The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi made a historic announcement that Indian Navy’s first nuclear submarine had completed its first ‘Strategic Deterrence Patrol’ in a designated area of Indian Ocean. He complemented the DRDO, Atomic Energy Commission, private and public sector industries and the Navy for this achievement. We need to reflect on his statement. The Prime Minister mentioned that it will provide peaceful atmosphere to 1.3 billion citizens of our country.
India is one of the few countries in the world possessing nuclear weapons but has pledged that it will not be the first to use them against a country possessing similar weapon. The then PM, Mr Atal Bihari Bajpai, was convinced that India’s policy will always be to deter a war, including nuclear war, by possessing capabilities which makes our country militarily strong. By enunciation of No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, he hoped that no nuclear weapon state will use this weapon of mass destruction on India since it could retaliate with massive nuclear attack. Therefore, it would deter war, both conventional and nuclear. But for that to be effective it was necessary to create credible second strike capability. It had to be three dimensional capability to launch nuclear missile from land, air and sea, called the Triad. While DRDO was quick to position land based and air launched nuclear weapons, it was time consuming technological challenge to build sea based (ship and submarine launched) systems. While few ships were quickly modified to carry nuclear weapons, making own nuclear powered nuclear weapon launch capable submarine was a challenge. India needed a nuclear submarine of its own and a nuclear missile capable of being launched from underwater giving it invisibility and therefore credibility. While land and air launched nuclear missile sites are subject to compromise of their location (being fixed sites), a submarine launched missile does not give away its location (since it keeps moving), thereby eliminating possibility of a counter attack. This is a most survivable platform of the triad. It can remain submerged for an indefinite timeframe. This capability would effectively deter an adversary from initiating a nuclear war and increase credibility of superiority in conventional weapons. This gives India great geopolitical fillip.
DRDO scientists and Indian Navy jointly worked for number of years, along with BARC and private industries, to realise this dream. A nuclear powered submarine was built under undeclared Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project. On one hand, work was being progressed to build fully indigenous nuclear submarine and on the other hand, scientists were developing the capability of launching underwater nuclear missile which could be fitted to the submarine. In 2015, the 6000 tons submarine was ready for trials after the nuclear reactor went critical. In a low key ceremony, Arihant was commissioned in 2016 by the Chief of the Naval Staff. Simultaneously, the scientists were perfecting the indigenously developed missile launch system. It completed desired number of trial firings which gave the scientists confidence to fit it on the Arihant. Private industry played a stellar role in manufacturing the hull and most of the complicated equipment and systems. It was a great achievement since no country would have parted with its complex technology. India is one of the six countries in the world to have this capability (US, Russia, France, UK and China being the other five).
In this context, the Prime Minister’s announcement was historic in nature. Strategic Deterrent Patrol meant that Arihant was fully loaded with its war outfit of nuclear missiles (ready to be launched), and in a pre designated area to retaliate on the executive order of the Prime Minister, completely invisible and from unpredictable locations in vast Indian Ocean. It is capable of annihilating the adversary. This capability would deter initiation of nuclear war by an adversary thereby ensuring peace and stability in our region. This would create right atmosphere for development.
Arihant is an invisible capability for creating atmosphere of peace. The challenge is to make a number of Arihant’s and increase the range of the nuclear missiles beyond 5000 km which would give India the capability to destroy larger economic targets in second strike mode at far off distances in adversary’s heartland. Indeed an achievement for a country which is still on the path of economic development.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff & former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command. Presently, he is Member, Board of Trustees, India Foundation.