India’s Nuclear Triad


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

 What is Nuclear Triad?

  • Nuclear Triad is a three-sided military-force structure consisting of land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-missile-armed submarines, and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.
  • Nuclear Triad essentially has three major components-the strategic bombers, Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) for the purpose of delivering a nuclear weapon

What is the importance of a nuclear triad?

  • The purpose of having a three-sided 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. Thus it ensures a credible threat of a second strike, and increases a nation’s nuclear deterrence.
  • Each component of the triad contributes unique attributes that enhance deterrence and reduce risk.
  • ICBMs provide a prompt response, the potential to launch under attack, and a hardened, geographically-dispersed target base.
  • Strategic bombers provide great flexibility in force posturing, signalling intentions, route planning, and recall-ability.
  • Missile submarines provide survivable, assured response and the mobility to adapt missile over-flight to targets.
ICBM: It is a guided ballistic missile – which follows a path – and has a range of 5,500kms.
They are primarily designed for nuclear weapons delivery but can also carry chemical and biological weapons.
SLBM: It is a ballistic missile capable of being launched from submarines


History of Nuclear triad

  • The United States developed and used the first nuclear weapons at the end of World War II in 1945 and maintained nuclear superiority until the Soviet Union acquired its own nuclear weapons in 1948.
  • In 1956, the Soviet Union developed the ICBM (Inter-continental Ballistic Missile)
  • In 1957, The Soviet Union also led the way in the development of the third part of the nuclear triad, SLBM’s (submarine-launched ballistic missiles)
  • An arms race took place between USA and USSR and this had led to a situation of mutual deterrence in the 1960s.
  • The nuclear stalemate served as the genesis for the U.S. nuclear triad and has been the foundation of the country’s strategic deterrence framework since the mid-1960s.
  • China is a nuclear power since 1964 and maintains a triad structure.
  • During the Cold War, France also obtained ballistic missile submarines, land-based missiles, and nuclear-armed bombers and became the fourth country to have a nuclear triad. France deactivated all land-based nuclear missiles. In 1996, it conducted its last nuclear test before signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Nuclear Triad of India


  • India is in the possession of nuclear weapons outside the ambit of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
  • India adopted a ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy after the 1998 (Pokhran II) nuclear tests. India’s nuclear doctrine, first enunciated in 2003 advocates:
  1. Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent
  2. Posture of ‘No First Use’- nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere
  3. Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be “massive” and designed to inflict “unacceptable damage”.
  4. Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states
  5. In the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons

The Triad:

Delivery System 
Land Prithvi-2
Agni III
Agni IV Prime (being constructed)
SLBM: Sagarika (K-15)
Cruise :Brahmos ,Supersonic
AirJaguar (Shamsher)
Mig-27 (Flogger)
Dassault Mirage 2000H/TH
SeaINS Arihant
INS Arighat (launched in 2017, to be operational in 2020)

Recent Development:

Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine INS Arihant, recently completed its first “deterrence patrol”, operationalising India’s nuclear triad.

About INS Arihant:

  • INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine. It is India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine. A notable feature is the involvement of public-private players in its development which is consistent with ‘Make in India’ policy and the policy to encourage participation of more private players in the defence sector
  • It is a 6,000 tonne submarine and has a length of 110 metres with a breadth of 11 metres. It can also dive to 300 metres.
  • INS Arihant capable of carrying 12 K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that have a range of over 700 kilometres
  • Its design is based on Russia’s Akula-class Submarine and was commissioned in 2016
  • INS Arihant is a part of the navy’s Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project

Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine

  • These are bigger in size and differ from the conventional submarines. They are powered by a nuclear reactor and can remain submerged for months without having to return to the base.
  • They are also different from the nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) because they can carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads


Challenging Security Environment:

  • It is essential to remain prepared to fight a multidimensional war comprising land, air and sea warfare for a peninsular state like India which shares it boundaries with states like Pakistan and China who possess weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
  • Further, China and Pakistan are allegedly in a WMD cooperation framework which compounds the challenge for India.
  • Also, Chinese nuclear-powered submarines (reportedly without nuclear weapons on board) have been frequenting the Indian Ocean on anti-piracy missions, has created unease in India

Second-strike capability:

  • Earlier India was vulnerable as land and air delivery platforms for nuclear weapons could be easily identified with satellites and other means.
  • A nuclear submarine like INS Arihant provides to India the capability to hide its ballistic missiles at sea for long periods and provide an assured Second Strike capability in case the land and air delivery systems are destroyed.
  • Second strike capability is particularly important for India as it had committed to a ‘No-First-Use’ policy as part of its nuclear doctrine.

Issues and Concerns

  1. To target cities and nuclear forces in nuclear equipped neighbouring countries like Pakistan and China, India needs a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) of 6,000-8,000-km range. However, the missile, reportedly, carried by the INS Arihant is the K-15, whose range falls below 1,000 km

2.There is no clarity on whether the first deterrence patrol of INS Arihant had nuclear-tipped missiles on board.  Without nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on board an SSBN it might not be any more useful than an ordinary nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN).

  1. High Cost:To achieve seamless and continuous sea deterrence, India needs to build and deploy more SSBNs. Maintaining a huge nuclear force and its ancillary systems, in particular the naval component, would be extremely expensive

4.Command and control challenges: The most difficult challenge in maintaining a SSBN fleet is communicating with SSBNs without being intercepted by the adversaries’ tracking systems while the submarines navigate deep and far-flung.

5.Risk of misuse and accidental conflict:

  • Traditionally, nuclear weapons in India have been kept under civilian control, and separate from their delivery systems. However, the crew of a nuclear-armed submarine will have both the custody of nuclear weapons and the ability to launch them at short notice.
  • Though, Electronic permissive action links (PAL) have been installed to ensure instant compliance with an authorised “launch” command, there are concerns over accidental launch
  • Further, critics have shown concerns over SSBN captain being 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.

6.Critics argue that India’s active pursuit of nuclear-armed submarines undermines India’s stated international commitment on nuclear disarmament and reflects a security assessment that is becoming increasingly irrelevant.


In this age of nuclear uncertainty, there is a need for a much more vigorous debate in India on how nuclear deterrence can be achieved.Cyber threats have added a new dimension to warfare and this will certainly impact nuclear deterrence. Operationalisation of the nuclear triad with induction of INS Arihant is a first major step forward. The road ahead will be more challenging to make India’s nuclear deterrent even stronger and credible.

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