India’s Strategic Deterrent: Continued Concerns?

 The huge controversy over credibility of India’s thermo nuclear test was cleared by the former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar in a recent interview to Karan Thapar in Devil’s Advocate a popular programme on India’s premier English news channel, CNN IBN. Mr Kakodkar went even further to state that deterrence is guaranteed. "I think that is guaranteed. Army should be fully confident. There is no doubt about the arsenal at their command." he said and went on to add that the country had not just one thermo nuclear device but in, “plural”.

Failure of two successive Agni-II missile, on May 19 and November 23 and reports of Pakistani nuclear arsenal of 70-90 warheads as compared to India’s 60-80 has led to some internal debate as per a report in the Times of India. Senior officers seemed to play down the apprehensions thus, ‘‘Nuclear weapons are not war-fighting weapons. But without reliable and secure ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and SLBMs, it’s difficult to even brandish a credible deterrent.’’ ‘‘Even a small stockpile of nuclear warheads, whether they are 25 kiloton fission bombs or the much-larger thermonuclear ones, is enough to deter an adversary only if you have tried and tested delivery systems and command and control structures for an effective second-strike,’’ he added as per the Times of India.

DRDO chief V K Saraswat reiterated that, ‘‘In terms of deterrence, India has the capability which it needs to have. Any deterrence is the function of what is the threat against which you are creating it and in that particular aspect, we are totally self-sufficient,’’ said Saraswat as reported by Rajat Pandit wrote in the Times issue on 16 December 2009.

Technically India is having only two operational missiles and a fighter aircraft that is the Prithvi and Agni I with a maximum limitation of range of 700 kms. Given that these would be normally deployed approximately 200 kms on own side of the boundary, the range restrictions would imply an effective operational range of just about 500 kms that would considerably reduce deterrence which would have to be overcome by speedy operationalizing of the Agni II which has a 2000 kms range and also Agni III which is still undergoing trials.

In terms of developing a sea based triad, there was some good news as the Russian Navy formally inducted Akula-II class attack submarine `K-152 Nerpa' which is being leased to Indian Navy for a 10-year period. India's first-ever indigenous nuclear submarine, aptly named INS Arihant (annihilator of enemies) is also likely to be inducted in another two years or so. The Navy plans to have three SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with long-range strategic missiles) and six SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) in the long-term.

Operations at sea need sufficient experience particularly in terms of operating complex and highly dangerous systems as nuclear submarines, therefore the Indian Navy’s leasing of the Akula class from Russia will provide it the necessary experience before it is able to induct the indigenous submarine in two to three years. Given the need to ensure high degree of safety of the nuclear submarine, this would provide a hands on experience to the Indian Navy for nuclear submarine operations thereby ensuring that the Indian nuclear submarine, Arihant would be operational as soon after launch thereby cutting back on induction time. Since the design of the Arihant is based on the same pattern as that of the Akula this would be a very useful lease for the Navy.

India successfully test fired 'Dhanush', with a range of 350 km, from a naval ship. The Dhanush is a short-range, sea-based, liquid-propellant ballistic missile, a naval variant of the Prithvi series. In its current configuration, the Dhanush variant is 9.0 m in length, 1.1 m in diameter, and weighs between 4,000 and 4,600 kg. It uses a single-stage, liquid-propellant engine, giving it a maximum range of 350 km with an accuracy of 50 m CEP and payload of 500 kgs.

Reports indicate the possibility of a two stage version, the first being solid fueled and the second liquid. The missile's warheads are nuclear, high-explosive, or sub munitions. The missile can also be equipped with multiple payloads, to be dispensed during its flight. The use of high-explosive and sub munition warheads enables the Dhanush to be used against airfields, manufacturing complexes, and military units, as well as enemy ships. The utility of the Dhanush missile as a nuclear deterrent is limited given that it has a short range, has to be fired from a ship which itself is vulnerable and a large target or targets can also be taken on by land based Prithvi missile as well.

It is evident that India is looking for a nuclear submarine for long to establish the triad of nuclear capacity with the missile and aircraft option operationalized as of now. However the failure of the Agni II a 2000 km missile in trials recently has raised concerns about the viability of even a dyad or one with very limited range. Therefore it would be imperative to underline the challenges faced in the strategic field by the country given lack of an effective missile and sea based deterrent. The growing need for enhancing capacities in these spheres thus is underlined.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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