The success of INS Arihant enhances India’s security needs, the Prime Minister said, emphasising that the indigenous development of the SSBN and its operationalisation attest to the country’s technological prowess and the synergy and coordination among all concerned
During a deterrence patrol, a nuclear submarine carries nuclear missiles on board, where the command and control protocols for its operations are fully tested by the crew. As the term signifies, a deterrence patrol is meant to deter an adversary from launching a first nuclear-strike since the SSBN can launch a retaliatory strike within minutes.
Issues with INS Arihant:
- First, there is the issue of missile ranges. From a submarine patrol area in mid-Bay of Bengal, Islamabad is 2,500 km, while Beijing and Shanghai are over 4,000 km. Even from the northern-most edge of the Bay of Bengal, Kunming is 1,600 km and Chengdu 2,000 km. Therefore, to target cities and nuclear forces deep inside China or Pakistan, from a “safe haven”, India needs a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) of 6,000-8,000-km range. The missile, reportedly, carried by the Arihant is the K-15, whose range falls below 1,000 km. SLBMs of longer range are, possibly the way, but they will equip Arihant’s successors.
- Second, India has, so far, followed an unorthodox system, in which the National Command Authority (NCA) manages the nuclear deterrent through a “troika” consisting of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), the Department of Atomic Energy and DRDO. While scientists are the custodians of nuclear warheads and help mate them with the SFC’s missiles and IAF fighter-bombers, the MoD and Raksha Mantri remain out of the loop.
- Since Arihant and her sisters will carry “cannisterised” missiles, with pre-mated warheads, scientists have been eliminated from the chain, with custody and control of weapons devolving on the submarine’s captain. No doubt, “fail-safe” electronic permissive action links (PAL) have been installed to ensure instant compliance with an authorised “launch” command from the NCA, while preventing accidental launch, structural and doctrinal changes are urgently required too. Which brings us to the third area of concern — an effective command and control structure to cater for this new capability.
- The Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) is, notionally, a key functionary in the nuclear command chain, responsible to the PM for functioning of the SFC. With the operationalisation of Arihant, his role assumes greater criticality. Under existing rules, the appointment of chairman is tenable by the senior-most service chief who may (depending on his retirement date) serve for durations, varying from 30 days to 18 months. He discharges this duty on a part-time basis, in addition to running his own service. No other nuclear weapon state has such a farcical arrangement, and this impinges on the credibility of our deterrent.
- Given the gravity and magnitude of his responsibilities, in the context of the nuclear triad, the Chairman COSC, in his current avatar, needs to be urgently replaced either by a Chief of Defence Staff or a Permanent Chairman COSC, with an independent charter and a fixed tenure. This can come about only through strong political intervention that overrules entrenched bureaucratic opposition.
- India’s nuclear triad and its accessories are going to cost the nation trillions of rupees in the decades ahead. It would be delusionary to imagine that a large military, and nuclear weapons, just by themselves, can assure India’s security and bequeath “great power” status on it. On the other hand, a grand-strategic vision that integrates military power with a national security doctrine will certainly achieve both.