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by Ejaz Haider
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India’s homegrown nuclear-powered submarine should raise red flags for Pakistan, which must now strengthen its Navy accordingly

In a series of tweets on Nov. 5, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, celebrated the maiden completion of a ‘deterrence patrol’ by India’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, a ship modeled on Russia’s Akula-1 class submarine.

The Arihant is a product of a two-decade-long Advanced Technology Vessel program, which has been dogged with multiple problems, cost overruns and delayed delivery schedules. Reports suggest that India is planning to build five more SSBNs [Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear]. The Arihant is said to be armed with a 750km range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and trials are being done to arm it with a 3,500km range SLBM.

The vessel’s sea trials began in December 2014 and it was said that Arihant would be deployed for active duty in 2016. That didn’t happen. In fact, a January 2018 report in The Hindu claimed that the vessel was out of commission for more than 10 months after its propulsion compartment was damaged by water entering the submarine through a hatch that was left open. An analysis of The Hindu report in The Economic Times, however, cast doubts on the veracity of that report.

Be that as it may, the Indian Navy’s safety and operational procedures have been questioned following accidents involving two submarines and a surface vessel. Embarrassingly for the Indian Navy, its chief, Admiral D K Joshi, resigned following the submarine accidents in 2014.

Now, Modi has tweeted to the world that India’s first SSBN is ready and has prowled the waters. What does it mean for the region, especially Pakistan?

First, an SSBN armed with SLBMs gives the country possessing the platform assured, survivable second-strike capability. If the adversary also possesses the same capability, it helps stabilize deterrence. Because Pakistan does not possess the capability, the Indian possession of an SSBN-SLBM capability is likely to further destabilize the deterrence equation in the South Asian region.

The SSBN capability has to be read in conjunction with India’s development of MIRVs [multiple, independently-launched re-entry vehicles], ballistic missiles with multiple warheads, its acquisition of Ballistic Missile Defense systems and anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) systems (S-400). The important thing to note is that the latter, the S-400, is not just a defensive system, but can also be employed in an offensive-defensive role.

Add to this India’s planning on the basis of Pro-Active Operations—a rechristening of what it called Cold Start—a concept wedded to the employment of Independent Battle Groups against Pakistan and we have all the ingredients of deterrence instability in the region.

This is how it goes. In simple terms, deterrence is an acceptance on both, or all, sides that the states can inflict unbearable pain on each other or one another. Result: no one should think in offensive, adventurous terms. The basic targeting strategy involves counter-value, meaning the destruction of cities. The strategy invokes balance of terror.

Not so when a state begins moving toward shielding itself through a BMD system—never mind if it’s a false sense of security—and simultaneously working on a counterforce strategy, i.e., striking select military targets. Unlike counter-value, counterforce is about using nuclear weapons for war-fighting.

But the scenario being played out here is more perfidious. India is acquiring systems that it thinks will give it the space to launch short, sharp, conventional operations against Pakistan to punish it while denying Pakistan the space to resort to the use of nuclear weapons early and first into the conflict because of India’s assured, survivable second-strike capability.

Some analysis in Pakistan suggests that Arihant is more a technology demonstrator than a real threat in the near future. The vessel has to undergo many more sea acceptance trials, further training of the crew, integration of weapons system et cetera. The reality goes beyond this basic argument. It will certainly be several years before India can fully develop and reliably deploy its SSBN capability. But this view misses the central point—i.e., for all the glitches and snags that its indigenous programs encounter, whether it is the SSBNs or developing a Light Combat Aircraft (LAC), India is clearly moving towards a triad and actual deployment of nuclear weapons.

The issue, therefore, is not about the clock. Whether it can develop, test and deploy systems in 2019 or manage them by 2029. It is about both the capability and the declared intention. More importantly, it’s about deeper pockets, the ability to spend on local R&D as well as acquiring systems from other countries even when they ask for the top dollar.

Another problem relates to an issue consistent with acquisition and fielding of SSBNs. An SSBN is useless if the SLBMs it carries do not have nuclear warheads. In other words, unlike the practice in South Asia so far of keeping missiles de-mated from the warheads, the deployment of an SSBN means ready-to-fire nuclear missiles.

Further, SSBNs, unlike land- or air launches cannot entirely be subordinated to central control. They operate on the basis of delegation, or possibly pre-delegation. We do not know what launch protocols will be established by the Indian Nuclear Command Authority. The usual practice is for the vessel to get a launch order and an unlock key as part of the order. The order is verified by the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer along with the Weapons Officer. The keys are distributed and kept in safes. That makes it a two-step procedure with usual fail-safe measures like Permissive Action Links, two-man rule or the no-lone zone.

But communicating with submerged vessels through ELF/VLF [Extremely Low Frequency/Very Low Frequency] creates its own problems and requires protocols. Mated warheads and delegation add another dimension to South Asia’s nuclearization. They also cast a doubt over the already unverified and unverifiable political stance by India of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. There is enough evidence over the past four years of Indian military snuggling up to the rightwing, Hindu-rashtra elements in the Modi government, which when applied here, makes the situation even more precarious. For example, SSBNs carrying SLBMs with control delegated to the commanders is a surefire recipe for extreme and dangerous instability.

In other words, we could see the Indian doctrine undergo a sea change in real terms, from NFU and second-strike capability to ambitions of pre-emption. It is disconcerting that the P-5 [the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council] remain silent over these developments. Far from voicing concern over developments that are increasing instability exponentially, India is being feted and invited to the high table.

Pakistan needs to take note of these developments and work the diplomatic channels to clearly make the point about the dangerous situation unfolding in the region. Simultaneously, it has no option but to begin treating the Pakistan Navy with some priority in terms of platform acquisitions and budget allocations.

Haider is the executive editor at Indus News. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

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12 comments

Afzal November 14, 2018 - 9:53 am

Very nice and well researched article

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Surendra November 14, 2018 - 3:51 pm

Dear Ejaz,

Are you sure that the Pakistani Nuclear Command is completely insulated from the Islamist Extremist thought ? The Nuclear command draws human resources from Pakistani Armed Forces, and one is relatively sure of Islamic Extremism filtering through the Pakistani Army , particularly after the Afghanistan Project in 1980’s .So the extremism in Pakistan Nuclear command might already have occurred.

Even if your argument on proponent of Hindu Rashtra influencing nuclear command in India is accepted, the Islamist extremism of such Command in Pakistan then would have predated such an event in India at least by few decades .

Indians will be slow to catch on this count at least, but both countries will be finely balanced in few years on this . And in my opinion, World Community knows this and fear about Nuclear Armed Pakistan ,with Islamist tendencies , are a real bottleneck ito any diplomatic maneuver, that Pakistan may plan, Because world does not fear Hindu Rashtra enthusiasts,in the same way they fear Nuclear Armed Islamist.

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Ali Ahsan November 14, 2018 - 4:52 pm

Is the takeover of Indian state by rabid mobs of Muslim-hating Sanghis and Adarsh Bhakts in recent years that demonise Indian Muslims and looking to settle scores with Pakistan supposed to assure us instead?

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Surendra November 15, 2018 - 2:34 pm

No doubt, Pakistan has more of these crazy gangs , hounding after Asiabibi’s , Ahemedias, Shias, and innumerable others, For them Pakistan is not sufficient, and is not the only place where they have to perpetuate these hate crimes, So they go to Europe, America, Middle East and India to do that.

Look into mirror, pointing a finger means four other your own fingers are pointing at you.
And look at all other places world over where Pakistanis are singled out for “Special” treatment

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Rizwan November 14, 2018 - 11:46 pm

You probably have to read more. Go to IAEA site. Pakistan has been greatly credited to having the most robust Command and Control structure in world. Signatory of number of declarations. And look and India. Number of incidents and weakest Command and Control set up. So stop worrying for us. We know how to protect and when to use our nukes. It must be comforting to you that our nuclear programme is only directed for India and India only. So you might get its taste sooner than later….

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Surendra November 15, 2018 - 2:26 pm

Number of Incidents are related to the size of program,Pakistan’s Nuclear program is pygmalion compared to India’s which has Civilian as well as Military components. Naturally, we will have more incidents. So has Russia and US..

But this is not about the structure of the program, but about those managing that structure. Islamist extremists are now certainly part of the Pakistans Nukes Command structure . That is what world fears. As for as we testing Pakistan nukes, that kind of bravado is only shown by fools. Odds of Pakistan surviving any nuclear exchange are so slim, you should not be even talking about it.

Just first get out of your huge mess, political, economical and social.

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Abdul Rafay November 15, 2018 - 3:32 pm

Dear, I was looking for more sane and academic reply than this rhetoric. Give single evidence what you just wrote. How, our nuclear system is under Islamist extreme control. If that be the case, you must be a history now keeping in view what mess you have done in Kashmir. So, let’s admit. Nothing of that sort exist. I totally agree to you point. Deterrence is dynamic. You lower the threshold, we reply in same coin. Already, we have a strategic triad with assured sea based second strike capability. So, no one cares mess with us. But, have introspection. India, is doing her best to carve space for war under nuclear overhang. (Wrongly so). ABM, S 400 and Agni V with MIRV. But, we are not sleeping either. Would get equal and proportionate response. About economy and political issues. Yes, they are there. But, we are sure coming out of it. Hybrid war by India will surely succumb in near future. But, you are not Mr Perfect either. Subjugation rights of over 20 Million Muslims, dalets being sidelined, butchered, moist ready to break away. Surely, you will get medicine soon. What RAW has been doing in Pakistan with complete defeat, we going to do it best with you. So stop worrying for us. Try saving your country from Modi and RSS. Adios..

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Surendra November 15, 2018 - 5:40 pm

Hello there , Knock, Knock, Who is talking about rhetoric and who is spewing forth the fountains of it ?

Let us get back to real issue. It was Ejaz who mentioned in his article about Hindu Rashtra enthusiasts having some influence on India’s Nuclear Arms . Does Ejaz have proof ? No, Certainly not. Do I have a proof of Nuclear Arms from Pakistan in the hands of radical mullahs ? No, Certainly not. But As Ejaz has conjectured, and I have written in my original comment that, for the arguments sake, let us accept what Ejaz had said about Hindu Rashtra enthusiasts, but then I have pointed out that the same indicators apply for Pakistan, and its Nuclear command may already have compromised. This is just analysis, as Ejaz was analysing.

So no rhetoric from my side, but Boy, are you walloping in it ! You mention everything that Pakistan has been saying for last 70 years, and nobody gives a shit ! That is called as pure rhetoric.

As far as saving ourselves from Modi & RSS, I can only say good luck with your TLP. Even when not in power, they are more powerful than Army Supreme court and PM.Just imagine what they could do when in power. Ours are far milder verities than these TLP ‘s venomous snakes. That is what you should worry about. Not about S 400, MRV’s SSBM and such, They are not for Pakistan.

Srinath November 15, 2018 - 1:38 am

Doctrines and protocols change in response to the changes in the strategic environment.The author is right about India’s inexorable march towards becoming a military power to reckon with, thanks to its economic development and technological progress. Glitches and snags notwithstanding, a strong ecosystem is being developed, particularly in defence and space industry But, he is clearly overestimating the power of P5, which is no more than a relic of post-WWII era power structure.

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Pradeep Dubey November 15, 2018 - 11:47 pm

In my opinion, India doesn’t post any threat to other countries. Pakistanis have to change their narrative of looking everything to threat angle. Countries build their war capabilities based on the overall objective of regional & international standing. India too have to reduce its spending on defense budget and actually spending to its citizens. India and Pakistan both countries stats reflects extremely poor conditions of its citizens. Countries had to defend its sovereignty from others which causing threat and has evil intention. But, things are not so simple… the hate mongering, jealousy, and biased information & news, one sided education, wrong history are the creatures that had resulted into what both countries suffering …its a cancer that will destroy economics and social conditions. ideal condition would never come and politics of both side will never allows this to happen. Citizens at both side need to think about consequences and how politician of both side are making fools of its normal and innocent citizens…journalist, media have crucial role to play in today’s world and have responsible to projects right perspective of things at both side.

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Abdul Rafay November 16, 2018 - 11:44 am

Very aptly covered. It takes two to tango….

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Stock APK December 1, 2018 - 12:19 pm

You probably have to read more. Go to IAEA site. Pakistan has been greatly credited to having the most robust Command and Control structure in world.

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