Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on November 5 that India’s first indigenously designed and built nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant, which is equipped with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles had just completed a nearly month-long nuclear deterrence patrol. This is a landmark development on many counts.
First, it demonstrates that India, apart from its capability to deliver nuclear weapons both from land and from air, can now also do so from under water. It provides the ultimate credibility to nuclear deterrence as both land and air-launched nuclear weapons are much more susceptible to destruction than those launched from undersea platforms which are difficult to detect. India’s nuclear deterrence 20 years after the country went nuclear is now secure as it rests on a triad of land, air and undersea vectors.
Second, it sends out an unambiguous message to those inimically disposed towards India that they cannot trifle with it and efforts at nuclear blackmail will not work.
Third, the Arihant’s successful nuclear deterrence patrol signifies India’s attainment of complete mastery over all the highly complex systems and procedures entailed in operating the sea leg of the triad. These are much more intricate and exacting than those for land and air vectors. Unlike the latter, they entail not only nuclear-propelled platforms but also ab initio custody of fully mated nuclear weapons. There is no scope for error. The validation of the scores of procedures and system checks intrinsic to the sea leg of the triad is a cause of great satisfaction. Clearly, the nuclear deterrence patrol signifies India having come off age as a mature nuclear-armed state.
Fourth, this exercise is testimony to India’s technological prowess as it entailed not merely the construction of a sophisticated vessel as the Arihant, but also developing and appropriately miniaturising a nuclear plant to power it. Over and above this, a high degree of engineering skill and workmanship was required in developing a nuclear missile system capable of firing from underwater for fitment into it. It is also gratifying that a substantial element of the work in developing and equipping this submarine was undertaken in India, by Indians, and accordingly it has a very substantial indigenous component. The Arihant is believed to be the first in a series of six submarines. These will form the core of India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent and constitute a potent and formidable weapons system which will ensure national security. It is a given that with the serial production of Arihant-type submarines, there will be an even higher element of indigenisation.
In conclusion, it may be underlined that the Arihant’s nuclear deterrence patrol does not constitute any shift in India’s approach towards nuclear weapons.
As per its nuclear doctrine, India remains committed to “the goal of a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament”, to no first use of nuclear weapons, and non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. In the absence of a nuclear-free world, it continues, however, to regard nuclear weapons as a deterrent designed to prevent a nuclear attack against it and, accordingly, as per its doctrine, it has sought to ensure that its deterrent is “credible”. With the Arihant’s nuclear deterrence patrol, India has added immeasurably to the credibility of its nuclear deterrence. This will obviously add to national security and will be a factor for peace.