Sea trials of India’s first indigenously developed ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) are going “very well”, Indian Navy chief of staff Admiral RK Dhowan observed last week on the sidelines of a naval aviation conference, according to local media reports.
The 6,000-ton nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, began sea-trials in the Bay of Bengal on December 16, 2014 (the day Pakistan formally surrendered to India in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that lead to the creation of Bangladesh). The sea-trials are scheduled to last nine months, followed by extensive weapons testing on board of the vessel lasting at least an equal amount of time. The Arihant‘s reactor already went critical in August 2013.
“There are no problems in the INS Arihant project. The trials are underway and going on very well. We are satisfied with the way the project is progressing,” he noted. However, the admiral added that he is “not in a position to give timelines with regard to the completion of INS Arihant trials or what happens thereafter.”
The indigenously designed submarine, based on the Russian Project 971 Akula I-class nuclear powered attack boats, is the lead vessel of the Indian Navy’s future fleet of four (some media reports say five) Arihant-class SSBNs. India already began construction of INS Aridhaman, the second vessel of the Arihant-class, this year.
Conversely, the Indian Navy still does not have a capable ballistic missile with which to arm the INS Arihant. As my colleague Ankit Panda noted the SSBN will be equipped with 12 K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with a 700-750 km range – a significant limitation, since the submarine has to move close to enemy shores to launch its missiles, making it vulnerable to detection.
India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is also working on the K-4, an intermediate-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missile, with a rage of up to 3,500 km and is currently undergoing testing.
Additionally, India’s nuclear warfare policy is predicated on a No First-Use (NFU) doctrine; consequently, New Delhi needs to field a credible second-strike capability. However, as a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (see: “India and Pakistan Locked in Nuclear Naval Arms Race”) points out “India, like Pakistan, is known to keep its nuclear warheads de-mated from the delivery mechanisms. For the INS Arihant to fulfill its operational responsibility, SLBMs mounted with nuclear warheads will have to be deployed on the vessel.”
As I reported before (see: “India’s Submarine Fleet Faces Further Delays”), India’s submarine fleet is in a state of crisis. Readiness rates are below 40 percent and some vessels (especially the SSK U209 class) need urgent upgrades. On paper, the fleet currently consists of 16 boats: ten Russian SSK Kilo (Sindhugosh) Class, four locally built SSK U209 (Shishumar) Class, a leased nuclear-powered SSN from Russia (INS Chakra), and the INS Arihant. However, according to local media reports, the number of active duty subs is now down to 13 diesel-electric submarines and the nuclear-powered INS Chakra.