India’s nuclear submarine dream, still miles to go

July 31, 2009

The unveiling of India’s top secret nuclear-powered submarine, three decades after it was conceived, has been greeted with much tub-thumping.

Even for a nation hungry for success and even more than that, global recognition, some of the adulation seems excessive and perhaps premature as many are starting to point out.

INS Arihant, or destroyer of enemies, has just made contact with water, as it were, with the navy flooding the dry dock at last weekend’s launch in the southern port city of Visakhapatnam.  It has to be tested in the harbour, then out at sea. The nuclear reactor, the heart of the new technology, has yet to be fitted. Perhaps a bigger moment will be when that reactor goes critical.

“The Arihant is far from reaching operational status, as it currently is little more than floating hull,” as this piece in defence professionals says.

To say that the launch by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh completes the third element in India’s nuclear triad based on missiles, aircraft and underwater strike capability is jumping several years ahead.

As former navy commander Premvir Das notes, an underwater vertical launch system is about the most sophisticated and complex weapons and it is not going to happen any time soon.

Das is worth quoting just to put things in perspective. “For the present, a few years are needed to prove the platform and its systems, first on the surface in harbour, then on the surface at sea and finally, under water, progressively at increasing depths. All along there will be need for corrections and modifications.”

What is significant about the launch is perhaps the announcement itself. For years New Delhi has refused to confirm the existence of the Advanced Technology Vessel project, although anyone who covered the defence ministry got to know about it, sooner or later.

Part of the reluctance was because of the stiff sanctions on import of technology that were already in place because of the nuclear programme.  And it really made little sense to show off a project as cutting edge as this, when you are already blacklisted.

Some of that has changed, with the India-U.S. nuclear deal that virtually recognises India’s nuclear weapons programme. Is that why the project has been unveiled? Or is New Delhi making  a declaration of intent, to raise the game in the Indian Ocean as China begins to extend its reach there.

“What is significant about the launch is that now India has publicly acknowledged its quest to acquire a nuclear submarine and has shown it has the ability to design and build such a platform,” Uday Bhaskar, a former naval commander and now head of the National Maritime Foundation, is quoted as saying in defence professionals.

To be sure the ability to build a nuclear submarine that allows you to remain underwater for long periods and hence travel great distances is a game-changer for any military.  For a nation committed to no-first use of nuclear weapons this allows you to disperse your nuclear weapons deep at sea.

As foreign affairs expert C. Raja Mohan notes here ; “Building a submarine is one of the more complex arts. Powering it with an atomic reactor and arming it with nuclear tipped missile that can be launched from underwater is the acme of modern industrial skill.”

Only five nations — the U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China — have mastered the technology so far. India took a small step last weekend,.

(Photograph of a an old Russian aircraft carrier that was bought by India and Indian military exercises)

25 comments

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I don’t see why India will not be able to make this Nuke Sub fully operational in the next few years. India is a nation that can launch satellites in to space, build nuclear weapons etc , they have all ready shown to the world that they have the scientific infrastructure to build high tech projects successfully. Building a nuclear sub will also go down as the nations another successful project. It’s not a matter of “IF” India can do it but rather “WHEN” INS Arihant will be fully operational.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

There no question of making it. It’s already there. Just waiting for trial. If you have a nuclear reactor and fuel for that, then there is no problem to start it. you only need a proton to to start the chain reaction ……

Don’t worry nuke sub already there and will be inducted in due time ….

Posted by Sanjib Ghosh | Report as abusive

Israel may also have submarine based nuclear capability. According to Arms control Association’s website. Israel’s dolphin class submarines are capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Israel is belived to have between 70 and 130 nuclear bombs.
Full article is here:http://www.armscontrol.org/print/51 8

Posted by bart | Report as abusive

Personally, I favor a strong India. It is the world’s largest democracy and with its strategic location in South Asia can serve as a stabilizing force in the region.

Posted by Bart | Report as abusive

One assumes that India understands that submarines operate in the most corrosive, and abundant naturally occurring electrolyte on the planet. Surely they understand the impact this issue has upon nuclear systems, and the incredibly expensive maintenance, and preservation related personnel training required to mitigate it. Further, India will need a trained and effective Security Force prepared to take any and all measure to prevent the the theft of it’s state secrets. As the nuclear genie crawls slowly out of his lamp, India is perhaps one of the few nations that just might, just maybe, act responsively and maturely with this horrendous weapon.

Posted by Alfonso | Report as abusive

Just wait.. we will be coming with more Babies in the future. There is no stopping India.

Posted by Kamlesh Sinha | Report as abusive

Sanjib Ghosh wrote: “There no question of making it. It’s already there. Just waiting for trial. If you have a nuclear reactor and fuel for that, then there is no problem to start it. you only need a proton to to start the chain reaction.”

I guess that might explain why the boat “has yet to be fitted” with a nuclear reactor. Considering that nuclear reactions rely upon neutrons, not protons, I’m guessing it will be quite some time before this hull is sea-worthy, much less a threat to anyone but its crew.

Posted by Johnny Reb | Report as abusive

Kamlesh Sinha – there is no stopping India from what? You all stop yourselves from achieving greatness well enough on your own… the problem with India is that most of the good people are too meek. Seriously, some of the smartest and nicest people I have ever met are Indians, but also some of the most rotten self-serving egotistical people are also Indians. I would say they are as dangerous as western scoundrels, if they weren’t so incompetent.

Posted by william | Report as abusive

A nuclear sub will trump Pakistan for good.

A submarine capable of carrying nuclear missiles will now always be at sea, with enough missiles to level Pakistan’s main cities.

And that means a future conventional war now favours India. Because in any possible nuclear exchange, India can now destroy Pakistan regardless of who fires first.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

A nation whose leaders spend millions or billions on military equipment and technology while hundreds of millions of its own citizens live in poverty and die of hunger are usually failed countries or dictatorships.

India needs to get its priorities right.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I accept it india is still far from launching a nuclear submarine and the incompetent bureacracy will further delay it . But still it’s a small step for a brighter future . As far as poverty is concerned as John tells us , the situation is not as bad as in a dictatorship and we need an allround growth . We can’t expect povery to vanish in a day . It needs time and surely we are aiming for it and it’s in our top priority list .

Posted by Alok | Report as abusive

This is what happens when author of any blog/article write without knowledge or just do a copy/paste.FYI the submarines is already fitted with the reactor and this happened last year.Off course the next step is to make it go critical,but since India makes its own nuclear rectors,this won’t be a Big challenge for it.India has already tested Underwater launched balistic missile named K-15 from submerged platoons.The only challenge is to make sure all these technologies work safely and reliably when integrated together.FYI china is known to have steal nuclaer submarine design n tech from US/Russia.

Posted by amit | Report as abusive

“..millions of its own citizens live in poverty and die of hunger are usually failed countries or dictatorships.”

I guess John will provide security to the billion population of India from China and Pakistan (both its terrorists and army)… – a country becomes prosperous and is able to look after its population only if the most fundamental human right can be guaranteed – “Right to Live!”

This is true of any democracy (INDIA) or autocracy (CHINA) – so again where did you study social economics John? – hopefully not in a madarasa near Islamabad :)

Posted by indian | Report as abusive

Sanjib:

Johnny is right. For more information on nuclear bombs click here:

http://www.worsleyschool.net/science/fil es/nuclear/bomb.html

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

William,
agreeing to what you say…but generally its too much expect a 60 year old country after independence to have its one billion above population to be nicest and smartest…u need all kinda people to run this world…both good and bad in all sense…same as anyehere else…and for india it runs moderately well..

And to count on since India takes its own time to work itself ,it is and is emerging as one of the most reliable countries in the world.

Posted by gjo | Report as abusive

Why are these governments so focused on destruction, these billions could be used so much better.

Hey William, God(if there is any)may bless you.

I do not know why you were forced to use words like “most rotten self-serving egotistical people” but one thing I know for sure if you are searching for nice people in India, forget it. We Indians are sick of being “nice”. Nehru was nice and got a stabbed by China in 1962. Terrorists from Pak come and slaughter our people like animals. You cannot understand the sentiments around here, you cannot feel our helplessness when our PM signs peace deals with the same murderers, giving them the chance to make a good deed. Instead what we get is betrayal and threats of more lethal attacks. What is our option then knowing that some day we may have to go to war( we already have had 3) with the same people whom with we are trying to have peace today. Just wishing that Pakistan was never our neighbor won’t solve the problem. We have to build a credible Military power and need to have the determination to keep our country safe, whatever the cost may be.

William I do not know you personally but I can only think of “good”(see!) things for you. The aggression in your paragraph was totally uncalled for.

Posted by Kamlesh Sinha | Report as abusive

Some rhetoric from some Indian bloggers stems from their inadequate perception of Indias defense doctrine. Its not to threaten the smaller neighbors but instead to keep the big boys in the play field informed about its mindset.
Indias defense preparedness is one of deterrence- The loss/ damage to the enemy, in the event of war, should be unacceptable to the enemy- The current global military powers like US, Russia and china are aware of this and as you can see, almost never make any statements against Indian modernization. Why should India need 3000 Km range missiles to attack its neighbors? Makes no sense.
The largest democracy with a billion plus population cannot remain helpless when super powers try to dictate terms to it should there be a serious conflict. It had campaigned for global disarmament for over 6 decades and got no response. Now look at what Obama is proposing to Russia. The same medicine. Global disarmament is the way to go.
In a bad world we live in, sathyagraha and nonviolence should be preached/followed from the point of strength and not weakness.

Nuclear Submarine;

the entire stratagy of defence to be re-defined in the context of TERRORISM.- from within and external.

the conventinal thnking of arming defence forces does not work.

the scares finance to be effectively utilised taking national needs witjut adding ceremonial costly arms.

rashmi shah

Posted by Rashmi Shah | Report as abusive

We should have done it 10 years ago. My heart and admiration goes to all who made this a success. This and many other things would have been possible much much earlier only if our nation as a whole would have gone beyond the bondages of ‘religious, political, Cast oriantal mind set, reagionalism, correption, etc’ . We are still slaves to such mental full-stops.

Posted by Arun John singh | Report as abusive

I knw it is not that appropriate to talk abt all dis…but I wud luv to ask One question and that is where are the Umair’s and rashid’s from Pakistan…..are they afraid to speak abt this might which india has built….all those anti india rhetoric has gone for a toss for these Pakistanis…..

Posted by shummi21 | Report as abusive

“the conventinal thnking of arming defence forces does not work.

the scares finance to be effectively utilised taking national needs witjut adding ceremonial costly arms.”

Rashmi

“Adding ceremonial costly arms” is a lot better then Other countries making ceremonial advantages over India

Posted by Only Indian | Report as abusive

United States of India .. A view from MIT

“By 2040, after a transformative reformation of entire power structure in former Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan will formally merge into a United States of India”

http://tech.mit.edu/V129/N30/indiapakist an.html

Posted by George | Report as abusive

wow shummi21 arent you the prejudice one, dont be so flattered on your country’s very miniscule accomplishment, its not like you had a hand in it.

Posted by Shawn | Report as abusive

The same reactor can be used on an aircraft carrier too! So we should make nuclear powered aircraft carriers too! Another area where we can beat China and rest in Asia!

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive