New Delhi: India is finally close to operationalising its long-awaited nuclear weapons triad — the capability to launch nukes from land, air and sea. Although the land-based Agni ballistic missiles as well as fighter bombers configured to deliver nuclear weapons have been available for a while, the triad’s missing — and most potent — sea leg has been a big operational gap till now.
Sources said on Monday that the country’s first indigenously-constructed nuclear submarine INS Arihant (which means annihilator of enemies), propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core, was commissioned into service in August after extensive sea trials since December 2014.
INS Arihant’s 750km and 3,500km missiles may be somewhat dwarfed by SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) with ranges of well over 5,000km with the US, Russia and China, but the completion of the nuclear-triad is critical for a country like India, which has a clearly declared policy of “no first-use” of nuclear weapons. It makes its second-strike capability much more credible. A pre-emptive enemy strike can conceivably take out a rival’s nuclear missiles and fighter bombers. That is why an SSBN, capable of lurking underwater for months without being detected, is considered the most effective and deadly platform for a retaliatory nuclear strike.
The 6,000-tonne Arihant is, however, “not yet fully ready” to be deployed for “deterrent patrols” with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in its four silos, said the sources. Both the defence ministry as well as the Navy refused to say anything on the matter, holding that it was “a strategic project” directly controlled by the PMO.
INS Arihant has undergone a whole host of surface and “dived” sorties during its trials to prove its sea-worthiness. But the full weapons integration with the “K” (named after former president APJ Abdul Kalam) series of SLBMs will take some more time. While the K-15 SLBM has a 750-km range, the K-4 can go up to 3,500-km.
INS Arihant is the first of three such SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with long-range nuclear ballistic missiles) being constructed under the secretive ATV (advanced technology vessel) programme launched decades ago. The construction of the second one, INS Aridhaman, is also almost complete now, with its delivery slated for 2018.
Apart from both Pakistan and China having largely ambiguous nuclear weapons policies, the growing presence of Chinese nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean region has become a major source of concern for the Indian security establishment over the last couple of years.