The potent of India’s atomic weapons arsenal has gone up by a few notches with its first indigenously designed, manufactured and fully-functional nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant capable of firing ballistic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads having successfully completed its first patrol under a heavy cloak of secrecy. Undoubtedly, the submarine is a major asset in India’s armoury and gives a major boost to its security flanked as the country is by two nuclear-armed neighbours — Pakistan and China.
The significance of the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant is that it is capable of withstanding a nuclear attack by any rival and then launching a counter-strike within minutes. It is an important landmark in India’s steady strengthening of three pillars of its nuclear deterrence capability as it adds maritime capability to land-and air-based nuclear weapon strike powers. India has already acquired the capability of launching Agni series of ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads from fighter aircraft like Sukhoi-30 and Mirage-2000 and land-launched missiles by the army with the strike ranges varying from short, medium and long distances. With the INS Arihant completing its under-the-sea trial, India became the sixth country to have a fully operational nuclear triad after the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The INS Arihant was subjected to extensive sea trials since December, 2014 before being commissioned in August 2016. This has also turned the Indian Navy a true blue water power having word-wide reach.
The only limitation of submarine Arihant, which has been developed for nearly two decades under the secret Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme and launched in 2009, is that the range of its nuclear missiles is just 750km and India needs to mount missiles capable of hitting targets a much a great distance say up to 3,500km. It is for this reason India is building two more nuclear-capable submarines which are heavier than INS Arihant. While one 7,000-tonne submarine, which is likely to be launched by 2022, will be capable of firing six longer range missiles fitted with nuclear warheads, the 13,500-tonne submarine still on the drawing board is expected to be armed with a dozen longer-range nuclear missiles. The acquisition of the nuclear triad by India came three decades after it conducted its second nuclear device test in the deserts of Rajasthan state on May 11, 1998 after which New Delhi declared itself as a nuclear weapon nation. It also came at a time when China has become militarily assertive in the Indian Ocean region deploying submarines, including nuclear ones, in the name of checking piracy, sparking concerns in New Delhi.
As important as the completion of the INS Arihant trial was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks while interacting with the crew of the submarine in New Delhi on November 5. He chose the occasion to make certain significant statements regarding India’s nuclear doctrine unveiled on during the Bharatiya Janata Party’s previous rule under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.That doctrine was approved at that time by Vajpayee-led Cabinet Committee on Security at its meeting on January 4, 2003, a little over five years after the 1998 nuclear test also under Vajpayee’s leadership as the Prime Minister.
Modi stuck to the 2003 doctrine reiterating that the country remained committed to the principle of no first use of nuclear weapons and to having minimum nuclear deterrence capability. The reaffirmation of the no-first use of nuclear weapons by India comes in the midst of a raging debate in the security establishment about the need for revisiting the stand in view of growing nuclear arms powers of Pakistan and China.
Analysts here agree that when Modi said on Monday that the INS Arihant is a befitting reply to those indulging in “nuclear blackmail”, he had in mind Pakistan. It is Pakistan which has been repeatedly talking about South Asia being a “nuclear flashpoint” and flagging this as a pretext for international intervention in the Kashmir issue. What Pakistan forgets is that India is a responsible nation with an impeccable record of non-proliferation and that New Delhi has a robust command control structure for use of nuclear weapons under strict political control. On the other hand, the international community has often voiced concerns over Pakistan’s complicity in nuclear proliferation and clandestinely supplying nuclear material to North Korea and the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of non-state actors like the terror groups.
Pallab Bhattacharya is a New Delhi based journalist