It is heartening that India now has established the triple capability of firing nuclear weapons from land, air and sea as a part of its policy of building up a credible nuclear deterrence. With INS Arihant completing its first ‘deterrence patrol,’ India has joined the exclusive club which so far comprised the US, Russia, France, China and the UK.
Already, India had the Agni ballistic missiles and the IAF fighter jets capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Now, with INS Arihant, India has the undersea naval capability that completes the triad.
This is truly a landmark in an environment in which China is breathing down our neck, taking leaps in the nuclear arena, and our hostile neighbour Pakistan is adding to our discomfiture in cahoots with the belligerent Chinese.
In a situation in which China has started producing its second generation of nuclear submarines with great alacrity, India still has a lot of catching up to do. However, that it is alive to the challenge and is proactively building up its arsenal is reassuring. Indeed, China’s new Shang and Jin class submarines are a big leap ahead of its older and noisier Han class submarines.
While some back-patting and bravado on such an occasion is not out of place, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion that INS Arihant marks a fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail must be looked at as a necessary move to boost morale in an atmosphere that is otherwise largely driven by negativity.
While complacency is not the answer, a deep sense of confidence in our ability is imperative and this is amply borne out by our scientists when a clear direction is shown to them.
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What is gratifying is that India now has a ‘second-strike’ capability which is not only nuclear-powered but armed with nuclear missiles as well. This would mean that if its land and air-based delivery systems are neutralised by the enemy in a nuclear strike, it can hide its ballistic missiles at sea for a long period to strike back at the enemy from sea at an appropriate time.
In a political climate that has been marked by acrimony, it is good that INS Arihant has been a project that has had the active participation of both the national parties—the Congress and the BJP.
Arihant was launched in July 2009 by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mark 10 years since the end of the Kargil War. In August 2013, the submarine’s atomic reactor was activated. In August 2016, Prime Minister Modi inducted the submarine into the Navy. The BJP’s pursuit of the development of the nuclear-powered submarine has been consistent as was that of the Congress. There is indeed no scope for political one-upmanship.
That China is working to a strategy to control the sea lanes of the world is common knowledge today with the manner in which it is enticing some coastal nations into a debt trap and seeking to control their political and economic decision-making.
While such designs would affect the world at large, India can hardly consider itself out of such machinations. Therefore, it is vital that India prepare itself for all eventualities to maintain its muscle to deter any Chinese activity that is detrimental to Indian maritime interests as to political interests.
That Indian interests coincide with those of the US, Japan, Australia, among others, is real. Trading activity on the high seas cannot be allowed to be remote-controlled by the Chinese. If China endeavours to do that, it must be foiled in its designs.
The size of the Arihant is similar to the first nuclear submarine in the world that was launched four decades ago by the US. Besides the US, which has 74 nuclear submarines, Russia has 44, UK 13, France 10 and China 10.
While India has entered the club it still has to build up more than a token presence in this area even if it is a laborious process.
All in all, this is a good development but we still have some way to go. There is no substitute for relentless and sustained effort because there is a dire need for an effective deterrence in the face of the China-Pakistan axis.