by Ali Raza

On December 5, 2018, India announced that it had achieved its nuclear triad. The longstanding ambition of the country’s strategic planners to establish a nuclear triad became a reality through the completion of its first indigenous ship submersible ballistic nuclear (SSBN) maiden deterrence patrol. This means that the submarine is prepared for its role as a strategic deterrent. As a result, India has secured multiple options if it faces a nuclear confrontation.

The basic design of the INS Arihant is based on Russian Akula-1 class submarine. Arihant is the longest in the Indian Navy’s fleet of submarines, with a capacity to carry 95 crew members. During submergence, it can reach up to 24 kilotons (kt) and can reach a speed of between 12kt and 15kt on the surface. Its length is 110 metres and breath is 11 metres, and it weighs 6,000 tonnes. The commissioning of the INS Arihant has provided India with the opportunity to gain entry into the elite club of states that have also successfully established a nuclear triad.

It has been quoted by the US Navy Institute that only Russia, France, the US and the UK (which uses US trident missiles) can sustain continuous-at-sea deterrent patrols, providing a continuous launch capability of an SLBM by maintaining at least one SSBN on station at any one time that could fire a nuclear missile.

A minimum of four SSBNS are required for continuous patrol. This assumes that if one submarine is on patrol for two to three months then another would be at the port on standby, while the third and fourth may be undergoing repairs or refits. According to US Navy Institute, there are serious concerns over whether India’s claims about a nuclear triad will prove to be effective.

However, India’s announcement about the induction of the INS Arihant has sounded alarm bells and compelled competitors to address deficiencies that would appear in their defence line due to India’s advancement in sea-based capabilities.

From the outset, India always followed the path of provoking Pakistan owing to the rivalry and competition between both countries. Due to India’s provocations, both countries have fought several wars and been embroiled in many conflicts. As a consequence, both countries tend to perceive any threat from each other.

But India’s security policy is also driven by its desire to be conferred the status of a major power in the region. The country also aspires to compete with major powers. Therefore, since the acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan, threats are always looming over South Asia’s strategic environment as the grave risk of instability is always associated with the nuclear business.

Despite all the dangers, the risk of a conventional war between both states due to the nuclear weapons was reduced because both India and Pakistan were more or less on an equal footing with respect to nuclear capabilities as both possess air-launched nuclear weapons and land-based ballistic missiles. Even so, India didn’t halt its efforts to subjugate Pakistan by gaining superiority in the nuclear arena.

The point that we ought to ponder over is: why does India need sea-based capabilities if deterrence has sufficiently been achieved between both states? There could be numerous reasons for advancements in sea-based capabilities. These include the fact that China is in the list of major powers and apprehensions towards China have been trumpeted by India. As a result, India’s self-proclaimed concerns could be the reason why it has enhanced its sea-based capabilities.

The interesting feature of the INS Arihant is that it can dive to 300 metres with an 83 MW nuclear power reactor, which means that it has the capability to remain submerged for months without contacting the base.

In other words, it can travel long distances with greater stealth. Therefore, it is quite possible that the INS Arihant can also pass through the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This implies that India’s nuclear deterrence would be applicable to the world’s major powers and also a superpower like the US.

According to the Indian Navy’s maritime strategy titled ‘Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy’, which was released in 2015, a force level of three to five SSBNs, six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and 20 diesel-electric submarines for the Indian Navy are required to fulfil the mandate of an effective blue-water navy.

It will provide India with the capability to show its muscles in terms of nuclear deterrence to the US and major powers in its hour of crisis. This will make it more independent in staving off the pressures of major powers if it wants to opt for adventure with any nuclear or non-nuclear state. The international community shouldn’t remain silent about this development as Pakistan, China and other major powers, such as the US, have become India’s targets.

The Indian prime minister has referred to the INS Arihant as an “important pillar of global peace and stability”. But the country’s aspirations with are at variance with global peace and are also based on malevolence. This will only encourage an arms race in the region and make the strategic environment of the region all the more perilous. Furthermore, India’s undersea advanced nuclear capabilities would increase the risk of instability and make the planet an unsafe place to live.

The writer is a visiting faculty member at Air University, Islamabad