With the INS Arihant completing its maiden deterrence patrol, India took its first steps towards establishing the third leg of a nuclear triad: the ability to launch nuclear weapons from under the sea. It now joins a small group of countries — United States, Russia, China, France and United Kingdom — that have this capability. This is a big moment in India’s quest for strategic independence; it is, however, no giant leap.

Successive Indian governments have committed to the doctrine of Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use. A submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile from somewhere in the expanse of the ocean gives India assured second-strike capability. It is meant to deter adversaries from nuclear misadventure.

However, India’s nuclear sub is equipped to carry short-range missiles, which limits its deterrence potential. Clearly, subsequent additions to the navy’s arsenal will focus on longer-range missiles and larger submarines capable of carrying them. Augmenting capability, however, will require higher allocation of funds.

Even if defence gets more funds, rejigging the defence budget is inevitable. Too much of the defence budget goes to manpower costs: salaries and pensions. Defence allocation in Budget 2018-19 was to the tune of Rs 4,04,365 crore, of this, defence pensions accounted for Rs 1,08,853 crore.

It is imperative that the government revisit manpower costs, particularly pensions and benefits, if it is to increase funding for defence research and development. Indigenising defence production is another way to get more bang for every defence rupee.

Augmenting naval strategic capabilities is an imperative for India, especially considering the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean region. The region is central from a strategic and security point of view, given China’s growing ambitions and activities, as well as from India’s own rise as a key player in the region, in Africa and as a strategic partner to other key countries.

INS Arihant is a major achievement, but India now needs to focus ahead and move fast, if it is to fully secure and advance its cherished strategic autonomy.