After successfully completing sea trials, the Indian Navy’s first indigenously developed ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN), INS Arihant, is expected to begin missile tests this month The New Indian Express reports.
Once this month’s missile tests are successfully completed, the submarine is slated to enter service with the Indian Navy during the International Fleet Review held in the port city of Visakhapatnam in February 2016, according to an Indian defense official.
The first of two missile tests scheduled for this month will involve the Nirbhay long-range subsonic cruise missile–India’s answer to the U.S.’s Tomahawk and Pakistan’s Babur missile–and developed by the Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO).
“Firing of Nirbhay missile from the submarine will be followed by firing of another type of missile. So far, all trials and tests have been held successfully from the nuclear submarine,” the Indian defense official stated.
The second test will in all likelihood involve the K-15 Sagarika submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) with a 700-750 kilometers range. The test could also include the K-4, an intermediate-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missile also under development by DRDO, with a rage of up to 3,500 kilometers. The Nirbhay’s maximum range is 1,000 kilometers, according to local media reports.
Both the Nirbhay and K-15 (as well as the K-4) can be armed with nuclear warheads. However, previous tests of the Nirbhay in March 2013 and October 2014 were only partially successfully, according to a DRDO official quoted in The Indian Express:
Our previous test was successful where all the critical phases were completed, and the mission parameters met. It will take us a couple of more tests before Nirbhay gets operational clearance.
Should the Nirbhay not receive operational clearance soon, the INS Arihant will face severe limitations as integral part of India’s nuclear triad given the K-15’s limited range, which would mean that the submarine would have to move closer to enemy shores to launch its missiles, making it vulnerable to detection.
In addition, as I reported before, India’s nuclear warfare policy is centered on a No First-Use (NFU) doctrine; consequently, New Delhi needs to field a credible second-strike capability.
However, as a May 2015 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.”
India’s deadliest submarine is based on the Russian Project 971 Akula I-class nuclear-powered attack boats. It 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.