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Monday, 15 December 2014

India's first nuclear submarine heads for sea trials............

NEW DELHI: Over 40 years after India began its hunt for nuclear submarines, the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant quietly sailed out of the harbour at Visakhapatnam on a misty Monday morning to begin its extensive sea trials.

While it was "a baby step" towards making the country's first indigenous nuclear submarine fully-operational, given that INS Arihant will now first undergo a whole host of surface sorties and then "dived" ones with test-firing of its ballistic missiles over the next 18 months, it did mark a significant milestone towards building a long-awaited credible nuclear weapons triad.

India has the Agni ballistic missiles and fighters jury-rigged to deliver nukes but the triad's underwater leg has remained elusive so far. It will be in place only once INS Arihant followed by its two under-construction sister submarines - one christened INS Aridhaman and the other just S-4 at present - are ready to undertake "deterrent patrols" by prowling underwater for months at end ready to let loose their missiles if required.

The launch of INS Arihant's sea-acceptance trials (SATs), which were flagged off by defence minister Manohar Parrikar and Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan, comes a day after TOI reported the submarine was all set for them with its 83 MW pressurized light-water reactor attaining 100% power and the completion of its long-drawn harbour-acceptance trials (HATs).

The real test during the SATs will be the test-firing of its K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), which has so far been tested only from submersible pontoons around a dozen times. The 750-km range K-15 - INS Arihant can carry 12 in its four silos -- is dwarfed by the well over 5,000-km SLBMs present with the US, Russia and China. But an over 2,000-km range K-4 SLBM, tested for the first time in March this year, is also in the works.

The criticality of SLBMs for deterrence can be gauged from the fact that even the US and Russia are ensuring that almost two-thirds of the strategic warheads they eventually retain under strategic arms reduction agreements are such missiles.

Already armed with five nuclear and 51 conventional submarines, China too is now on course to induct five JIN-class SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines armed with long-range ballistic missiles) with 7,400-km range JL-2 missiles.

The Indian Navy, in turn, wants at least three SSBNs and six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) in the long-term. It currently operates one SSN in the shape of INS Chakra, obtained on a 10-year lease for Russia for around $1 billion, while negotiations are underway to acquire another such boat. While these submarines have short-range cruise missiles, they are not armed with nuclear missiles because of international treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime.