China India Navy New nuclear deterrence NuclearWeapons Pakistan SouthAsia Southern (Dis)Comfort Submarines

Arihant and the Dilemma of India’s Undersea Nuclear Weapons

LBJ School - The University of Texas at Austin

Editor’s Notice: That is the 24th installment of “Southern (Dis)Consolation,” a collection from Struggle on the Rocks and the Stimson Middle. The collection seeks to unpack the dynamics of intensifying competitors — army, financial, diplomatic — in Southern Asia, principally between China, India, Pakistan, and america. Compensate for the remainder of the collection.

After INS Arihant, India’s first ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), completed its maiden deterrent patrol in November 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphatically declared India’s nuclear triad full. Arihant’s operationalization has catapulted India right into a choose group of states with an underwater nuclear launch functionality. It has additionally raised alarm over the security and safety of India’s nuclear arsenal as a result of a sea-based deterrent might entail a ready-to-use arsenal and fewer restrictive command and management procedures, growing chance of their unintentional use. For Pakistan, India’s nuclear pressure modernization endangers the stability of strategic forces within the area and will intensify the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent.

Modi’s triumphalism belies Arihant’s modest capabilities. The submarine doesn’t add considerably to India’s second-strike functionality — at the least, not but. Till and until India deploys an SSBN fleet carrying missiles with intercontinental vary, which might take many years, its sea-based deterrent vis-à-vis China will lack credibility. And for deterring Pakistan, India’s air and land-based nuclear arsenal is enough.

If triumphalist assertions about Arihant are unwarranted, so, too, are alarmist considerations over the security and safety of India’s underwater nuclear arsenal. India’s Strategic Forces Command has carried out rather more to make sure strong command and management at sea than many commentators acknowledge. India’s sea-based nuclear belongings are neither on hair-trigger alert nor are they within the palms of the army. They continue to be firmly underneath the management of political decision-makers.

Arihant’s operationalization is a chance for New Delhi to mirror upon its nuclear trajectory. With China and Pakistan as nuclear adversaries, India confronts a singular problem. It has to construct up its nuclear functionality sufficient to make sure that Chinese language decision-makers worry it, with out sending Islamabad into panic and undermining regional stability. This “Goldilocks dilemma” might be troublesome to resolve, and India shouldn’t depart it to probability — particularly as america, as soon as South Asia’s chief disaster supervisor, loses each curiosity and affect within the area. India ought to reassure Pakistan by reaffirming its coverage of no first use of nuclear weapons and a retaliation-only nuclear doctrine. Extra importantly, India ought to rethink its deterrence necessities vis-à-vis China.

Finally, the danger is that India will fail to realize its goal of deterring China whereas unintentionally frightening its smaller rival. Understanding how India reached this stage in its nuclear trajectory and the way it’s making an attempt to handle this problem requires analyzing the peculiar historical past of its ballistic missile submarines in addition to its strong efforts to reinforce civilian management of its nuclear weapons.

Undertaking Samudra and the Burden of Historical past

The peculiar historical past of India’s lengthy quest for a nuclear submarine leaves an extended shadow over Arihant’s capabilities.

India’s nuclear submarine program started in 1966 with feasibility research on marine nuclear propulsion. Somewhat than being pushed by any army necessity, this system was influenced by issues of the nuclear institution’s organizational status. As Homi Bhabha, father of India’s nuclear power program, argued on the time, maritime reactors “might show India’s spectacular capabilities within the area of nuclear power.” Army justification for this system got here a lot later when, in the course of the 1971 Bangladesh struggle, america despatched the plane service USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to help Pakistan. Thereupon, as a standard preventing platform, nuclear assault submarines attracted the eye of the Indian Navy as a result of they might increase the edge of superpower intervention within the area. Nevertheless, the nuclear scientists couldn’t produce a viable marine reactor. Within the early 1980s, subsequently, the Indian Navy turned to the Soviets for help.

In April 1982, the Soviet Union agreed to lease an assault nuclear submarine (SSN) to the Indian Navy and supply technical help to India in constructing its personal submarines. This was the start of Undertaking Samudra (Undertaking Ocean), which was to incorporate two vessels codenamed S-1 and S-2.

The said intent was to supply a “cost-effective deterrent towards Pakistan’s enlarging army machine,” in line with a top-secret report explaining this system that I obtained from a former authorities official. The bigger goal of those acquisitions, nevertheless, had little to do with nuclear deterrence — it was directed in the direction of the rising naval presence of the good powers within the Indian Ocean, extra targeted on typical operations than nuclear points. The report said, “extra considerably, such acquisitions would improve India’s credibility notably in view of the growing presence of the surface powers within the Indian Ocean.”

Challenge S-1 culminated with the mortgage of a Soviet Charlie-class SSN in 1988. Undertaking S-2 paved the best way for the institution of the Superior Know-how Vessel (ATV) Directorate, a devoted analysis and improvement company accountable solely for constructing an indigenous SSN. The challenge suffered main delays as India’s nuclear institution continued to face technological hurdles in producing a viable reactor design. Nonetheless, the trail was set: India was designing and creating a nuclear assault submarine.

The Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons checks of 1998 modified the character of India’s nuclear submarine program. Indian decision-makers have been eager to discover avenues that would render their nuclear forces extra survivable, together with putting nuclear weapons at sea. Step one in the direction of constructing a sea-based deterrent was to put modified Prithvi missiles on board two Sukanya-class missile boats. The ATV Directorate, nevertheless, quickly proposed modifying the nuclear assault submarine right into a strategic weapon system. The navy was additionally eager to have its share of the nuclear pie. Thus, quickly after the 1998 nuclear exams, India determined to transform what was initially designed as a nuclear assault submarine armed with cruise missiles for typical naval operations right into a strategic weapon system for nuclear supply. Undertaking S-2 turned the primary of India’s SSBNs.

But this revised mission left this system extremely restricted in its capabilities. India had began creating a 300-km earth-skimming cruise missile referred to as Sagarika with Russian assist in 1991. When India determined to transform the assault submarine into an SSBN, the dimensions of the boat and its missile block was fastened based mostly on the sooner SSN design — which means solely a modest missile with restricted vary could possibly be retrofitted in. The one choice was to exchange the Sagarika cruise missiles with ballistic missiles that would carry a one-ton nuclear warhead. Immediately, the restricted vary of the Okay-15, the first weapon system on Arihant, is the results of these post-hoc technological fixes. Arihant can carry 12 of those 750–1,000-kilometer vary missiles, barely enough to hit a number of main cities in retaliatory strikes towards Pakistan, not to mention Chinese language targets. Its small reactor measurement additionally restricts its endurance at sea. In reality, the nuclear reactor onboard Arihant is of classic Soviet design. Arihant just isn’t Pakistan-specific by design however solely by default: Its technological evolution rendered it incapable of anything.

The burden of historical past continued to tell the trajectory of India’s SSBN program. To realize significant deterrence vis-à-vis China, India not solely wanted extra SSBNs, but in addition longer-range missiles that would strike deep inside Chinese language territory. Within the early 2000s, the Indian authorities, subsequently, sanctioned the ATV Directorate to supply two extra SSBNs of the S-1 sort and to extend the vary of the missiles to three,500 kilometers. The rise in vary entailed a consequent lower within the variety of missiles. The issue, once more, was the fastened measurement of the submarine: Given the immutability of the S-1 design, the long-range missile might solely be accommodated by growing the missile diameter and decreasing the full payload. However discount in nuclear payload meant lesser bang for India’s buck, because it decreased the variety of nuclear weapons it might deploy at any given time towards China.

When the cupboard of ministers identified this drawback in 2004, the ATV Directorate determined to incorporate one other missile block by growing the size of the subsequent two boats. But in 2006, a serious technical evaluation of this system concluded that each one 5 boats proposed to date fell in need of a real SSBN drive able to deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would attain all elements of China. It additionally required a nuclear reactor double the dimensions of earlier boats that would endure longer operations at sea. The evaluate committee advisable a brand new class of boomers with a reactor double the dimensions of earlier S-Class boats and able to launching ballistic missiles in extra of 6,000 kilometers. S-5, because the boat is formally designated, was accredited in 2015. This evolution of Challenge S is symptomatic of mission creep in India’s deterrent necessities, particularly because it makes an attempt to realize deterrence parity with China. The piecemeal enlargement of India’s nuclear submarine program severely undermines its deterrent functionality. Till India fields an SSBN fleet with ICBM capabilities and improves upon the designs of its nuclear propulsion package deal, its sea-based deterrent will stay a paper tiger. As Admiral Arun Prakash estimates, it can take India “50-60 years” to area a reputable SSBN drive.

Arihant’s historic evolution additionally leaves doubts about its robustness and reliability. There are various rumblings inside Indian Navy circles relating to reactor designs based mostly on second-generation Soviet submarines. Arihant’s first deterrent patrol lasted merely 20 days, suggesting endurance points with its nuclear propulsion package deal. Lastly, the Indian Navy must develop very strong infrastructure for coaching, upkeep, and restore of its SSBN fleet earlier than the sea-based deterrent could possibly be realized. In truth, the fleet has lately suffered from a collection of accidents, together with the 2017 mishap onboard Arihant. Solely in depth operational expertise will construct the required confidence each within the males and the machine.

Given the twists and turns of its nuclear submarine program, the ensuing technological limits, and the underlying issues with Soviet legacy platforms, Arihant’s first deterrent patrol is only a modest starting in India’s effort to deploy a reputable nuclear triad. For the potential future, its nuclear deterrent will proceed to depend on the land- and air-based legs. Indian decision-makers should settle for the truth of this modest enterprise. Fairly than partaking in untimely triumphalism over Arihant, India ought to take a web page from the Chinese language playbook to cover its capacities and bide its time.

Operationalizing Deterrence at Sea

Despite the fact that Arihant, in its present type, has restricted utility towards China, its operationalization has nonetheless raised critical questions on how India would deploy its nuclear submarine drive, whether or not it will entail a “ready-to-use” arsenal, and whether or not India has developed a sufficiently elaborate command and management mechanism to keep away from unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. Such alarmist reactions, nevertheless, don’t absolutely seize the efforts India’s Strategic Forces Command has made in establishing operational protocols for its SSBNs. The command’s commonplace working procedures for the nuclear triad alleviate three main considerations. First, a sea-based deterrent wouldn’t interact in typical operations, nor does it routinely translate right into a “ready-to-use” arsenal. Second, custody of India’s nuclear weapons has not essentially been delegated to the army. Final, India’s political management will keep agency management over nuclear belongings.

First, so far as deployment is worried, India is almost certainly to comply with a bastion technique fairly than placing its SSBNs on fixed patrol in open seas. A “bastion” or a “citadel” mannequin entails working submarines in waters near residence and away from hostile forces. In India’s case, probably the most appropriate geography is within the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea, and within the Northern Indian Ocean. The Pakistani Navy has very restricted functionality to function in these waters, whereas India’s overwhelming naval presence via its typical fleet and anti-submarine warfare operations will have the ability to create a cordon sanitaire towards Chinese language submarine exercise.

Whereas some worry the nuclear submarines may have a twin (nuclear and traditional) position, my interviews with Indian Strategic Forces Command officers recommend in any other case. The nuclear submarines will stay solely beneath the operational command of the Strategic Forces Command, which handles nuclear forces, relatively than the Navy, (which handles typical naval forces). A transparent division of labor between the 2 has been codified, decreasing the danger that Indian nuclear forces at sea might get entangled in typical operations.

In truth, Indian SSBNs wouldn’t function alongside the Navy’s typical fleet as any coordination might result in the nuclear submarines’ publicity by enemy intercepts of fleet communications.

Relatedly, the operationalization of Arihant doesn’t imply India’s nuclear weapons at the moment are on hair-trigger alert. It’s extremely unlikely that the submarines will carry a nuclear payload throughout peacetime. In reality, insofar as India’s SSBN pressure won’t carry out fixed patrols armed with nuclear weapons always, it doesn’t completely match the definition of a real triad. India’s operational plans for its nuclear submarines include a three-stage course of. The primary is nuclear alerting, or mechanically mating missile launch tubes with missile canisters armed with nuclear weapons at specialised naval amenities. This is able to begin on the first indications of a disaster state of affairs (Strategic Forces Command defines a disaster not as the beginning of precise battle, however any state of affairs the place Indian decision-makers foresee a risk of army escalation with Pakistan or China). The second stage includes dispersing the submarines on deterrence patrol. It is just after the boats obtain political authorization that they may maneuver to predetermined positions to organize for the eventual launch of nuclear weapons. This technique does entail a danger of a “bolt from the blue” nuclear strike towards India’s main naval bases, however decision-makers are prepared to run this danger given the opposite legs of the nuclear triad and the inherent uncertainty that any first strike would get rid of all its nuclear belongings. Since a minimum of 2008, Strategic Forces Command has persistently strived to develop and put into follow such operational plans for India’s SSBN drive.

Lastly, India has developed an elaborate command and management equipment to take care of agency political management over its sea-based nuclear belongings. When the submarines encounter a disaster state of affairs, nuclear weapons shall be bodily mated with ballistic missiles, per the primary of the three steps described above. Because of this, India wanted constructive command-and-control mechanisms to make sure that when approved a launch will all the time happen and that unauthorized or unintentional launches by no means happen. Former Strategic Forces Command personnel have informed me in interviews that India has developed such mechanisms: Even after nuclear weapons have been mated with missile tubes, the army won’t be in charge of nuclear weapons. Any ballistic missile launch requires a two-step authorization, by which civilian authority performs a key position. Even in conditions the place an imminent enemy strike could also be about to take out the submarine’s ballistic missiles, civilian authority will stay the only custodian of India’s sea-based nuclear forces.

These operational procedures would require in depth testing and coaching, and a strong communications community. Strategic Forces Command has to determine past doubt that the controls will work beneath the fog of warfare and that selections can be securely communicated to the submarines’ battle stations. The infrastructure for these communications has grown alongside the SSBN program, however will nonetheless take loads of time to mature and attain operational effectiveness and reliability. These considerations will proceed to cloud the readiness of India’s SSBN drive.

Thus, Arihant’s operationalization shouldn’t result in a conclusion that its nuclear weapons at the moment are absolutely mated with supply methods and that management has shifted to the army, as many alarmists appear to worry. India has strived to make sure full political management of its nuclear belongings at sea, ruling out any unauthorized use.

Certainly, Arihant’s drawback isn’t that it has nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, that it suffers from unfastened command and management, or that it will increase the dangers of unintentional nuclear use. Fairly, Arihant is yet one more manifestation of India’s deterrent dilemma between China and Pakistan. As Pakistan responds to India’s sea-based deterrent, it can exacerbate the subcontinent’s nuclear tensions whereas offering no significant change in India’s nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis Beijing within the foreseeable future.

Deterrence Stability and Disaster Stability: The Seek for Equilibrium

Towards China, India’s goal is to realize deterrence stability: a real second-strike functionality that insulates its nuclear arsenal towards the danger of a Chinese language first strike. A lot of India’s technological drive improvement within the post-1998 interval has been motivated by the will to lower nuclear asymmetry with China. With Pakistan, the state of affairs is nearly the other: Pakistan can’t threaten India with nuclear annihilation with out getting annihilated in return. But Pakistan’s technique of using sub-conventional battle beneath the shadow of nuclear weapons has rendered Indo-Pakistani relations susceptible to disaster instability: the hazard that a low-level disaster might escalate into an inadvertent use of nuclear weapons.

These elements create a “Goldilocks dilemma” for India: Its makes an attempt to spice up deterrence stability with China endanger disaster stability with Pakistan. China’s and Pakistan’s reactions to Arihant’s first deterrent patrol have been illustrative of this dynamic. China hardly raised an eyebrow as a result of until India fields a reputable SSBN drive able to launching ICBMs that may strike deep inside Chinese language territory, it has nothing to worry. Pakistan, however, was fast to recommend that Arihant dilutes its nuclear deterrent and that it’ll go for “cost-effective choices” to take care of strategic stability. As Pakistan’s Overseas Ministry claimed, “nobody ought to be unsure about Pakistan’s resolve and capabilities to satisfy the challenges posed by the newest developments each within the nuclear and traditional realms in South Asia.” Current statements by high-level Indian officers calling for elimination of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons by means of preemptive use of nuclear and traditional forces have solely worsened Islamabad’s nuclear nightmares.

How can India obtain a stability between these two strategic imperatives? Relating to China, India ought to set some limits on what it considers a reputable nuclear deterrent, moderately than pursuing open-ended nuclear drive improvement. As Rajesh Basrur has argued, India’s deterrent shouldn’t be based mostly solely on establishing a reputable response; it also needs to take note of an adversary’s urge for food for danger. A restricted functionality ought to be enough to discourage Beijing. India has exhibited such restraint prior to now: After China examined nuclear weapons in 1964, Indian decision-makers have been satisfied that any Chinese language nuclear menace or use towards India would danger nuclear retaliation from the good powers and that this “minimal danger” was adequate to discourage Chinese language decision-makers. Right now, Beijing might facilitate an identical rethinking by accepting India as a nuclear energy (the present coverage of non-acknowledgment might spur India to proceed its buildup to be able to be taken extra significantly) and initiating nuclear confidence-building measures.

Disaster stability can be more durable, as a result of for Pakistan, nuclear weapons present not solely a deterrent, or “defend” towards India’s nuclear functionality, but in addition a “sword” that allows it to proceed fomenting sub-conventional struggle on the subcontinent.

To extend stability, India ought to publicly reaffirm its coverage of no first use and undertake a retaliation-only nuclear posture, notably since outstanding voices in India’s strategic group have questioned these rules within the current previous. It ought to make clear that it has no intentions to make use of its nuclear forces in a preemptive mode. One Strategic Forces Command official advised me that Arihant will solely be used for countervalue strikes — that’s, retaliatory strikes towards Pakistani cities. Such declarations should be made on the highest ranges of the Indian authorities. Arihant’s job — and, for that matter, the job of India’s complete nuclear arsenal — is to not create “fearlessness” within the Indian thoughts, as Modi’s workplace claimed. Quite, it’s to make sure that India’s nuclear adversaries worry the results of their actions. A nuclear dialogue with Pakistan ought to subsequently be reopened and shielded from the vagaries of home politics.

The nuclear competitors between China, India, and Pakistan is a basic case of a triangular safety dilemma. As India pursues deterrence stability vis-à-vis one adversary, it makes one other adversary really feel more and more weak. In concept, India might arrest this cascade by means of tailor-made deterrence: by using particular nuclear capabilities towards every of the 2 adversaries. Actually, within the typical area, India’s army posture in the direction of China and Pakistan has lengthy tried such balancing. After the Sino-Indian border warfare of 1962, for example, India erected 10 mountain divisions to discourage the Chinese language on the Himalayan frontier, however promised by no means to make use of them on the Pakistani entrance.

Such tailor-made deterrence, nevertheless, is unattainable to realize within the subcontinent’s nuclear area. First, in comparison with typical forces, creating quite a lot of nuclear forces is extraordinarily pricey, notably for states with urgent improvement wants. Second, tailor-made deterrence is troublesome to achieve at low numbers of nuclear weapons the place the survivability of the arsenal is more durable to ensure. Final, growing cooperation between China and Pakistan might depart India weak to their mixed nuclear may.

Creating strong deterrence towards China will proceed to drive India’s nuclear trajectory, because it has for years, however Pakistani reactions will make the journey extraordinarily bumpy.


Yogesh Joshi is a Stanton Nuclear Safety Postdoctoral Fellow on the Middle for Worldwide Safety and Cooperation, Stanford College. He’s the coauthor of India and Nuclear Asia: Forces, Doctrine and Risks (Georgetown College Press, 2018).

Picture: All India Radio Information

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