[Editorial Analysis]The significance of Arihant

Mains Paper 3: Internal Security

Prelims level: SSBN

Mains level: Security challenges and their management

Context

• As a nation committed to “no first use” (NFU), should never be in doubt about the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent and the assurance of a swift, devastating response.

• The kind of transparency provided by satellites and other technical means, the land-based legs of our nuclear triad (missile sites and air-bases) remain exposed to enemy attack.

• The submarine disappears underwater, it becomes virtually impossible to locate and can remain on patrol for months, with its ballistic missiles ready for launch on the PM’s orders.

Credibility of Arihant

• This is the kind of credibility that Arihant and her sisters will provide India’s nuclear deterrent in the future.

• It is also proof of crew proficiency in operating its nuclear-plant and other complex systems, establishment of standard operating procedures and functionality of the navy’s crucial long-range underwater radio communication system.

• While this is a good augury excessive jubilation or hyperbole, at this stage, could erode the credibility of the “third leg of the nuclear triad”, for three reasons.

• First, there is the issue of missile ranges.

• From a submarine patrol area in mid-Bay of Bengal, Islamabad is 2,500 km, while Beijing and Shanghai are over 4,000 km.

• India needs a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) of 6,000-8,000-km range.

• Second, India has, so far, followed an unorthodox system, in which the National Command Authority (NCA) manages the nuclear deterrent through a “troika” consisting of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), the Department of Atomic Energy and DRDO.

• Arihant and her sisters will carry “cannisterised” missiles.
• The third area of concern is an effective command and control structure to cater for this new capability.

• The Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) is, notionally, a key functionary in the nuclear command chain, responsible to the PM for functioning of the SFC.

Way forward

• The context of the nuclear triad, the Chairman COSC, in his current avatar, needs to be urgently replaced either by a Chief of Defence Staff or a Permanent Chairman COSC, with an independent charter and a fixed tenure.

• A number of major private-sector companies contributed to the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme.

• The nuclear-reactors of our SSBNs will need re-fuelling (with fresh Uranium rods) every few years.

• A small force of nuclear attack submarines (SSN) would be required for protection of SSBNs and other roles.

• There are key areas of R&D which call for urgent focus and where we may need assistance.

• These include propellant technology for SLBMs of inter-continental range; the design of a SSBN which will accommodate a battery of 16-24 such SLBMs; and the indigenous development of a powerful nuclear-reactor to drive a 10,000-12,000 ton SSBN.

• India’s nuclear triad and its accessories are going to cost the nation trillions of rupees in the decades ahead.

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