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First Nuclear Deterrence Patrol Marks Major Step for Indian Submarine Force

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INS Arihant. Indian Navy Photo

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced earlier this month that the Indian Navy had completed its first sea-based nuclear deterrent patrol it was more of a statement of intent than a demonstration of a new capability.

The Indian Navy’s new ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant was the boomer that completed the month-long deterrent patrol. Whilst this is not insignificant – it is the first country outside of the five members of the U.N. Security Council to develop this capability – it also shows how far away India is to achieve its goal of joining the other great powers in establishing a credible sea-based deterrent.

Only the U.S., U.K., France and Russia can sustain continuous-at-sea deterrent patrols, which a provides continuous launch capability of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) by maintaining at least one SSBN on station at any one time that could fire a nuclear missile. A continuous patrol requires a minimum of four SSBNs.

The patrol as a statement will have more effect in diplomatic circles than in military ones. India wants to join the club of countries that can support a sea-based deterrent and eventually achieve a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. It also means India will have the ability to launch all three air, land and sea-based types of nuclear weapons and a more robust second strike capability.

“The Indians have long desired a nuclear triad that’ll allow it to deter erstwhile adversaries namely Pakistan and China,” Collin Koh Swee Lean, from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore told USNI News. “The quest for sea-based nuclear deterrent is based on at least the theory that a submarine-launched strategic offensive missile constitutes a highly secure capability by virtue of the characteristics of a nuclear-powered submarine, compared to air and land-based systems which could be taken out.”

Arihant’s design is based on Russia’s Akula-class submarine and it was commissioned in 2016. Displacing 6,000 tons, the boat was built under India’s Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme that was confirmed in 1998 although it took other forms before this. The IN has operated the 8,000-ton nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) INS Chakra (former K-152 Nerpa), which it has leased from Russia for 10 years starting in 2012 following extensive sea trials. This has informed the operation of Arihant.

INS Chakra, photographed by me, just minutes before it was inducted into the eastern fleet at Vishakhapatnam on April 4, 2012. Ajai Shukla photo via Wikipedia

Since its commissioning, Arihant has mainly been used as a training platform and technology demonstrator. The submarine is capable of firing up to four K-4 intermediate range SLBMs that can reach over 2,000 miles or 12 short-range K-15 Sagarika missiles that can hit targets at a range of almost 500 miles. However, India has a policy of keeping its warheads separate from its missiles, so it is unclear if Arihant’s deterrent patrol used armed SLBMs.

By comparison the United States operates 14 Ohio-class SSBNs that represent the US Navy’s sea-based deterrent. Displacing 18,750 tons each boat can hold 24 D-5 Trident II intercontinental SLBMs (which can reach more than 7,500 miles) and normally conducts a deterrent patrol lasting 70 to 90 days. First-of-class USS Ohio (SSGN-726) entered service in 1981 and the class will start to retire from 2029 to be gradually replaced by 12 new Columbia-class (SSBN-826) boomers. The Columbias are expected to be of a similar size, although with 16 launch tubes to carry the D-5.

The U.K. Royal Navy operates four Vanguard-class submarines that also fire the D-5 with tubes for 16 missiles. HMS Vanguard entered service in 1994 and the class is expected to leave service from the 2030s to be replaced by four new Dreadnought-class SSBNs. Due to the fewer number of boats conducting patrols, it is likely that the Vanguards will undertake longer patrols than their American counterparts, USNI News understands.

Russia’s sea-deterrent has transitioned from its 48,000-ton Typhoon-class SLBMs – it has one left in service – to the new Borei-class with three in-service and a further two due to be commissioned next year. The new boats have 16 tubes that can fire the new Bulava sub-launched ballistic missile that was accepted into service earlier this year and has a range exceeding 5,600 miles.

Russian Borey Class nuclear ballistic missile submarine

France operates a fleet of four new Triomphant-class SSBNs that replaced the older Redoubtable-class in 2008. The new class has 16 missile tubes that can fire the new M51 sub-launched ballistic missile that entered service in 2010 and is a more advanced missile reaching almost 7,000 miles compared to the previous intermediate range M45.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) four Type 094 Jin-class SSBNs. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence has assessed that four boats have been in operation since 2015 and with its missile load of 12 JL-2 intercontinental ballistic missiles that have a range of about 5,000 miles it represents China’s sea-based deterrent capability. The Pentagon believes that as many as eight could be in-service by 2020 and it has been reported that a new JL-3 missile is being developed to replace the JL-2.

“Recall that India’s quest for nuclear weapons is heavily influenced by China’s acquisition of this capability since the 1960s… it’s with China in mind that the nuclear triad becomes especially more pertinent to have given in the first place, Beijing has been ahead in the development of a myriad of strategic, sub-strategic and tactical offensive missile systems for some time,” Collin said.

An undated photo of a Jin-class Type 94 nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). PLAN Photo

For India, it has yet to reach the stage comparable to the introduction of the Jin-class but how fast it can follow China in developing a credible sea-based deterrent capability depends on the progress of the ATV programme.

A second SSBN to follow Arihant was reported in Indian media to have completed sea trials. Named Arighat, the boat is due to be delivered next year and is expected to be larger than Arihant with a complement of eight K-4 missiles instead of four. Another two boats after Arighat are planned to be commissioned by 2023. Following from these first four Arihant-class boats another batch of even larger SSBNs is expected.

But it is not just the ability to put boats in the water and to fire missiles from them. The submarines need to be very quiet, totally undetected and able to sustain operations for long durations. Without long-range intercontinental SLBMs it means the SSBNs will have to get closer to their target area and therefore increase the chance of detection and neutralization.

“In terms of overall performance where the platform itself is concerned, its quieting ability especially is still an unknown. And so is definitely the issue of reliability, which is then dependent on not only design attributes but also the Indian Navy’s ability to properly maintain and sustain this force,” Collin said.

SSBNs also require long-range operational support involving submarine tenders, maritime patrol craft as well as an efficient shoreside maintenance, repair and overhaul regime with the technical capacity to manage an SSBN’s complex systems.

“Certainly a complete technological ecosystem that goes beyond just the boat itself or the missile for that matter [is needed] – it’ll include achieving complete self-sufficiency for the pressurized water reactor propulsion (PWR), in the area of quieting, combat systems, etc. In particular, to have a complete technical ecosystem for this, a strong indigenous nuclear industry base is necessary, which not only includes the ability to develop safe, functioning PWR technologies, but also the know-how for the life cycle of nuclear propulsion, which involves safe disposal, refuelling, etc,” Collin said.

“Insights and experiences gleaned from the ATV, and of course the lease of the Akula SSN from Russia, would benefit India’s overall effort to indigenize its submarine capabilities and technological base. Some of the critical systems, such as combat management, sonar and quieting, that are trialed and validated in these programmes would spin off onto domestic submarine programmes, including conventional boats,” Collin added.

India’s experience with submarines goes back decades with its diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs). India’s existing SSK fleet consists of the four Shishumar-class (Type 209/1500) submarines, the first two of which were built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in Kiel, Germany and the second pair by Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL) in Mumbai under a technology transfer agreement in the early 1980s. Its remaining fleet is made up of the nine Sindhughosh-class submarines that were built by Russia’s Sevmash in the 1980s and 1990s and have recently undergone a refit.

Due to the increasing age of its fleet, the Indian Navy has embarked on a plan to renew its fleet by building 24 boats in country and increase the size of the SSK fleet by one-third. The P-75 programme for six new SSKs was the first step to re-developing the production capabilities at MDL that is had lost following the completion of its Shishuma-class.

The new P-75 Kalvari-class submarines are being built to the Scorpene design from French shipyard Naval Group with the first boat, INS Kalvari, commissioned in November 2017. There have been delays in the programme as a result of having to re-learn skills at MDL but the second boat is due to be commissioned later this year following sea trials and the remaining four slated to follow on an annual drumbeat from 2019 to 2023 if no further delays occur.

A second class of six boats is expected under the next P-75I programme that will follow the Kalvari-class. The Indian government has an ambition to establish a second line of production and to operate a different class of boat, however, this would entail some expense and it may choose to continue using the facilities at MDL. Whether it wants to continue partnership with Naval Group or return to TKMS or another submarine manufacturer is also yet to be decided.

“It might have been tempting to imagine that, buoyed by the long-awaited success in taking off P75 programme, its high time to go it alone. But this could be premature optimism, since local yards such as MDL would still have to work with foreign partners to get a model that suits the Indian Navy’s ambitions. I’ll foresee a [P75I] scenario where the design is based on an existing foreign model, but modified and developed to be customized for Indian requirements. Certainly the existing, if nascent, infrastructure and capacity in MDL would help matters. At least the Indians won’t have to start from scratch,” Collin said.

 

 

  • NavySubNuke

    Tim, a few points:
    – OHIOs are down to 20 Tridents following the conversion of 4 tubes to a non-SLBM capable status as part of the New START treaty.
    – Russia’s operational SSBN fleet for a long time has been their Delta IIIs and Delta IVs. They Typhoons actually ran out of missiles years ago and were removed from SSBN service. Those Deltas remain in service for now as the Borei’s continue to be produced/come online.
    Regardless this is a great first step for India and it will be interesting to see how their SSBN force continues to grow. As they expand their capability and increase the force of their survivable leg it makes the entire world safer from nuclear war since it reduces the risk of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan or China.
    The good thing for India is their SSBNs only have to be quiet enough to elude Pakistan and China at this point so they have time to develop and improve their technology while they continue to refine and develop their CONOPs and crew training.

    • Centaurus

      What do them Injuns think they gonna deter, from what ? Who ? Just wait’ll they have an “accident” and have to call GhostBusters.

      • IAF101

        Perhaps you should Google India’s recent history – it has fought 4 major wars in the past 70 years with both Pakistan and China which are today nuclear weapons states. The USA throws a hissy fit against broke wastelands like N.Korea despite having over 10,000 nuclear weapons and you want to talk about “who” / “What” and “accidents” ??

        • NavySubNuke

          Don’t worry too much about him, he just tries to get a rise out of people by making silly comments like that.

          • Centaurus

            Hey, that was a serious question !

        • Oskar

          Those aren’t “major wars”…. They’re regional conflicts, at best.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        India is probably the absolute most important ally in the world for the US going forward. NATO is on the verge of fracturing and most experts agree that what Russia attacks the Baltic states, Poland, etc. places like Germany and France will absolutely not want to intervene, Italy maybe maybe not, and at this point we don’t even know how the UK will respond to problems not directly affecting them. CHI is a bigger problem every day, Pakistan has tons of people in the club of shouting “Death to America” on a regular basis… India has a ton of it’s people in the US, a ton more wanting to come, and by virtue of their size, strength, potential etc. they are someone who we absolutely want on our side. India could be the difference between the US winning the next world war or losing it.

        • disqus_CbFK3MPhJu

          china has a “TON” of people in the US too???

          It’s more like an invasion, than an equal doing something
          nice for us!

          they rely on russia for tech and equip, look at what they’ve
          purchased recently.

        • Centaurus

          In that case, then lets send the wogs in first and let them win back Tibet for the Dali Lama. At least Dali Lama is worth fighting over. China DID steal Tibet from him in 1949 !

  • rotorhead1871

    ratty lookin boats….good stuff for 3rd worlders……i guess.

    • Any nation that has acquired top-10 status among the world’s economies (soon to be top-5) and has a nuclear deterrent could not possibly fit the definition of “Third World.” India’s GDP is higher than France, Brazil, Italy, Canada, Australia, and will pass the UK by 2020 as the fifth largest. Two of those five (Japan and Germany) have no nuclear deterrent.

      It’s no secret that “Pacific” is now referred to a “Indo-Pacific” because of India’s rise and the importance of the Indian Ocean. China is especially concerned because its increasing dependence on Persian Gulf oil (and other goods) transiting the I.O. puts India in the position of choking China’s economy if Beijing overreaches. The “Quad” alliance of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India and their ability to shutdown China’s oil supplies are likely the primary reason China has not re-taken Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands.

      • ChrisLongski

        “Any nation that has acquired top-10 status among the world’s economies (soon to be top-5) and has a nuclear deterrent could not possibly fit the definition of “Third World.” ”

        Maybe in terms of overall GDP — but in no way linked to the abject poverty of the tens of millions who live in despair.

        Been to Mumbai lately ? India: 3rd world country with a meh, up and coming naval force. Outside the major cities, many of which are reasonably clean, the whole country is a polluted wreck.

        • Every ‘First World’ nation has its share of “poverty and despair.” Imagine residents of Mumbai deposited in Chicago and its 400+ murders per year, or telling their kids to trust the water in Flint, Michigan. Meanwhile ‘First World’ Europe is overrun with migrants from the Mideast and Africa. I could go on. Fact is India is among the four largest economies that also has a nuclear deterrent. Very, very ‘First World’.

          • ChrisLongski

            3rd-world country with a robust military. Same as the Soviet Union was…

          • disqus_CbFK3MPhJu

            a liberal would think you are racist.
            chi and flint are black, brown, cities run by black/”white”
            people.

            and india has more cell phones than toilets.
            They still have a cast system, very very 3’rd world.

          • Amusing. Instead of distinguishing First and Third World nations based on universally recognized features such as economic advancement and military power, some choose domestic culture war ‘triggers’ like caste systems and skin color. Embarrassing.

            What’s next? Shall we declare the U.S. to be a Third World backwater because it lacks socialized universal health care? Shall we define Japan and Germany as Third World due to their semi-caste systems? And the atrocious dental condition of the U.K.!!! Very, very Third World.

          • disqus_CbFK3MPhJu

            socialized health care is the hallmark of third world
            countries, crap healthcare for EVERYONE, and free!

            and UK’s dental condition has improved a lot, now that
            they’ve let in every 3’rd worlder around, amm yy ite?

        • IAF101

          LOL Abject poverty ???

          Been to Detroit Lately ? How about Birmingham, AL ? Been to the southern suburbs of London ? Paris ??

          What you should pay attention to is the “trend” – Indian and chinese cities are getting much better than they were – while European and American cities and towns are decrepit and sliding. The same is true with the navy. The “3rd world” is spending more and advancing by leaps and bounds while US SSBNs are too costly to operate at any decent tempo and Europe is virtually demilitarized.

          • ChrisLongski

            Perhaps the reading and documentaries I frequent about India are all propaganda…

          • Oskar

            Agreed.

            Mention Alang, all those disastrous military projects, honour killings, etc. and wait for the reaction.

            Funny, he seems to think India is such a great place, but can’t explain the MILLIONS of people bailing out to live in other countries.

            How many folks emigrate TO India, do you estimate?

          • Oskar

            Hilarious!

            Where’s Indian’s equivalent to LA? NYC? Miami?

            Oh, right, they do NOT have one.

            Speaking of the caste system and honour killings….

            How are the working conditions at Alang?

            Again, the Arjun and Tejas have cost HOW MUCH, and for what to show for it?

      • Oskar

        You really don’t know what “third world” means, clearly.

    • IAF101

      First time I’ve ever heard a submarine being judged by its “looks”.

      • NavySubNuke

        If he think those pics look ratty he should see an SSN coming back to homeport after spending 6 months at sea doing God’s work….

        • Oskar

          BIG difference between returning from a patrol and a boat on it’s maiden voyage, wouldn’t you agree?

          What happened to their Kilo sub they burnt up, dockside?

      • Oskar

        Truth hurts, doesn’t it?

        Speaking of the Arjun MBT….Tejas fighter…Kaveri engine, etc…

        • IAF101

          Ignorance hurts , truth does not.

          Arjun MBT, Tejas and Kaveri engine all cost less than the F35 program – which has been going on for how long now ?

          • Oskar

            LMAO!!!

            Seek help for your cranial-rectal conflict.

            Tell us how long, and how far over budget those programs ran.

            When is the Kaveri engine going into production?

            That re-hashed Leopard 2?

            When is the Tejas going into service? How many DECADES late?

  • RobM1981

    This was a great tracking exercise for the US, Russian, and Chinese boats that shadowed this beast. I’m sure avoiding collisions was a real challenge, given how thick the attack boats must have been, swarming around this new target…

  • PappyStu

    She’s a little bigger than the George Washington Class boats I served on, but only one turbine and less missiles… The Ohio was just coming out then and now we’re moving on to the Columbia class…

  • James Bowen

    India probably could have accomplished this decades ago if they wanted to. For a long time, the focus of India’s military was Pakistan. However, with an effort to build a fleet of SSNs and SSBNs, they are now apparently preparing for more distant threats.

    • Oskar

      What threats, exactly?

      India has a history of how NOT to do defence procurement and development.

      Arjun MBT’s…Tejas fighters…Trainer a/c….Marut fighters…Kaveri jet engine…

      But hey!

      They still cling to a caste system and have occasional plague outbreaks….

      • James Bowen

        My guess is China. India has a decent relationship with China at this time, but with a history of violent border disputes with China, and the current reality of two overpopulated Asian economic giants that both have voracious and growing appetites for natural resources, they are probably trying to be prepared and develop weapons systems that would be advantageous in a conflict with China.

        • Oskar

          Yup, ONE rival country with which they’ve had a couple of disputes with.

          Mind you, a couple of nukes lobbed between them would sure help the over-population issue on this planet…

  • Oskar

    And how many of your countrymen are BAILING OUT ANNUALLY of that third world country to emigrate to the WEST?

    How many people move to India?

    What are the ratios?

    Thats right, they do NOT have anything even close…

    Speaking of your primitive caste system….. STILL going strong…

    FYI, you kill off millions by forcing them to live in poverty.

    How’s that ship breaking yard in Alang doing?

    Want to chat about those clothing sweatshops?

    Child labour?

    Working in America is FAR better than your cr*phole country.

    Do you have sewer systems yet?
    Running water?

    “Or the tens of millions of indentured prison labor forced to work for corporations for zero pay ?”?

    HIlarious!

    Cite a credible source to back up your bovine excrement.

    Answer the question….

    Your FAILED programs are laughing stocks of the world.

    You folks can’t even COPY a current weapon system, let alone develop ANYTHING that’s state of the art.