Relevance of India's Nuclear Triad
Ajit Kumar

It may be recalled that India's 1999 Draft Nuclear Doctrine had stated that its nuclear forces would be based on a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets. The summary of the official Nuclear Doctrine of 2003 also mentioned about maintaining a credible minimum deterrence, a posture of 'No First Use' and that any nuclear retaliation would be massive. With the successful deterrence patrol of INS Arihant, India has operationalised its nuclear triad by filling the missing link with this capability to launch nuclear capable missile from a potent maritime platform.

PM Modi has termed this achievement as historic. This has led to significant enhancement of India's nuclear position and needs. It also means that the 2003 Nuclear Doctrine of a credible minimum deterrence with a posture of 'No First Use' has been made really credible. By strengthening the second strike capability, it also shows that with the completion of India's nuclear triad, massive retaliation to inflict unacceptable damage in event of a nuclear attack is now real.

Earlier, India was vulnerable as land and air delivery platforms for nuclear weapons could be easily identified with satellites and other means. With a SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear) in place, it means that a fully functional ballistic missile becomes a strategic weapon which can fire missiles from ocean at very long ranges. Its advantage over land and air missile delivery platforms is that it can remain undetected for a long time. SSBN can strike a deadly blow to an adversary, firing ballistic missiles deep into his territory from afar.

INS Arihant is India's first indigenously built nuclear submarine. With it, India has taken a giant leap forward in technological sophistication. While India had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, placing a smaller reactor in Arihant, leading to it becoming critical in 2013 was a complex process. Having secured a holy grail to built and operate strategic strike nuclear submarine, India became the sixth country to join the exclusive league of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognised fully fledged nuclear triad powers - i.e. USA, Russia, France, UK and China.

Completion of India's nuclear triad is a tribute to its long term defence strategy as the Advanced Technology Project (ATV) was started in the 1980s. India is the youngest of the operational nuclear triad powers. INS Arihant has started with 12 nuclear capable missiles with range of 750 km, and will later carry missiles with the range of 3,500 km. The planned induction of the next nuclear submarine - Arighat in 2020 and its later and bigger versions which will carry longer range Agni Missiles shows that the nuclear triad development is in right direction to ensure India’s strategic independence.

Another notable feature of development of India's nuclear triad is the thriving public-private partnership. Some major Indian companies have collaborated in making of INS Arihant. This is consistent with 'Make In India' policy and the policy to encourage participation of more private players in the defence sector. After all, in some major nuclear powers like USA, it is the private companies who conclude the major defence contracts. Russia, a long time friend of India, has provided valuable technical assistance for INS Arihant.

15 years after declaration of its nuclear doctrine, India has taken a major step towards a survivable nuclear triad. While this is a cause for national satisfaction and a tribute to our hardworking scientists and naval personnel, much more complex work lies ahead for the reported five more submarine projects and creation of a robust command and control system. To place the longer range missiles in SSBNs would require much more efficiency, hard work and rigorous trials. If India has to acquire a true status of nuclear weapon state, it needs more SSBNs to counter China as several Chinese submarines are patrolling in the Indian Ocean Region. China is believed to have SSBNs in double figures and has vastly increased its naval strength so as to flex its muscles in the South China Sea. Besides, it is acquiring ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

India's experience of the negotiations over the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) shows that the idea of nuclear disarmament was a mirage and the nuclear weapon states only paid lip service to it. The lesson learnt was that India had to be self-sufficient for its nuclear defence in a challenging neighbourhood. This also resulted in Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998 and led to the announcement of a nuclear triad in the Draft Nuclear Doctrine, 1999. It is only with the completion of the nuclear triad that India has walked the talk.

Pakistan's response about INS Arhant raising concerns among the Indian Ocean littoral states and the international community and over India's membership of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) reveals its own vulnerability. Pakistan could be well advised to manage its own economy as any attempt to match India's nuclear tried would lead to its complete bankruptcy - as it is already going to Saudi Arabia, China and IMF with a begging bowl. Cost of a maritime nuclear platform runs into hundreds of million of dollars, which Pakistan can ill afford due to its precarious economic situation. Trying to match India's nuclear triad would lead to its collapse like Soviet Union - one of the reasons for that collapse was its costly arms race with the USA. More bellicose statements on nuclear weapons have emanated from Pakistan and PM Modi's statement on nuclear blackmail was a fitting response.

Successful completion of the nuclear triad has enhanced India's strategic position. In its quest to become a fully fledged nuclear triad power, India will have to be more diligent and efficient to master complex technological advancements needed to construct bigger SSBNs with longer range missiles. Secondly, it has to strengthen its command and control system, duly supported with continuous budgetary allocations. Thirdly, India should try to shorten the timelines wherever possible, including retaining the key personnel having the requisite expertise. It can also learn from the experience of some of the fully operational nuclear triad powers. Fourthly, the public private partnership should continue and private companies should be encouraged to join in this nuclear project. Lastly, it can learn from its own mistakes during the making of Arihant.

Operationalisation of the nuclear triad with induction of INS Arihant is a first major step forward. The road ahead will be more challenging to make India's nuclear deterrent even more stronger and credible.

(The author is a former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva.)

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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