[Burning Issue] India’s Nuclear Triad

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CONTEXT

  • India has declared that its nuclear triad, stated in its nuclear doctrine, is operational
  • This was after indigenous ballistic missile nuclear submarine INS Arihant achieved a milestone by conducting its first deterrence patrol
  • It essentially means that Arihant is now prowling the deep seas carrying ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads
  • The second submarine in the series, Arighat is now undergoing sea trials after which it will be inducted into service

Introduction

  • Nuclear Triad means the capability of delivering nuclear weapons by aircraft, land based ballistic missiles and submarine launched missiles.
  • Specifically, these components are land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers.
  • The purpose of having this three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy can destroy all of a nation’s nuclear forces in a first-strike attack. This, in turn, ensures a credible threat, and capability, of a retaliatory second strike, thus increasing a nation’s nuclear deterrence.

Nuclear Command

  • India has put in place a robust nuclear command and control structure, effective safety assurance architecture and strict political control, under its Nuclear Command Authority.
  • Operationally, the Command is headed by a three-star military officer, but the authority to launch it rests with the Prime Minister, the Head of the Government.
  • It also means that the Prime Minister – and his Office – has the capability 24 x 7 to be in touch with the nuclear submarines irrespective of where they are, on India’s East or West coasts.
  • However, India remains committed to the doctrine of credible minimum deterrence and No First Use, as enshrined in the decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in its meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Vajpayee on January 04, 2003.

INS Arihant

  • The Arihant is the lead ship of India’s Arihant class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
  • These will form a potent and formidable weapons system which will ensure national security.
  • Arihant is India’s first indigenously designed and built nuclear-powered submarine.
  • Arihant is armed with K-15 Sagarika missiles with a range of 750 km.
  • It will carry the longer 3,500 km range K-4 missiles being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
  • This is the longest in the Navy’s fleet of submarines.
  • The second submarine in the series, Arighat is now undergoing sea trials after which it will be inducted into service.
  • INS Arihant is India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine. The Arihant was launched on 26 July 2009, the anniversary of Vijay Diwas (Kargil War Victory Day) by former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur.
  • Russia has provided extensive design assistance in the development of the INS Arihant.
  • INS Arihant is a part of Indian Navy’s secretive Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project operated under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office and closely monitored by agencies such as the Department of Atomic Energy and the Submarine Design Group of the Directorate of Naval Design.
  • India has now become part of an elite club of countries – Russia, the US, China, France and the UK that possess nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

Reliability of INS Arihant

  1. It comes directly under the Nuclear Command Authority headed by the Prime Minister
  2. Given India’s stated position of ‘No-First-Use’ (NFU) in launching nuclear weapons, the SSBN is the most dependable platform for a second-strike
  3. Because they are powered by nuclear reactors, these submarines can stay underwater indefinitely without the adversary detecting it. The other two platforms — land-based and air-launched are far easier to detect
  4. This places India in the league of the few countries that can design, construct and operate SSBN

Significance

  • INS Arihant, which is equipped with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles completed a nearly month-long nuclear deterrence patrol.
  • INS Arihant will enable India to assert its rights on water, besides land and air.
  • It now joins a small group of countries — the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom — that have this capability.
  • Arihant’s successful nuclear deterrence patrol signifies India’s attainment of complete mastery over all the highly complex systems and procedures.
  • India’s nuclear deterrence 20 years after the country went nuclear is now secure as it rests on a triad of land, air and undersea vectors.
  • The success of INS Arihant enhances India’s security needs.
  • Given India’s ‘No-First-Use’ (NFU) in launching nuclear weapons, the SSBN is the most dependable platform for a second-strike.
  • SSBNs are designed to prowl the deep ocean waters and carry nuclear weapons.
  • Because they are powered by nuclear reactors, these submarines can stay underwater indefinitely without the adversary detecting it.
  • The other two platforms — land-based and air-launched are far easier to detect.

Landmark Development

  • It demonstrates that India, apart from its capability to deliver nuclear weapons both from land and from air, can now also do so from under water.
  • It provides the ultimate credibility to nuclear deterrence.
  • It sends out an unambiguous message that nuclear blackmail will not work.
  • The nuclear deterrence patrol signifies India having come off age as a mature nuclear-armed state.
  • This exercise is testimony to India’s technological prowess.
  • It shows a high degree of engineering skill and workmanship with substantial indigenous component.

India’s Approach To Nuclear Weapons

  • Arihant’s nuclear deterrence patrol does not constitute any shift in India’s approach towards nuclear weapons.
  • India remains committed to “the goal of a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament”.
  • India follows no first use of nuclear weapons, and non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.
  • In the absence of a nuclear-free world, India continues to regard nuclear weapons as a deterrent designed to prevent a nuclear attack against it.
  • Accordingly, as per its doctrine, India has sought to ensure that its deterrent is “credible”.

NFU POLICY

  • No first use (NFU) refers to a pledge or a policy by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons. Earlier, the concept had also been applied to chemical and biological warfare.
  • India’s Nuclear Doctrine
  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 d) Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states e) 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
  4. “Credible minimum deterrent” and “no first use” — were first articulated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on May 27, 1998, days after India had undertaken a series of five nuclear tests in Pokhran and declared it a nuclear weapon state.
  5. India did not see nuclear weapons as weapons of war; that their role was to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion

ISSUES

  1. However, India’s nuclear sub is equipped to carry short-range missiles, which limits its deterrence potential. Clearly, subsequent additions to the navy’s arsenal will focus on longer-range missiles and larger submarines capable of carrying them. Augmenting capability, however, will require higher allocation of funds.
  2. Even if the defence gets more funds, rejigging the defence budget is inevitable. Too much of the defence budget goes to manpower costs: salaries and pensions. Defence allocation in Budget 2018-19 was to the tune of Rs 4,04,365 crore, of this, defence pensions accounted for Rs 1,08,853 crore.
  3. It is imperative that the government revisit manpower costs, particularly pensions and benefits, if it is to increase funding for defence research and development. Indigenising defence production is another way to get more bang for every defence rupee.
  • India needs to address serious issues on the archaic structure of the Ministry of Defence.
  • E.g. the key military figure in the Nuclear Command structure, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, generally holds office for less than a year
  • This is hardly the time adequate to become fully familiar with the complexities of India’s Strategic Nuclear Command.
  • There have been repeated proposals for appointment of a full time “Chief or Defence Staff”, or “Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee”.
  • S/he will hold charge of the Nuclear “Strategic Forces Command” and report to the political authority.
  • But the proposals have gathered dust for years in the offices of the generalist bureaucracy of the Defence Ministry.
  • Recommendations for such change even from the Parliament Standing Committee of Defence lie unimplemented.
  • The present set up of the Defence Ministry thus needs to be drastically reorganised.

Way Forward

  • Augmenting naval strategic capabilities is an imperative for India, especially considering the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean region.
  • It is imperative that the government revisit manpower costs, particularly pensions and benefits, if it is to increase funding for defence research and development.
  • Experts believe a real sea-based deterrence requires at least three atomic-powered submarines.
  • India now needs to focus ahead and move fast, if it is to fully secure and advance its cherished strategic autonomy.
  • The submarines will also need to be armed with missiles with a range of up to 5,000 km to give India the wherewithal to counter regional powers; China has a force of more than 60 undersea vessels, including SSBNs.
  • The distance between India officially unveiling its plans for a nuclear triad and the first deterrence patrol took 15 years. Other milestones in this important programme shouldn’t take as long.

CONCLUSION

  • Augmenting naval strategic capabilities is imperative for India, especially considering the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean region. The region is central from a strategic and security point of view, given China’s growing ambitions and activities, as well as from India’s own rise as a key player in the region, in Africa and as a strategic partner to other key countries.
  • INS Arihant is a major achievement, but India now needs to focus ahead and move fast, if it is to fully secure and advance its cherished strategic autonomy.
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