(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 16, 200
Indian Nuclear Submarine
THE long-held ambition of India’s strategic and political establishment to join the big boys in the global power stakes got a major fillip on July 26, 2009 when the country formally unveiled and launched its first nuclear-powered and nuclear weapons capable submarine.
INS Arihant (“destroyer of enemies”
in one rendering of the Sanskrit translation) leapfrogs
The Arihant is a 6,000-tonne vessel, 110 metres long and 11 metres across, powered by an 85 MW pressurised water reactor (PWR) fuelled by 40 per cent enriched uranium of Indian origin. With a crew strength of 75, it has a submerged speed of 30 knots and surface speed of 10 knots. It can stay underwater for theoretically unlimited periods, restricted only by food supply, since a nuclear sub does not need to surface periodically to “breathe” in fresh air and evacuate noxious carbon dioxide from diesel engines.
The Arihant is equipped to carry submarine-launched ballistic nuclear missiles (SLBM), at this stage believed to be DRDO’s K-15 Sagarika-series missile with a range of 700 km, besides an assortment of conventional anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.
The Arihant will of course not be actively deployed for a few years yet. Its first major challenge will be its nuclear reactor achieving criticality, followed by harbour and then sea trials, and finally thorough testing of the full range of its weaponised capabilities. By that time, work on another two similar submarines now being built would have been completed. Whereas three subs are the minimum required to ensure that at least one is actively deployed, it is likely that a further two or three may also be built. These subs are to constitute the third leg of the famed triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems from surface, air and undersea. The undersea capability would complement India’s land-based nuclear missiles of the Agni series, and its fleet of jury-rigged --- that is, the aircraft do not come with this capability but are subsequently modified for it --- Mirage 2000 and Su-30 MkI aircraft.
The idea of
The early years were devoted to developing the nuclear reactor rather than the submarine, the main tasks being to miniaturise the reactor to fit a small space and handling the concentrated weight of the reactor and its containment vessel, together about one-tenth the submarine weight, in one small part of the vessel. The tortuous saga of disagreements about reactor design between BARC and the Navy, and later the arrest of the Navy scientist on espionage charges subsequently dismissed by the courts, is a sorry story symptomatic of the high drama and internecine bickering that flourished in the atmosphere of secrecy, whimsical decision-making and poor accountability that have characterised the ATV and so many other defence projects. (See “Betrayal of the Defence Forces”, 2001, by Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat whose abrupt dismissal by the NDA government was also at least partly triggered by his “revelation” of the ATV project, even though it had been formally outed as early as 1994 by former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission M R Srinivasan, whose newspaper article is also appended in Adm. Bhagwat’s book!)
for the submarine,
while SSBN capability has been acquired – available but hopefully never
used – technologies and capabilities for design and manufacture of
nuclear-powered attack submarines that are of greater day-to-day
relevance, have not yet been developed.
There are apparently no plans to pursue this dimension of the
as originally conceived, especially in view of the impending
French Scorpene submarines and leasing-in of Akula-class SSNs from
Finally, the missile for use with the SSBN has been as shrouded in mystery as the ATV project. Notwithstanding the prolonged speculation in the international strategic community, it now appears clear that the K-15 missile is a ballistic not a cruise missile from within the Sagarika series of missiles. Trials of the K-15 have had middling success so far, with the implication that several steps remain before the missile is fully developed and can be integrated into the Arihant and other SSBNs.
defence establishments, public and private sector companies, and
institutions have played major roles, by themselves or in collaboration
international partners in a manner such that important capabilities and
know-how have been acquired in
steels used in construction of the hull have been developed at the
Nigam Ltd in
this entire process, the ATV Project owes a great deal to assistance
erstwhile Soviet Union and
nuclear submarine project in the real sense took off only after the
lease of a
Soviet SSN to the Indian Navy in 1988, following a long process of
by Indian teams, construction of a special training facility near
The Arihant will be entering service during a
substantial expansion and modernisation by the Indian Navy, for long
neglected arm of the Indian defence forces. While the notorious
enormous delays bedeviling defence acquisitions have meant that several
decisions are yet to translate into reality, causing serious security
Indian Navy will be visibly strengthened during the next decade, with
fighting vessels and 400 aircraft. Apart from several battleships and
aircraft carriers, the Navy is also acquiring additional submarines not
beef up the fleet but actually to replace badly depleted submarine
to ageing and degradation. Apart from the two Akula class SSNs on
Arihant and its sister SSBNs are
expected to find their place within this naval force.
Even within this framework, there are several questions surrounding the capability of the Arihant and sister SSBNs now being built or planned. The 700 km range of the K-15 missile or the 1000 km being spoken for an updated version means that the SSBN must get pretty close to its target landmass, increasing the risk of detection. Even the 2500 km range of the SLBM version of the Agni-III currently being developed or the extended range of 3500 km of the K-5 pale in comparison with the 5,000 – 12,000 km range of missiles on comparable SSBMs operated by the US, Russia, UK or China which operates three SSBN and 6 SSNs in a fleet of 62 submarines. The reactor too is quite small at under 90 MW while comparable SSN/SSBNs in other countries not only have more power but also have lifetime fuel supply of over 30 years whereas the BARC reactor has only 10 years’ supply of nuclear fuel, with refueling entailing major costly and time-consuming work.
military significance of the Arihant
therefore should not be over-rated
especially in the contemporary global and regional security
It should be seen, rather, as a demonstrator of the potential strengths
depth of the Indian scientific-technical and industrial capability. It
must also not miss the irony that India is taking these steps towards a
triad which can only expand in the years to come when major powers such
US and Russia are scaling down their nuclear arsenals, when a US
spoken for the first time in over five decades about universal nuclear
disarmament. Those who think India has entered a new power zone after
overtly nuclear may feel this is an odd time, just when India has
into the big league, to be speaking about disarmament or a non-nuclear
policy. But then there was a time when