India’s N-triad operational

India’s long-awaited nuclear triad, or the capability to fire nuclear weapons from land, air and sea, is now finally operational almost five decades after it was first conceived for credible strategic deterrence and 20 years after the Pokhran-II tests.

PM Modi announced that the country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant had successfully completed its “first deterrence patrol”, which signifies the underwater predator has undertaken its maiden long range mission with “live” nuclear-tipped missiles. “In an era such as this, a credible nuclear deterrence is the need of the hour. The success of INS Arihant gives a fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail,” the PM tweeted, in a fairly unambiguous message to Pakistan. The over a month-long patrol by INS Arihant (which means annihilator of enemies), armed with the 750-km range K-15 missiles, incidentally, comes at a time when a Chinese submarine is once again prowling the Indian Ocean Region.

China has deployed at least eight submarines, alternating between nuclear and conventional diesel-electric boats, in the IOR under the guise of anti-piracy patrols since December 2013. While INS Arihant’s missiles are dwarfed by the over 5,000-km range submarine-launched ballistic missiles present with the US, Russia and China, Modi had Pakistan in mind when he said the N-submarine was a counter to nuclear blackmail.

India for long has had the land-based Agni missiles, with the over 5,000-km Agni-V inter-continental ballistic missile in the process of being inducted, and fighter jets juryrigged to deliver N-weapons.

But INS Arihant gives it much more nuclear teeth and credibility. The triad’s underwater leg in the shape of nuclear-powered submarines armed with ballistic missiles, called SSBNs in naval parlance, is considered to be the most secure, survivable and potent platform for retaliatory strikes. This is especially required for a country like India with a declared “no first-use” nuclear policy. Unlike land-based missiles and fighter-bombers that can conceivably be destroyed in pre-emptive enemy strikes, SSBNs can remain undetected in deep seas for months at end. The endurance of SSBNs is only limited by the physical and mental endurance of their crews. Conversely, it is far easier to detect conventional submarines because they have to surface or “snorkel” every few days to get oxygen to re-charge their diesel-electric batteries.

“Today is historic because it marks the completion of the successful establishment of the nuclear triad. India’s nuclear triad will be an important pillar of global peace and stability,” said Modi. “True to its name, INS Arihant will protect the 130 crore Indians from external threats and contribute to the atmosphere of peace in the region,” he added. The PM went on to congratulate the crew and “all involved in the achievement which puts India among a handful of countries having the capability to design, construct and operate SSBNs”.

India is building far bigger nuclear submarines with longer-range missiles than a “baby boomer” like INS Arihant, which is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core, under the secretive Rs.90,000 crore ATV (advanced technology vessel) programme. INS Arighat, the second SSBN under-construction at the ship-building centre at Vizag, was “launched” in November last year and is slated to become operational by 2020.

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