INS Arihant - Strategic Arm of Nuclear Triad

The most significant take away from the success of the Programme was the grooming and development of indigenous private sector companies who have focussed on continuous improvements to successfully bring down the cycle time on subsequent projects while progressively improving quality by reducing the non-conformities.

Issue: 4 / 2017By Rear Admiral Sushil Ramsay (Retd)

The ‘Visionaries’ who foresaw India emerging as a reckonable global power had identified few futuristic capabilities to be home-grown and called them as Technology Demonstrators of the Nation. A most effective, yet silent deterrent capability chosen then was nuclearpowered ballistic missile submarines, commonly known as Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN). The objective was very clear to create indigenous capability for a potent Nuclear Triad. Considering that there will be mammoth challenges, enormous difficulties of all kinds and roadblocks of inconceivable nature and magnitude, the programmes had to be a closely guarded Top Secret variety. Sometimes in the early 1980s the bold decision saw the programme being christened under an innocuous and unsuspecting name ATV (Advanced Technology Vehicle).

The founding fathers (there were several agencies involved right from its inception) launched the programme with perfect cohesion, devotion and dedication that it remained undeterred, despite several setbacks and reversals of unimaginable dimensions. The most domineering of the setbacks being the dissolution of the Former Soviet Union, the main bulwark on which the edifice of future technologies was to be built. Such a huge body-blow too was braved most competently by India, and several imponderables relating to security, international relations, geo-strategic paradigm, implications on technology transfers, etc. were managed with élan.

The Reality

Passing through the stormy weathers, several phases of trials and tribulations India indeed has arrived at the professed milestone by becoming the world’s sixth country to successfully operationalise a SSBN. The pipe-dream of the Nation Builders is now transformed into reality. This is just the beginning of the strategic programme which has three more of the follow-on SSBNs with far greater advanced technology upgrades, specifications, capabilities, etc. Operationalisation of Arihant marks the growing eminence of the indigenous capabilities, infrastructure, industrial support and above all the self-reliance.

Arihant, which translates to annihilator of enemies, was launched by the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on July 26, 2009. Arihant is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core. In 2013, the nuclear reactor of Arihant went ‘critical’. Since then a series of daunting trials commenced, the first being extensive Harbour Acceptance Trials (HATs). On successful completion of HATs from December 2014 onwards began the crucial Sea Acceptance Trials (SATs) which included extensive machinery, equipment and systems trials and integration out at sea, both on surface and submerged. The most intensive series of SATs was the test firing of K-series of missiles. The K-series of missiles have been named after former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. The K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile has a range of 750-km and the K-4 has a range of up to 3,500-km. Based on the available reports Arihant is now fully ready and has been deployed for deterrent patrols with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in its silos.

On Monday, October 17, 2016 all leading national dailies announced that INS Arihant was formally commissioned by Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of the Naval Staff in August 2016. At the same time same sources added that to maintain secrecy, it is not being referred to as INS Arihant.

Arihant Class (SSBN)

Dimensions:Length – 112 m (367 ft), Beam – 15 m (49 ft), Draft – 10 m (33 ft)
Displacement (tonnes):6,000
Propulsion:PWR using 40 per cent enriched uranium fuel (80 MWe); one turbine (1,11,000 hp/83 MW); one shaft; one 7-bladed, high-skew propeller (estimated)
Range:Unlimited except by food supplies
Speed:12-15 knots surface, 24 knots dived
Test Depth:300 m (980 ft) (estimated)
Complement:95
Sensors and Processing Systems:BEL USHUS Integrated Sonar; Indigenous Sonar and tactical weapons control system with active, passive, ranging, surveillance and intercept sonars and underwater communication system.
Armament:6 x 533mm torpedoes, 12 x K-15 Sagarika SLBM (Range 750 km, 8 MIRV each) or 4 x K-4 Shaurya SLBM (range up to 3,500 km)
Launched:July 26, 2009
Status:Operational (unconfirmed)
Programme:The second submarine of the class, reportedly to be named INS Aridhaman has been launched. Two more submarines of this class are expected to follow.
Source: Wikipedia

Capabilities of Arihant

Arihant, a 6000 ton nuclear powered SSBN is capable of carrying nuclear tipped ballistic missiles and is designed to prowl the deep and far-flung oceans, with unrestricted submerged endurance carrying nuclear weapons and provide India with an assured second strike capability — the capability to strike back after being hit by nuclear weapons first.

Arihant is equipped with better stealth features and is larger compared to SSNs, which are nuclear-powered attack submarines. SSBNs are also said to be the “best guarantor” of a second strike capability in a nuclear exchange. Arihant is equipped with short range missiles with a range of 700 km and also has ballistic missiles with a range of 3,500 km.

Completion of the nuclear triad is extremely critical for India given the country’s “No First Strike” policy. Second strike capability is particularly important for India as it had committed to a ‘No-First-Use’ policy as part of its nuclear doctrine.

India has reportedly conducted a secret test of the nuclear-capable undersea ballistic missile, code named K-4. As per a report published in The New Indian Express the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) was test-fired from INS Arihant at an undisclosed location in the Bay of Bengal. The report quoted a source as saying that the missile was test-fired on March 31, 2017 some 45 nautical miles from the Vishakhapatnam coast in Andhra Pradesh. The missile test was dubbed as ‘highly successful’.

The K-4 missile, developed indigenously, was test-fired with a dummy payload in full operational configuration. The report said the missile was launched from a 20-meter depth and successfully broke through the water surface.

Among the notable features of the K-4 SLBM, its range is 3,500 km. The missile measures 12 metre in length and 1.3 metre in width. It weighs 17 tonnes and can carry a nuclear payload of 2,000 kilograms. Its engine is solid fuelled.

Defence Experts’ Views

The deployment of INS Arihant would complete India’s nuclear triad, allowing it to deliver atomic weapons from land, sea and air. Only the United States and Russia are considered full-fledged nuclear triad powers now, with China and India’s capabilities still largely untested.

China began combat patrols of an armed nuclear-powered submarine last year, the Washington Times reported in December 2016, citing the US Strategic Command and Defence Intelligence Agency. While China hasn’t made a formal announcement, and US officials haven’t confirmed that nuclear-tipped JL-2 missiles were on board the submarines conducting patrols, they have no evidence that the vessels weren’t armed.

Even so, neither India nor China has quite reached the technical prowess to give them a credible nuclear deterrent. Their submarines are loud and easily detected, making them an unlikely second-strike asset, the Lowy Institute for International Policy said in a September 2016 report.

India needs to show the world it can capably and effectively operate the nuclear-armed submarine, said Jon Grevatt, Asia-Pacific defence-industry analyst for IHS Jane’s. The “important milestone” is part of a bigger strategy to ensure its security, he said. “The Arihant is a stepping stone for India,” he said. “I don’t think it will alter the balance of power in the region unless India has a fleet of four or five such submarines.”

The Indigenous Capability

INS Arihant was built totally to the indigenous design under the Advanced Technology Vessel Project (ATVP) at the Ship Building Centre in Visakhapatnam.

The Top Secret Project was steered directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office and involving agencies and establishments such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the Department of Atomic Energy, the Submarine Design Group of the Indian Navy, Directorate of Naval Design. The programme was wholly supported through design consultancy, transfer of technology, consultancy on construction and infrastructure creation and development by the Former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

While the time over-run and the cost over-run adversely impacted the prestigious project, it received unstinted and continuous support by successive Governments in India, many regime changes in the Former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation never impeded the time tested Inter Governmental Agreements. This turned out to be providential for ATVP.

The most significant take away from the success of the Programme was the grooming and development of indigenous private sector companies who have focussed on continuous improvements to successfully bring down the cycle time on subsequent projects while progressively improving quality by reducing the non-conformities. Many engineering giants with great sense of national pride have participated in the Programme. Role played and contributions made by Larsen & Toubro, befittingly deserve special mention here. The Firm, besides making huge investments in creation of infrastructure and specific facilities, technologies, niche capabilities, etc. has remained an integral part of the Programme right from its inception and continues to be so even for the follow-on programme, as well. L&T has clearly emerged as a national asset as for the indigenous submarine construction capability is concerned. With positive support from ATVP, L&T has been able to indigenously develop the complete Torpedo Weapon Complex, making country self-reliant in this crucial technology.