Strong deterrent

India’s submarine launched weapons

By early next year India will have nuclear submarines armed with nuclear missiles thereby creating a minimum nuclear deterrent, as per national policy.

Deterrent patrolling should become the order of the day against two adversaries operating in nexus-Pakistan and China. India will have to ensure that there is at least one nuclear armed submarine posted within striking distance of the vital points and vital areas of both these opponents without compromising their positions-locations as well as audio-signatures of their engines and propellers.

To ensure this in the national interest Indian nuclear submarines must not make port calls or “showing the flag” to any part of the world because it would mean giving away this basic intelligence input to other navies. Showing the flag operations should be best confined to surface vessels.

With just two nuclear powered submarines in operation, an inadequacy is immediately apparent in that after a two-month stint on station both will have to return to home base for replenishment, crew turnaround, repair and maintenance and everything else that goes to keep a submarine fleet fighting fit.

Nuclear submarine

India must take a decision on acquiring one or more nuclear powered submarines on lease from Russia. Actually two more will ensure round the clock surveillance against both our potential enemies.

Besides the indigenous Arihant, a Nerpa class Russian submarine on a 10-year lease has joined the Indian Navy. There was talk of acquiring a second Nerpa to cover the gap between the deployment of the Arihant and the launch of the second indigenous nuclear submarine and its final induction-a timeframe of about 4-5 years.

The second Nerpa could facilitate a turnaround of the deployment against the Chinese but create gaps against a more aggressive and the more likely nation to use nuclear weapons against India with a minimum of provocation.

Under the doctrine of deterrence it is not totally necessary that it is only a nuclear submarine that is the best second strike capability. An in-your-face Sukhoi aircraft with nuclear missiles in full display (better still would be a Press conference of its mission along the coast of Pakistan) should have the desired effect because Pakistan cannot afford to lose the use of its coastline at any point from Karachi (most vulnerable and sensitive) to Gwadar near the Iranian border. An airborne combat air patrol of this kind should have the same deterrent effect as would an unseen submarine.

Indian Navy is also focusing on acquiring and developing submarine launched nuclear weapons. The first is the Sagarika of K-15 which is designed to mate with the Arihant nuclear submarine. The Sagarika has a range of 700 km.

This means that by staying about 600 km away from the Pakistani coastline, the Sagarika which is said to incorporate the multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), can devastate Karachi, Ormara (where the French Scorpenes are being manufactured), and Pasni a major port west of Karachi in the very first salvo.

The 600 km arc of attack covers a large ocean frontage and to look for a submarine within such an arc (which incidentally begins within Indian territorial waters and the nuclear submarine may well be within its own jurisdiction and hence undetectable) would require many different types of naval assets to look for and neutralize such a deployment.

The other operational submarine launched missile is Brahmos sea-skimming missile with a proven deep penetration capability (which means that its final strike takes place from a great height thereby generating kinetic energy by using the physics of a falling body, acceleration at the rate of 32 ft per second per second).

This facility means that it is not just the blast effect that a nuclear bomb can create on the surface but also the heat and incendiary effect can be utilized to the full by blasting it within confined spaces. However, to launch the BrahMos the nuclear submarine (Arihant) will have to go closer to the Pakistani mainland.

The range of the Brahmos has been confined to what is allowed to be sold under the Missile Technology Control Regime which is a missile range of 295 km carrying a warhead of 500 kg. The yield will thus be smaller and it could be used to concentrate on facilities like the submarine construction factory at Ormara or the harbor complex at Gwadar.

With the Sagarika and the Brahmos operationally deployed on the Arihant by the middle of next year, the Defence and Research Organisation is working on what is known as the K-4 series of SLBMs with ranges between 3000 and 4000 km.

A K-5 missile with a range beyond 6000 km in the inter-continental class is also in the pipeline. These capabilities will enable Indian nuclear submarines to target both Pakistan and China even while being positioned in the Bay of Bengal.

Need of SLBMs

It needs to be recalled that Defence Minister Antony made it a point to push the DRDO into accelerating the development of the Agni-5 missile because its absence left the whole of China out of range of any missile.

While the land based Agni-5 has been successfully tested, an SLBM of the same range is still a dire necessity. It is true that the Agni-5 can cover the entire continental expanse of China from its many industrial hubs all along the Pacific Ocean rim including Beijing to China’s border with Mongolia in the north and the eastern edge of Xinjiang. However, the very concept of sea launched ballistic missiles is a manifestation of the need to have a failsafe device available in the event of a surgical strike by a potential enemy.

The SLBMs are intended to be second strike or retaliatory strike weapons and the fact that they are there is to ensure that deterrence prevails.

The Arihant and the limited range of the Sagarika missile can be said to be inadequate in the context of the totality of threat from the strategic nexus between Pakistan and China. Nonetheless, the fear of the loss of Karachi to a sea launched ballistic/cruise missile will weigh heavily on any Pakistani adventurer who thinks that the first salvo of Pak nukes would emit what is known as an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy all terrestrial communications links thereby making it difficult for any surviving political leadership to order the release of the SLBMs. The Arihant in its present configuration will not let that happen.

Attention has to be paid to the Nerpa class of Akula II submarine obtained from Russia on a ten-year lease. It has been renamed as Chakra II. Published material seems to suggest that the Chakra II can only be used as a technology demonstrator and training platform and cannot form part of India’s strategic forces. This would leave a huge gap in our deterrence posture vis-à-vis China.

India needs to accelerate its nuclear submarine construction and bring the next three to quick fruition. A total of four will create a credible nuclear deterrent with respect to Pakistan and China both singly and collectively.

One on station and one in docks for maintenance and repair will ensure that the deterrent is in place.