The INS Arihant nuclear-powered submarine,yet to get its missiles,has been a long time a-coming,as the old Eartha Kitt song goes. But its been worth the wait.
Not surprisingly,its arrival has been greeted with criticism from Pakistans strategic civilian community on the grounds that it sets off an arms race,fuelled by Indias overweening ego and ambition. For naval strategists who have been around for a half a century,these comments are mirth-inducing.
Indias naval thinkers went out on a limb as early as the 1960s,in declaring that they were not,and would not be,building a navy to fight Pakistan. In a capital not known for strategic boldness or originality,this stance was risky,and the navy paid a price for its boldness. At a time when the services competed for money to acquire hardware to thwart Pakistans aggression,the navy declined to go down the anti-Pakistan route,and got only a meagre share of the money. But it kept its head,when those all around were losing theirs. It ploughed a lonely furrow,to be rewarded in the 21st century,when strategy,national vision and Indian confidence began to simultaneously perceive that Indias destiny lay beyond its disorderly neighbors.
The Arihant,like the INS Vikramaditya,has little to do with Pakistan. It can cover anything between 15-25000 miles on a sixty-day patrol,and Pakistan is only 130 miles from the Indian border. But it appears that the comments from Pakistan reflect their own India-specific preoccupations and threat analysis. Unfortunately Indias own continentalist strategists have confined us to a territorial mindset,automatically limiting ourselves south of the Himalayas. Delhi is just beginning to rediscover Raja Raja Chola and a maritime future,interlinking India with what the East Asians call the dynamic East. It seeks to leave behind a quarrelling Middle East,which Islamabad has aspired to creep into ever since Olaf Caroe told them that was their future.
Since the Nineties,when India began to build a blue water navy,ship construction in the country has come a long way. Ship hulls have been standardised around the elegant Delhi and Talwar classes,with operational ranges of around 7000 and 5000 miles without refuelling. Small combatants that could only mill around in confused Arabian sea littoral battles have been pensioned off. Four-engined maritime aircraft that operate in the wide blue yonder,by flying 12-hour sorties were upgraded. The first urgent acquisition of the Navys has again been the long range P8s from the US to create a situational awareness picture in the farthest reaches of the Indian ocean. In every case,Pakistan has been a low priority.
The Indo-Pakistani nuclear relationship has admittedly begun an incipient arms race,mostly because of the headstart Pakistan gets from illegal Chinese assistance. Analysts around the world surmise that Pakistan and India have around 60-80 nuclear warheads. These are dubious figures. No country makes warheads when there are no delivery means. They maintain fissile material stocks for when they have the rockets. The Chinese-supplied missile factory at Fatehjung west of Rawalpindi had,so far,been well ahead of India in missile throughput,and that is how the missile race began not in India. Even so,Pakistan test-fired the two-stage Shaheen II in 2004,ahead of India. In 2005,Pakistan again tested a nuclear-capable cruise missile,the Babur ,ahead of India. There are few instances of gauntlet after gauntlet being thrown down by a smaller country to challenge a bigger one to a nuclear arms race. On nuclear escalation,Pakistans conduct has been aggressive to the point of recklessness. The Baburs dimensions exactly replicate the Hong Niao Chinese cruise missile,which exactly replicates the Ukranian AS 15,twelve of which disappeared from that country,and on which a case is in progress in a Ukranian court.
The Babur has a CEP of under 10 metres and is clearly a first-strike weapon,meant to be used against Indias nuclear weapons. So here we have the first induction of the kind of weapon that led to the infamous US-Soviet arms race that produced 60,000 weapons. But what Pakistan has is a trained nuclear staff,headed by the longest serving general in the Pakistan army,General Khalid Kidwai who heads the Strategic Plans division (SPD). If Pakistan really feels that Indias nuclear submarine is destabilising,then here is an open invitation to General Kidwai and his staff officers (who are known to their Indian counterparts),to sit down in a third country and explain exactly how an SSBN is destabilising.
The Indian response to Pakistans missile racing has been to wait,tortoise-like,until an SSBN could be built,which the world over is considered the most stable second strike weapon platform. The Arihant is admittedly a weapon platform,but unlike all weapon platforms,the nuclear ballistic missile submarine creates crisis stability. It prevents a nuclear arms race. Countries with a bad relationship with India should welcome us building an SSBN,because now the nuclear arsenal matches the No First Use doctrine. Nuclear submarines sail from their home-ports and disappear into and under the ocean. Hence their missiles can always be fired last. They can never be targeted,since most targeters wouldnt be aware which sea the submarine is in. So if their missiles can be fired last,they bring stability to a nuclear standoff,with its processors not inclined to beat his opponent to the draw in firing the first shot.
The writer is a retired rear admiral
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