India is the only country in the world which has nuclear weapon powers on either side, both of whom are adversarial towards India and have an unholy nexus between themselves.
By Commodore Anil Jai Singh
The successful completion of a deterrent patrol by India’s first ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant marked the operationalisation of the sea-based leg of India’s nuclear deterrence capability. While India has already operationalised the land-based and air-based delivery platforms, it was this third and vital element that had to be proven to complete the nuclear triad. India is now the sixth nation with a sea- based deterrent, the others being the five permanent members of the UN Security Council viz., the USA, Russia, UK, France and China.
The news has made national headlines with the Prime Minister felicitating the crew of the submarine who constitute the cutting edge of this capability. He also congratulated all those who worked hard for many years to make it happen and highlighted the significance of this event.
From a strategic perspective, this capability represents a quantum leap in India’s quest to realise its potential as an emerging global power. In the Indo-Pacific which constitutes India’s area of responsibility and where most of India’s maritime interests lie, it reinforces India’s pre-eminence not only as the leading power in the region but also its reassuring presence as a force for good to ensure a rules based international order and provide stability in the region.
India is the only country in the world which has nuclear weapon powers on either side, both of whom are adversarial towards India and have an unholy nexus between themselves. Recent developments in the region, be it China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or Pakistan’s inherent instability and immature rhetoric which the Prime Minister alluded to when he stated that this capability will desist anyone from attempting nuclear blackmail, further highlight the imperative of credible deterrence and effective second strike.
The importance of the sea-based deterrent
The cornerstones of India’s nuclear doctrine promulgated in 2003 are ‘No First Use’ and ‘minimum credible deterrence’. It therefore follows that India must have an assured and credible second strike capability to deter an aggressor. This can only be provided by a submarine operating thousands of miles away and hundreds of metres below the surface of the sea, concealed and undetectable with enough firepower to not only provide ‘minimum credible deterrence’ but also enough to annihilate the enemy. In the later half of the 20th century, it was because of this ability of both the protagonists, the USA and the USSR that the Cold war remained ‘cold’ despite numerous
provocations and dangerous brinkmanship. Infact , ever since then, the term strategic deterrence is synonymous with SSBN operations.
Notwithstanding the fact that SSBNs are the ultimate strategic weapon in a nation’s arsenal, these are not war-fighting platforms in a tactical or operational battlespace. Hence for the Indian Navy to be adequately equipped to shape the maritime battlespace and deliver the desired effect across the entire spectrum of conflict, the conventional submarine (SSK) and the nuclear attack submarine (SSN) programmes also need equal attention. The gains that have accrued from the indigenous SSBN programme therefore need to be applied towards indigenising our conventional submarine building skills which, regrettably have languished due to a host of reasons, not least being
bureaucratic apathy and political myopia.
Work in progress
The success of the Arihant’s deterrent patrol has validated the nuclear triad by proving the efficacy of the Nuclear Command Authority, the complex command and control structure and the entire eco- system required to optimally operate these platforms. However, this is still work in progress as one SSBN does not constitute credible sea-based deterrence or an assured second strike capability. That will only be achieved when India can ensure the presence of at least one SSBN on patrol at all times for which, as a thumb rule, at least three SSBNs are required. It is understood that the second SSBN, Arighat, is at an advanced stage of trials and should be commissioned soon while a third SSBN is also on the anvil. It is also understood that these will be followed by a larger and more powerful class of SSBNs. To draw a comparison, the Chinese sea-based deterrence capability gained credibility only in the early part of this decade, with the advent of the Jin class (Type 094) SSBN, four of which are now in service, even though their first SSBN, the Xia class (Type 092) which displaced 7000 tons ,was commissioned way back in 1987.
INS Arihant which displaces 6000 tons is presently equipped with the K15 ballistic missile which has a range of 750 kms or so while the K4 with a range of 3500 kms is at an advanced stage of development. The longer the range of the missile, the larger is the operating radius of the submarine and greater is its ability to deliver a debilitating second strike while enhancing its invulnerability to detection and counter attack. The Jin class is armed with JL-2 ICBMs on the Jin class with a range reportedly of 7000-8000 kms.
The success of the Arihant’s deterrent patrol is indeed very encouraging and will provide the springboard to greater success in developing an effective and credible sea- based deterrence and second strike capability. The euphoric reaction has served an important purpose in proving our credentials and it is now time to buckle down and establish this capability sooner rather than later away from too much attention and exposure.