Nuclear-powered INS Arihant carries out successful launch of SLBM

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India’s Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine INS Arihant on Friday carried out a successful launch of a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). The Ministry of Defence has said that the test is significant for the SSBN programme, which is a crucial element of India’s nuclear deterrence capability.

“The missile was tested to a predetermined range and impacted the target area in the Bay of Bengal with very high accuracy. All operational and technological parameters of the weapon system have been validated.” the MoD said in a press statement on Friday. The Ministry has described the launch as a user training launch.

“The successful user training launch of the SLBM by INS Arihant is significant to prove crew competency and validate the SSBN programme, a key element of India’s nuclear deterrence capability. A robust, survivable and assured retaliatory capability is in keeping with India’s policy to have ‘Credible Minimum Deterrence‘ that underpins its ‘No First Use’ commitment.” the Ministry added. The statement did not specify the exact specifications and range of the missile that was launched on Friday. While some sources hinted that the missile tested on Friday could have been the K-15 also called Sagarika, there was no official confirmation on it.

Commissioned in 2016, INS Arihant is India’s nuclear powered ballistic missile capable submarine, classified under the SSBN programme. SSBN is a hull classification symbol for nuclear powered ballistic missile carrying submarines. The operations of the SLBM from the SSBN are under purview of India’s Strategic Forces Command, which is part of India’s Nuclear Command Authority.

Officials said that the capability of being able to launch nuclear weapons from submarines has a great strategic importance in the context of achieving a nuclear triad, especially in the light of the ‘no first use’ policy of India. The sea based underwater nuclear capable assets significantly increases the second strike capability of a country and thus boosts its nuclear deterrence. These submarines can not only survive a first strike by the adversary but also can launch a strike in retaliation thus achieving Credible Nuclear Deterrence.

The family of indigenously developed Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), sometimes referred to as K family missiles, are codenamed after Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the centre figure in India’s missile and space programmes who also served as the 11th President of India.

Under the SLBM family, missiles of various ranges have been developed including K-15 also called B-05 or Sagarika, which has a range of at least 750 kilometers. India has also developed and tested the K-4 missiles from the same family which has a range of 3500 kilometers. Both K-4 and K-15 have been designed to be operated from Arihant class of submarines.

It is said that more members of K-family with higher ranges are also on cards. INS Arihant, which is a 6000 tonne submarine with a length of 110 metres and a breadth of 11 metres, can carry a dozen canisterised Sagarika missiles on board.

Launched in 2009, INS Arihant was commissioned in 2016. The next in the class, INS Arighat is reported to have been launched in 2017 and said to be undergoing sea trials at present. In December last year, UK-based Janes Defence Weekly reported, citing satellite imagery sources, that India had launched its third Arihant class submarine.

In November 2018, after INS Arihant became fully operational, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted, “In an era such as this, a credible nuclear deterrence is the need of the hour. The success of INS Arihant gives a fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.”

MoD statement after Friday’s test stressed on the strategic postures of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ and ‘No First Use’ which are pivotal to India’s nuclear doctrine, first published in 2003.

The pointers from the doctrine are: Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent. Posture of ‘No First Use’, meaning nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere. The nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to ‘inflict unacceptable damage.’

The doctrine also states that the nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority. While India maintains the ‘Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states’ the doctrine states that ‘in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.’