India on Saturday took a major leap towards completing its nuclear triad – the ability to launch strategic weapons from land, air and sea with the miniature reactor on board the country’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine “attaining criticality”. It means the reactor is in stable configuration producing constant power.
The 6,000 tonne Arihant, which means destroyer of enemies, will head for sea trials later this year. The submarine will kick off deterrent patrols, armed with nuclear warheads, in early 2014.
What’s the deal
The submarine will complete the sea-leg of India’s nuclear triad, giving it enduring nuclear strike and counter-strike capabilities.
It will be equipped with the K-15 missile, a closely guarded DRDO secret, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead up to 750 km away.
India already has the capability to carry out nuclear strikes with fighter planes and land-launched missiles. The Agni series of ballistic missiles and fighters planes such as Sukhoi-30MKIs and French-origin Mirage-2000s can deliver nuclear warheads. The Rafale fighters being acquired from France are also nuclear capable.
India has 90-110 nuclear warheads, compared to 250 in the Chinese arsenal.
The United States, Russia, the UK, France and China are the only countries that can deliver nuclear warheads from a submarine.
Experts say India’s submarine fleet should have at least 5 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
Two more nuclear-powered submarines are in the works to reinforce India’s strategic deterrent force at sea.
The INS Chakra, leased from Russia in January 2012, cannot deliver nuclear warheads in its current configuration. It only carries torpedoes, land-attack cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.
China has two ballistic missile submarines – the old Xia and latest Jin class – but the warships are not known to have taken up deterrent patrols.