Arihant to India’s defence: Nuclear triad is now fully operational and provides us with credible strategic deterrence
General NC Vij, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM

Monday, 5 November 2018, was indeed a red letter and historic day in the history of India’s security paradigm when a visibly proud Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the completion of a maiden ‘deterrent patrol’ by INS Arihant, India’s first indigenously built nuclear ballistic missile submarine. This has added maritime strike capability to the land and air-based delivery platforms of nuclear weapons, thus completing the nuclear triad. Arihant has very thoughtfully been named as it means, ‘Slayer of the Enemy’.

It is well known that India is confronted with a very challenging security environment. We have none too friendly neighbours who are also nuclear powers, along our western, northern and north-eastern borders. Furthermore in the Indian Ocean, Chinese submarines are constantly prowling round the year. It is believed that they have deployed seven to eight submarines, alternating between nuclear and conventional, under the guise of anti-piracy patrols since 2013.

The PM had Pakistan in mind when he stated that INS Arihant was an open warning to the enemies of India who follow the policy of nuclear blackmail blatantly. Pakistan’s effort to promote terrorism under the umbrella of nuclear blackmail is a case in point. They better have a second thought now.

A nuclear submarine provides to India the capability to hide its ballistic missiles at sea for long periods and provide an assured Second Strike capability to hit back at the enemy, should the land and air delivery systems be neutralised. The biggest advantage of the Submersible Ballistic Nuclear Submarine is that the sea is an opaque medium which makes the SSBN the most survivable leg of the triad. It is insulated from surprise attack scenarios. Presently the SSBN has been equipped with a missile system with a range of 750 km but gradually it will be upgraded to missiles with ranges up to 4000-5000 km and even MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles), if necessitated.

The deterrence patrol was conducted after due validation of all related concepts during the extensive trial phase. Very significantly the successful deployment of Arihant with nuclear weapons has also established the efficacy of the robust command and control structure under strict political control whilst adhering to stringent safety mechanisms.

Regular and unhindered communication from the National Command Authority (NCA) to the SSBN is critical for assuring the success of Second Strike capability especially when we have a No First Use nuclear doctrine. Various layers of communication have been developed indigenously which provide redundancy and enhance survivability. They have proved their battle worthiness.

INS Arihant is the first SSBN of the advanced technology vessel programme which was started in early 1980s aimed at developing indigenous SSBN design and construction capability. It was commissioned on 25 August 2016.

Being the first of its class, exhaustive harbour and sea trials were undertaken by the navy and its designers. Due to its complexities, the programme was regularly and closely monitored at all stages by the executive council of the NCA under the NSA and the chief of the naval staff, with the PM being regularly briefed at all stages of the exercise.

A very high degree of technological sophistication has been achieved incorporating state of the art technology which meets global standards. It is genuinely indigenous as not only the steel but also various other critical equipment have been fabricated indigenously with active participation of PSUs and private industry besides the shipyard.

Design features are innovative and software based stability and motion control systems have been indigenously developed. These controls are vital during the firing of a ballistic missile due to its heavy downward thrust and three dimensional effects on stability. The construction incorporated very high and stringent safety standards, which have been tested under extreme weather and operating conditions, thereby ensuring high survivability. Underwater noise has been minimised. Miniaturisation of nuclear power plant has been achieved by the Department of Atomic Energy and calls for deep appreciation of the herculean effort on the part of the Indian navy and the scientific community. We are very happy that our navy has now been equipped with this very potent capability.

Arihant is the largest submarine built in India till date. It is over 110 metres long and displaces 7500 tonnes (6000 tonnes on surface and 7500 tonnes when dived). To ensure round the year vigil by Continuous At Sea Deterrence, at least one SSBN requires to be deployed at sea at all times, requiring a total of at least four to five submarines. The work for that is already in progress. The second submarine was launched last year and is slated to become operational by 2020. By 2022 we are likely to have four submarines, the last two will be larger and with a higher displacement. The ecosystem in the private and public sectors that has been built as a result of the construction of these SSBNs will have tremendous spinoff benefits for indigenous submarine building.

Operationalisation of these SSBNs will further strengthen our stated approach towards achieving peace and stability in the region. Even at the cost of repetition, it is necessary to emphasise that we remain committed to our stated nuclear doctrine of No First Use. These strategic assets for us are only for deterrence. India’s long awaited nuclear triad is now fully operational and provides us with a ‘credible strategic deterrence’. What a great Diwali gift to the nation!!

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Published in The Times of India on 13th November 2018.

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