Aligning the triad: On India’s nuclear
Mains Paper 1: Internal Security
Prelims level: INS Arihant
Mains level: Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages
of organized crime with terrorism Various Security forces and agencies and their
- The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine
that completed its sea patrol earlier this month.
- It will contribute significantly to making India’s deterrence
capability more robust.
- Submarine-based nuclear capability is the most survivable leg of a
nuclear triad, and its benefit must be seen especially in the light of the
growing naval capabilities of India’s potential adversaries.
- In this light, certain questions need to be addressed on the third
leg of India’s nuclear triad, as well as major challenges for strategic
stability in the southern Asian region.
Arihant’s missing links
- India’s deterrence capability is a work in progress, there is
nevertheless a need to carry out an objective assessment of what INS Arihant
can and cannot do, and the implications thereof.
- There is no clarity on whether the first deterrence patrol of INS
Arihant had nuclear-tipped missiles on board. If not, the deterrence patrol
would have been intended for political purposes devoid of any real deterrent
- Without nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on board an SSBN (ship
submersible ballistic nuclear) such as INS Arihant, it might not be any more
useful than an ordinary nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN).
- If INS Arihant had nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on board, it
is not clear 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, which would then make the Indian SSBN
- While the K-4 missile (3,500 km range) currently under development
would give the country’s sea deterrent the necessary range vis-à-vis its
adversaries, INS Arihant would not be able to carry them on board.
- The Navy would require bigger SSBNs (S-4 and S-5) to carry the K-4
- In other words, deterring India’s adversaries using the naval leg
of its nuclear forces is a work in progress at this point of time.
- The objective of India’s nuclear planners is to achieve seamless
and continuous sea deterrence, one SSBN with limited range is far from
- Given the adversaries’ capabilities in tracking, monitoring and
surveilling India’s SSBNs, it would need to invest in at least four more.
- Maintaining a huge nuclear force and its ancillary systems, in
particular the naval leg, would eventually prove to be extremely expensive.
- One way to address the costs would be to reduce 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.
- New Delhi could, in the long run, invest in a survivable fleet of
nuclear submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missies of various ranges, and
decide to reduce its investment in the land and air legs of its nuclear
deterrent, thereby reducing costs.
- While this might bring down costs without sacrificing the
country’s deterrence requirements, inter-service claims might frustrate such
- The naval leg of the nuclear triad also poses significant command
and control challenges. As a matter of fact, 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.
- Until such sophisticated communication systems are eventually put
- India will have to do with shallower waters or focus on bastion
control, which in some ways reduces the deterrence effect of SSBNs, as
bastions would be closer to the ports..
Impact on strategic stability
- INS Arihant’s induction will also have implications for regional
- It is bound to make the maritime competition in the Indian Ocean
region sharper, even though the lead in this direction was taken by the
People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) a long time ago.
- The dominant driver of India’s SSBN plans appears to be China's
expanding inventory of nuclear submarines.
- The PLAN’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 New Delhi.
- INS Arihant in that sense 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.
- Add to this mix China’s mega infrastructure project, the Belt and
Road Initiative, with its ambitious maritime objectives; and the revival of
the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, with India, U.S., Japan, and
- This sharpening of the maritime competition further engenders
several regional ‘security dilemmas’ wherein what a state does to secure
itself could end up making it more insecure.
- The net result of this would be heightened instability for the
foreseeable future. However, once the three key players in this trilemma
China, India and Pakistan.
- It manage to put in place the essential conditions for credible
minimum deterrence, the effect of the instability could potentially
decrease. But it’s a long road to such an outcome.
Command and control
- India’s sea deterrent also throws up several key questions about
the country’s nuclear command and control systems.
- In the case of the air or land legs of the triad where civilian
organisations 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.
- Not only would the SSBN have no warhead control by civilians
(i.e., BARC scientists), its captain would be under the Strategic Forces
Command, an organisation manned by military officers.
- Also, given that the warhead would be pre-mated with the
canisterised missiles in the SSBN, what would be the finer details of the
launch authority invested in the SSBN captain?
- The SSBN captain would have the authority to launch nuclear
missiles on orders from the political authority.
- However, is there a fool-proof Permissive Action Links system in
place to ensure that an unauthorised use does not take place?
- There needs to be more clarity on such issues.
- INS Arihant makes India’s nuclear deterrence more robust, it also
changes deterrence stability in the southern Asian region as we know it.
- It is important to remember that the country’s sea deterrent is
still in its infancy, and its path hereon is riddled with challenges.
Q.1) Consider the following about Nuclear Triad.
1. A triad consists of nuclear weapons delivery by aircraft, ballistic
missiles and submarine launched missiles.
2. India is the only country other than USA to have a nuclear triad.
3. Completing a nuclear triad is a pre-requisite for membership of Missile
Technology Control Regime (MTCR) for non-signatories of NPT.
Select the correct answer using the codes below.
a) 1 and 2 only
b) 1 only
c) 2 and 3 only
d) 1 and 3 only
Q.1) What would be the finer details of the launch authority invested
in the SSBN captain?