Aligning the triad: On India’s nuclear deterrence

Aligning the triad: On India’s nuclear deterrence


  1. The article discusses about INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine, has completed its first “deterrence patrol”, operationalising India’s nuclear triad.

Important Facts:

  1. The INS Arihant completes India’s nuclear triad by adding maritime strike capability to land- and air-based delivery platforms.
  2. All the big five nuclear nations namely US, Russia, France, China and the UK are already full-fledged nuclear triad powers.
  3. China reportedly began combat patrols of an armed nuclear-powered submarine in 2015.
  4. Pakistan last year tested its submarine-launched Babur missile, and in the process completed its nuclear triad, since it already possesses land-based ballistic missiles as well as tactical nuclear bombs that it can drop from its fighter aircraft.
  5. About Arihant:
  • The 6,000-tonne INS Arihant, under development for three decades under Advanced Technology Project (ATV) project comes under the direct control of the Nuclear Command Authority headed by Prime Minister.
  • It has a displacement of 6000 tonnes and is powered by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor with enriched uranium.
  • Arihant is presently armed with K-15 Sagarika missiles with a range of 750 km and will eventually carry the longer 3,500 km range K-4 missiles being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
  • The second submarine in the series, Arighat is now undergoing sea trials after which it will be inducted into service.
  1. How INS Arihant is different from other submarines?
  • India has been vying to equip its naval forces with nuclear arsenal ever since it successfully conducted Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998.
  • Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarines (SSBNs) equipped inside INS Arihant are different from conventional SSK submarines, which use a diesel-electric engine as their power source, and have to surface daily to get oxygen for fuel combustion.
  • SSBNs are bigger in size and are powered by a nuclear reactor and as a result, they can function submerged for months without having to surface.
  • This feature allows them to travel further and with greater stealth.
  1. Significance:
  • Given India’s stated position of ‘No-First-Use’ (NFU) in launching nuclear weapons, the ship submersible ballistic nuclear (SSBN) is the most dependable platform for a second-strike.
  • Because they are powered by nuclear reactors, these submarines can stay underwater indefinitely without the adversary detecting it.
  • The other two platforms namely the land-based and air-launched are far easier to detect.
  1. Arihant’s missing links:
  • There is no clarity on whether the first deterrence patrol of INS Arihant had nuclear-tipped missiles on board as without it an SSBN such as INS Arihant, it might not be any more useful than an ordinary nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN).
  • Even if INS Arihant had nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on board, there is no surety of what ranges they would cover. Reports suggest that it had the 750 km range K-15 missiles on board, which is insufficient to reach key targets in, say, China or Pakistan unless it gets close to their waters.
  • The Navy would require bigger SSBNs (S-4 and S-5) to carry the K-4 ballistic missiles.
  • Moreover one SSBN with limited range is insufficient if indeed the objective of India’s nuclear planners is to achieve seamless and continuous sea deterrence.
  • Given the adversaries’ capabilities in tracking, monitoring and surveilling India’s SSBNs, it would need to invest in at least four more.
  1. Challenges:
  • Maintaining a huge nuclear force and its ancillary systems, in particular the naval leg, would be extremely
  • Also, the naval leg of the nuclear triad also poses significant command and control challenges.
  • Communicating with SSBNs without being intercepted by the adversaries’ tracking systems while the submarines navigate deep and far-flung waters is among the most difficult challenges in maintaining an SSBN fleet.
  • Unlike in the case of the air or land legs of the triad where civilian organisations (i.e., BARC scientists) have the custody of nuclear warheads, the naval leg will be essentially under military custody and control given that there would be no civilian presence on board an SSBN.
  • The SSBN captain would be under the Strategic Forces Command, an organisation manned by military officers WHO would have the authority to launch nuclear missiles on orders from the political authority.

11. Impact on strategic stability

  • Maritime competition in the Indian Ocean region(IOR): The dominant driver of India’s SSBN plans appears to be China’s expanding inventory of nuclear submarines. eg., China’s Jin class submarine with the JL-2 missiles with a range of 7,400 km began its deterrent patrol several years ago.
  • Chinese nuclear-powered submarines (reportedly without nuclear weapons on board) have been frequenting the Indian Ocean on anti-piracy missions, creating unease in India and INS Arihant is a response to the Chinese naval build-up.
  • Pakistan’s reaction to India’s response to China would be to speed up its submarine-building spree, with assistance from Beijing.
  • The absence of nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs) among India,China and Pakistan would further complicate the relations amongst them and could lead to miscalculations and accidents.
  • This becomes even more pertinent in the case of Pakistan, which uses dual-use platforms for maritime nuclear power projection.
  • However, once the three key players in this trilemma i.e., China, India and Pakistan manage to put in place the essential conditions for credible minimum deterrence, the effect of the instability could potentially decrease.
  • An ‘incidents at sea’ agreement like the one between the U.S. and USSR in 1972 is important for India and Pakistan (as also India and China) so as to avoid incidents at sea and avoid their escalation if they took place.
  • Moreover the cost could be addressed by reducing the reliance on the air and land legs of the nuclear triad.
  • Given that India does not have ‘first strike’ or ‘launch on warning’ policies, it can adopt a relatively relaxed nuclear readiness posture and in the long run, invest in a survivable fleet of nuclear submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles of various ranges, and decide to reduce its investment in the land and air legs of its nuclear deterrent, thereby reducing costs.

12 About Ballistic Missile:

  • A ballistic missile submarine is a strategic asset as it can fire city-destroying missiles from anywhere in the ocean and remain undetected for a long time.
  • It can sneak closer to the coast of an enemy nation and fire ballistic missiles deep into their territory, which otherwise cannot be reached by land-based short-range ballistic missiles.

13 India’s “No First Use Policy”:

  • The country’s stated doctrine from January 2003 includes a pledge not to use nuclear weapons first but with a significant caveat, that nuclear weapons could be used if Indian forces are attacked with biological or chemical weapons.
Nuclear Triad: A nuclear triad is a three-pronged military force structure that consists of land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-missile-armed submarines and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.

●        Specifically, these components are land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

●        The purpose of having this three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation’s nuclear forces in a first-strike attack.

●        This, in turn, ensure a credible threat of a second strike, and thus increases a nation’s nuclear deterrence.

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