In a time, when a credible nuclear deterrence is the need of the hour, India has done well for itself by completing the nuclear triad – the capability to fire nuclear weapons from land, air and sea – with the first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant. The ‘annihilator of enemies’ Arihant is a feather in the cap for India that seriously pursues a minimum deterrence and no-first-use nuclear policy. India’s capability to launch nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles with up to 3,500 km ranges is a feat in itself and enough to deter enemies from even contemplating any ‘mis-adventurism’.
One more nuclear submarine, Aridhman, will report to the Nuclear Command Authority, under direct charge of the prime minister, later this year. To strengthen India’s defenses further, the third ‘advanced technology vehicle’ will join the forces in two years from now.
In seventies, people scoffed at the idea of India acquiring nuclear triad on par with major superpowers. Now, we are part of this group along side the US, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom. Well, the numbers, strength and strike ranges that these three vessels have may pale vis-à-vis armoury of the US, the UK and China, but that’s beside the point. India has made a power-packed statement by putting together the nuclear triad, thanks to ingenuity of scientists and indigenous efforts at the Vishakapatnam facility.
India’s capabilities to launch nuclear weapons through Mirage 2000 squadrons and Agni missiles from land are well documented. In fact, both air and land based nuclear weapon systems are being readied for an upgrade, if reports are anything to go by. It will be strengthened further with the joining of the nuclear-enabled multi-role fighter Rafale. The new status, profile vis-à-vis nuclear weapons and launch capabilities would only add to India’s responsibility as a peace-seeking nuclear power house. Second, ensuring peace and tranquility in the Indian Ocean region becomes its joint responsibility along with China that has a credible nuclear triad. China’s campaign is well oiled and funded given the numbers, ranges beyond 5,000 km and technology –‘acquired’ by stealth or domestic development.
By far, the US nuclear triad with over 70 nuclear submarines that can launch weapons over 10,000 km ranges is the largest. If data in public domain were to be believed, the US spends $1.2 trillion on its nuclear forces over a median timeframe. Upgrades, technology and fresh acquisitions apart from maintenance may be costing the US exchequer $45.5 billion annually. Russia’s fleet of 30 nuclear submarines, France and the UK’s 10-12 submarines each are also comparatively large.
In effect, India will have to plan its nuclear submarine fleet carefully, given involvement of big resources, and may have to set up a dedicated revolving fund for the purpose. Also, technology is a key component in the race for nuclear submarine capabilities, and India will have to invest in research and development, training of nuclear scientists and evolve futuristic programmes to support its strategic interests. The Vishakapatnam Shipbuilding Centre does a lot other strategic programmes apart from the ATV. India may have to consider creating dedicated infrastructure and capabilities to build only nuclear submarines, if the country plans to go ahead with more such vessels.
Whether it is to any country’s liking or not, the other five with nuclear triad will have to accept the reality that India has broken into this exclusive club and it’s better to formally induct India into this elite club to share experiences and even jointly evolve a mechanism to tide over possible emergencies or peace purposes.