New Delhi: India is said to have quietly commissioned the indigenous nuclear-armed submarine, INS Arihant, into the Strategic Forces Command, completing its three-decade quest for a credible deterrent against its two nuclear-armed rivals, Pakistan and China.
The secret induction of INS Arihant (meaning, annihilator of enemies) took place on August 25, according to sources, but the Narendra Modi government wanted to keep it a secret in view of its push to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), where China blocked India’s entry into the 48-member regime that controls the global nuclear trade.
The commissioning of 6,000-ton INS Arihant, which India first showcased to the world in July 2009 with a launch ceremony in Visakhapatnam, was kept a closely guarded secret, reported the NewsX TV on October 17 evening.
This would finally bring India close to operationalising its long-awaited nuclear weapons triad — the capability to launch nukes from land, air and sea, the Times Group reported in its October 18 edition.
Both the Indian defence ministry and the Navy refused comments on the INS Arihant commissiong, pointing out that it was a strategic forces project controlled directly the Prime Minister’s Office. All strategic nuclear assets of India are controlled by the Prime Minister-controlled Nuclear Command Authority, though INS Arihant will still be operated by Navy personnel.
India has had in its possession land-based Agni-series ballistic missiles and the Mirage-2000 and Jaguar fighter jets that can deliver a nuclear weapon on enemy territory for a while now. The missing link in the nuclear weapons triad was a submarine that can launch nuke-tipped missiles. The commissioning of the INS Arihant fills that gap.
India has also successfully tested the 750-km K-15 and the 3,500-km K-4 nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in the recent years from underwater submerged pontoons. There have been reports that INS Arihant has successfully test-fired a ballistic missile too, though the full weapons integration with the SLBMs is still to be completed and validated.
The range of the two indigenous Indian SLBMs seems small compared to SLBMs with ranges of well over 5,000 km that U.S., Russia and China possess. But the filling up of the nuclear triad gap is significant and critical for India that had in 2001 unilaterally declared a ‘no first use’ policy on nuclear weapons.
A SLBM is considered a more credible deterrent and a reliable second strike capability, more because of the platform’s stealth and ability to lurk underwater and strike at will without getting detected by enemies.
INS Arihant is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core and has been on sea trials since December 2014, since when it has been carrying out a series of surface and ‘dived’ sorties to prove its sea-worthiness.
INS Arihant is the first of three such SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with long-range nuclear ballistic missiles) being constructed under the secretive Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme launched decades ago. The construction of the second one, Aridhaman, is also almost complete now, with its delivery slated for 2018.
Both Pakistan and China have largely ambiguous nuclear weapons policies and the rising number of the Chinese nuclear submarines venturing to the Indian Ocean region has become a major source of concern for the Indian security establishment over the last couple of years.
Here is a December 2014 video on an Indian TV news channel when Arihant sailed out of Visakhapatnam for its sea trials: