Pakistan and China’s nuclear capabilities along with the added challenges and risks of a complex and uncertain environment in the Indo-Pacific are vindication of India’s foresight with the Pokhran II tests in 1998
The nuclear deterrence capability has been gradually strengthened, with development and trials of weapons, delivery platforms, command and control systems, as well as for transportation and storage of sensitive materials.After surmounting numerous challenges, the first indigenous SSBN was launched in 2009 and commissioned as INS Arihant (codenamed S2) in 2016. The submarine undertook its first deterrent patrol in 2018. The crew was felicitated by the Indian Prime Minister upon operationalisation of the country’s nuclear triad. The Prime Minister also highlighted India’s robust command and control structure and effective safety assurance architecture with strict protocols under the Nuclear Command Authority. In 2022, the submarine undertook the first successful launch of its ballistic missile. Concerns related to the limited range of the K15 ballistic missile carried by the submarine have been addressed gradually, with successful tests of higher range versions. Aspects related to complex maintenance, training, and operational procedures were also put in place. Numerous innovative measures were undertaken to improve infrastructure related to building capacity. The next SSBN (codenamed S3 and to be commissioned as INS Arighat) was launched in November 2017 and has been undergoing trials. It is expected to be commissioned soon. Need was also felt to enhance numerous design features, many of which are being incorporated in the next two submarines, S4 and S4 Star. Clearance for setting up infrastructure for a bigger and more capable SSBN, codenamed S5, was accorded as part of the next generation of SSBNs. The indigenous content in the submarines has also been significantly increased in all three areas of float, move, and fight. However, the time period between launch and commissioning of SSBNs has been long and needs to be brought down.
The Chinese nuclear weapons programme, including submarine-based capabilities, has moved forward rapidly in recent years, and is poised to sustain its momentum in the coming decade.One of the takeaways from the ongoing border standoff and bilateral discussions with China has been that the threat from China is likely to persist. The need to enhance organic capabilities in compressed timeframes, and to be ready for any escalation of a localised military confrontation has also been recognised. National capabilities are critical since India does not plan to be part of any hard power military alliance in the Indo-Pacific. New weapons and technologies, including hypersonic delivery platforms and cyber tools, have the potential to impact traditional deterrence mechanisms that threaten retaliation. A diversified and broader China facing nuclear deterrence capability has, therefore, become more relevant for India in the prevailing security environment, with SSBNs being a crucial and important pillar.
A diversified and broader China facing nuclear deterrence capability has, therefore, become more relevant for India in the prevailing security environment, with SSBNs being a crucial and important pillar.Ongoing efforts should lead to accelerated submarine building, trials, and operationalisation of India’s first full SSBN squadron. These should eventually result in regular deterrent patrols in different areas. The progress made in enhancing the percentage of indigenous content would also need to be complemented with high quality standards and spares support. Diversification of sources of supply and new bilateral arrangements may be considered for critical technologies where foreign assistance is either inescapable or desirable. In May 1998, India had communicated that the reason for the nuclear tests at Pokhran was the nuclear capability and tests of China, and China-Pakistan military cooperation. This rationale has been vindicated and is far stronger now, with the added challenges and risks of a complex and uncertain environment in the Indo-Pacific. A strong and credible third leg of India’s nuclear triad is an imperative which is likely to be accorded the priority it deserves.
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Vice Admiral Girish Luthra is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He is Former Commander-in-Chief of Western Naval Command, and Southern Naval Command, Indian ...Read More +