INS Arihant’s Deterrence Patrol: A Critical Milestone in India’s Nuclear Posture
Kapil Patil, Associate Fellow, VIF

On November 05, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the successful completion of deterrence patrol by country’s first indigenously designed and built nuclear power submarine, INS Arihant.1 This marks an important leap in country’s strategic posture as it completes the operationalisation of the nuclear triad, and brings the country closer to achieving a credible nuclear deterrence against the adversaries. The development is equally significant as it coincides with twenty years of India’s ‘Shakti’ series of nuclear tests after which the country embarked upon building a triad of land, air, and sea-based nuclear forces.

The triad in India’s strategic calculus is primarily aimed at maintaining a defensive nuclear posture. The nuclear ‘no-first-use’ policy enunciated in India’s 2003 Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) firmly commits the nations to use nuclear weapon solely as an instrument of deterrence as opposed to nuclear war-fighting.2 The defensive nuclear posture, however, also compels the country to guard against a surprise nuclear first strike by maintaining an invulnerable ‘second strike capability’. Of the three legs of the nuclear triad, the under-sea component is most crucial for acquiring a strong retaliatory capability and to deter the potential adversaries from embarking upon atomic misadventures. INS Arihant’s successful deterrence patrol unmistakably achieves this objective for the country.

Besides, the deterrence patrol is also significant in the light of the complex security challenges that India has come to face in its regional strategic environment. Notwithstanding the defensive character of its deterrence posture, India regional adversaries have been engaged in the aggressive pursuit of wide-ranging nuclear and missile capabilities. This can be easily discerned from both qualitative as well as quantitative improvements in both China and Pakistan’s strategic platforms and the delivery systems. 3 For instance, China has already inducted as many as four Jin Class (Type-094) Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN) and plans to add new vessels in this class. Equipped with JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) of about 7000 km range, the SSBNs enables People Liberations Army Navy (PLA-N) to strike targets deep inside the Indian mainland.4

Equally worrying to India’s strategic and naval planners, however, is the growing obfuscation of doctrinal roles that PLA-N assigns to its SSBNs. China’s recent deployment of SSBN’s in the Indian Ocean, ostensibly for anti-piracy operations, has triggered widespread suspicions about its motives in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).5 Since nuclear submarines play little or no role in anti-piracy operations, the deployment of SSBNs is perceived to be part of China’s aggressive designs to seek dominance in the region and beyond the South China Sea. Incidents of aggressive patrolling by PLA-N SSBNs in the IOR has put immense pressure on the Indian Navy to respond to such moves by deploying its own SSBN.

Pakistan too, on another hand, has been fiercely engaged in ramping-up strategic assets and fissile material inventories. As part of its officially pronounced ‘full-spectrum deterrence policy’, purportedly in response to India’s nuclear and conventional force modernization, Pakistan is developing a range of naval nuclear forces. In 2017, Pakistan tested a short-range subsonic cruise missile named Babur-3 that can be launched from a submarine platform. Babur-3 is reportedly capable of carrying a nuclear payload and is designed to be mounted on the Agosta-90B diesel-electric submarine.6 To further complicate the regional competition, China’s recent decision to provide eight diesel-electric attack submarines to Pakistan has only added to India’s concerns.

Amidst such contested geo-strategic environment, INS Arihant’s successful patrol sends a signal of a formidable deterrent to India’s adversaries. Rightly so, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed it a “fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail”.7 More importantly, Arihant is only the first in a series of five to six SSBN’s that India is planning to induct over the next decade. Given the strategic imperative of deploying at least one submarine on patrol all the times, the second SSBN in this class, INS Aridhaman is nearly ready for deployment after it completes the ongoing sea-trials.8

Although INS Arihant has faced significant delays owing to wide-ranging sanctions and technology denials, the Indian scientific and industrial entities have done remarkably in overcoming the complex deign and technological challenges. With the current capability, Indian entities are poised to rapidly commission remaining vessels in this class signifying an immense technological prowess that the country has achieved over the past four decades. The Advance Technology Vessel (ATV) project of which INS Arihant is the first SSBN, represents one of the most successful indigenous technology procurement programmes in the history of India’s defence technology development.

Compared to projects like Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun, the ATV project has been most successful in terms of establishing a comprehensive indigenous design and development capability. The Indian Navy’s Indigenization Plan (INIP) hails the ATV for developing a number of weapon systems, components, and sub-systems for the submarines. 9 These include various missiles, rockets, torpedo launchers/loaders, ship stabilisers/steering gears, hydraulic systems, automated power management systems and a large number of components and assemblies by both public as well as private enterprises.

Also, the development of miniaturized atomic power pack has been the most critical breakthrough for India’s scientific community. Although India has reportedly received some amount of design assistance from Russia, it must be noted that the power reactor is an entirely indigenous effort led by the scientists at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). The reactor features a number of design and manufacturing innovations. For instance, all the critical reactor components like a steam generator, heat exchangers, control rods, pressure pumps are indigenously designed and fabricated.

This establishes a critical technological capability that can be scaled-up for a commercial scale Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) technology in the country. INS Arihant also features an underwater missile fire system developed indigenously by the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO). The K-1 missile capable of carrying a payload of about 500 kg has been successfully tested on a number of times. 10

For many such reasons, INS Arihant’s successful deterrence patrol is a matter of great pride for India. By ascertaining New Delhi’s strong resolve to maintain strategic stability in the region, it constitutes a major leap in India’s nuclear posture. Significantly, in the 20th anniversary year of Pokhran II nuclear tests, it vindicates India’s decision to go nuclear in 1998 and build a triad of nuclear forces to achieve credible minimum deterrent.

  1. Prime Minister felicitates crew of INS Arihant on completion of Nuclear Triad, Prime Minister's Office, November 05, 2018 at
  2. The Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Operationalization of India’s Nuclear Doctrine, January 04, 2003, at
  3. See Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: Chinese nuclear forces, 2018 at & Pakistan’s nuclear forces at
  4. Dempsey, J. & Boyd, H. (2017), Beyond JL-2: China’s development of a successor SLBM continues, IISS, August 7, 2017 at
  5. Odd that China has submarines in Indian Ocean for anti-piracy ops: Navy chief, Hindustan Times, December 01, 2017, at
  6. Panda, A. (2018), Pakistan Conducts Second Test of Babur-3 Nuclear-Capable Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile, The Diplomat, April 01, 2018 at
  7. PM Modi felicitates crew of INS Arihant on completion of Nuclear Triad, November 05, 2018 at
  8. Nuclear sub INS Aridhaman ready for hush-hush launch anytime soon, TNN, November 17, 2017 at
  9. Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP), Directorate of Indigenisation (Indian Navy), at, pp.7
  10. K-4 Missile Test a Roaring Success, The New Indian Express, March 16, 2016, at

(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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