Tag Archives: nuclear submarines India

How to Hide Nuclear Bombs in the Ocean: Nuclear Submarines

The INS Arihant’s India’s nuclear submarine inaugural voyage in November 2018 was a triumphal step forward in India’s long, often tortuous quest to deploy atomic weapons at sea…  Hiding missiles in the ocean solves these problems, giving India more confidence that its forces could survive a nuclear attack from China or Pakistan, and hit back.But managing such weapons is not easy. One difficulty is ensuring that a submarine can receive orders without giving away its location. India has been building low-frequency radio stations, which use large antennas to propel signals underwater, for this purpose. Yet these are also vulnerable to attack, which is why some nuclear-armed states use airborne transmitters as well.

A second hitch is that the k-15 missiles aboard the Arihant can only fly a puny 750km, which means that the submarine would have to park itself dangerously close to China’s coastline to have a hope of striking big cities. Longer-range missiles, which could be fired from the safety of Indian waters, are in the works. But bigger missiles, and more of them, necessitate a bigger hull. That, in turn, requires that the nuclear-powered subs be fitted with bigger reactors—a fiendish technical challenge.

A third problem is keeping the Arihant safe. Nuclear submarines can only do their job if they can slip silently out of port and into the oceans. They are typically chaperoned by leaner attack submarines. But admirals complain that the navy, whose share of the defence budget has dwindled to 15%, has just 13 of these. The delivery of new French attack subs has been delayed.

Meanwhile India’s nuclear arsenal is swelling. A recent report by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a research organisation, estimates that it has 130-140 nuclear warheads, with enough fissile material for 60-70 more. The stockpile, though smaller than Pakistan’s and half the size of China’s, has roughly doubled since 2010. Many of the new warheads will go to sea. A second nuclear submarine, the Arighant, is nearing completion, and a third is in the works.

India’s Nuclear Submarines, Economist,  Nov. 17, 2018, at 44

Fixing the Holes of Nuclear Security

The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty…is the most recent upset in a series of escalating tensions between the two superpowers. ..

Today, a new framework is needed to tackle risks posed by nuclear material in transit, to track small quantities of fissile material used in testing equipment, and to address the approximately 150 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium fuel designated for use in naval propulsion.  Nuclear material security in the naval sector represents an increasingly salient issue for all states—particularly as a number of governments announce plans to develop nuclear navies or face pressure to do so. Tony Abbott, a former prime minister of Australia, argues that a nuclear naval program is necessary to address the future security challenges in his country’s part of the world. South Korea has a similarly renewed interest in a nuclear navy. In the Middle East, Iran is purported to be planning a reactor for nuclear propulsion and in South America, Brazil has had an active program to develop nuclear-powered attack submarines for more than a decade. Beyond the planning phase, India recently commissioned its first nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, using a Russian design…

There are a number of potential institutional configurations for plugging the holes in the nuclear security system. One approach might involve further bolstering the cooperative measures included in the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material—the only legally binding document that outlines government obligations to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material in transit. Another proposal calls for a so-called Supplemental Protocol within an IAEA-supported and state-sponsored committee process. The benefit of both of these approaches is that their implementation would use the IAEA’s institutional framework (relying on expertise and legal precedence emanating from the existing safeguards regime) rather than starting from scratch. A third approach may involve using the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism as a diplomatic vehicle to pioneer an international materials accountancy system similar to those that national governments use to keep track of their fissile material.

Excerpts from Andrew W. Reddie, Bethany L. Goldblum, Why the security of nuclear materials should be focus of US-Russia nuclear relations, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Nov. 13, 2018

Nuclear-Powered Submarines of India

The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear-powered submarine armed with ballistic missiles (SSBN, in military jargon)… is a 6,000-tonne boat that will provide India with the third leg of its nuclear “triad”—it already has land- and air-launched nukes….India believes SSBNs are a vital part of its nuclear strategy, which forswears the first use of nuclear weapons….Because they can readily avoid detection, SSBNs can survive a surprise attack and thus ensure India’s ability to launch a retaliatory “second strike”….Some nuclear theorists argue that submarine-based deterrents promote peace by making the other side more frightened to attack first. …

China is ahead of the game. It has a fleet of four second-generation Jin-class SSBNs and is testing JL-2 missiles to install in them. These weapons have a range of 7,400km (4,600 miles)—too short, for now, to reach the American mainland from the relative safety of the South China Sea. Pakistan, for its part, is in the early stages of a lower-cost approach. This involves arming diesel-powered subs with nuclear-armed cruise missiles with a range of 700km.

A more immediate worry to India is Pakistan’s development and deployment of smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield. These may make it more likely that any war between India and Pakistan will go nuclear. They also increase the risk of Pakistan’s weapons being used accidentally—or falling into the hands of extremists (such weapons are under the control of lower-level commanders whose professionalism and loyalty may be dubious)….

India says it will not develop battlefield nukes of its own. Instead, it will rely on the threat of massive retaliation against any use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. Still, it may be another decade before India has a fully-fledged sea-based deterrent. Arihant’s Russian nuclear-power generator is unsuited to long patrols. Initially, the sub is due to be armed with the K-15 missile, with a range of 750km—not enough to reach big cities in northern Pakistan. Striking Chinese ones would be harder still.

Asian Nuclear Weapons: What Lurks Beneathh, Economist, Feb. 6, 2016, at 36

Military Capabilities of India – 2014

India’s first-ever dedicated military satellite, Rukmini or GSAT-7, “seamlessly networked” around 60 warships and 75 aircraft during the massive month-long naval combat exercise in the Bay of Bengal that ended on Feb. 28, 2014…Apart from GSAT-7, the exercise this year also saw the “maiden participation” of nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra, on a 10-year lease from Russia for $1 billion, and the newly-acquired P-8I  [Boeing P-8 Poseidon] long range maritime patrol aircraft [bought from the United States].

While the over 8,000-tonne INS Chakra is not armed with long-range nuclear missiles because of international treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime, it serves as “a potent hunter-killer” of enemy warships and submarines, apart from being capable of firing land-attack cruise missiles.  INS Chakra adds some desperately-needed muscle to underwater combat arm at a time when the Navy is grappling with just 13 ageing diesel-electric submarines, three of which are stuck in life-extension refits  As for the P-8Is, the Navy has till now inducted three of the eight such sensor and radar-packed aircraft ordered in 2009 for $2.1billion from the US. Also armed with potent anti-submarine warfare capabilities, the P-8Is are working in conjunction with medium-range Dorniers [from Germany] and Israeli Searcher-II and Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to create a three-tier surveillance grid in the heavily-militarized IOR.  India, in fact, is in the process of ordering another four P-8I aircraft.

Excerpt from Rajat Pandit, Navy validates massive exercise under country’s first military satellite’s gaze, The Times of India Mar. 1, 2013

Indian Nuclear Submarines firing from land, air and sea

The miniature reactor on board India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant has gone “critical”, which marks a big stride towards making the country’s long-awaited “nuclear weapons triad,” an operational reality.  Sources, in the early hours of Saturday, said the 83 MW pressurized light-water reactor attained “criticality” after several months of “checking and re-checking” of all the systems and sub-systems of the 6000-tonne submarine at the secretive ship-building centre at Visakhapatnam.

INS Arihant, till now, was being tested in the harbor on shore-based, high-pressure steam. With the reactor going critical now, the submarine will eventually head for open waters for extensive “sea- acceptance trials”, which will include firing of its 750-km range K-15 ballistic missiles. The sea trials will take at least another 18 months before INS Arihant can become fully operational.

When that happens, India will finally get the long-elusive third leg of its nuclear triad — the capability to fire nuclear weapons from the land, air and sea. The first two legs — the rail and road-mobile Agni series of ballistic missiles and fighters like Sukhoi 30MKIs and Mirage-2000s capable of delivering nuclear warheads — are already in place with the armed forces.

The capability to deploy submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) is crucial since India has a declared “no first-use policy” for nuclear weapons, and hence needs a robust and viable second-strike capability

Rajat Pandit, Reactor of India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant goes ‘critical’, The Times of India, Aug. 10, 2013