The recent launch of an indigenously produced nuclear powered submarine once again brought to fore India’s expanding military capabilities and its ambitions to be a global player. Clearly, when the 6,000-ton Arihant along with the other additional two (or four) of its class are commissioned around 2020 it would be a quantum jump in its strategic posture and assets. Acquisition of a nuclear powered submarines forms part of India’s nuclear doctrine that is based on the concept of triad i.e. developing land, air and sea strike capability and adherence to “No First Use” (NFU). Major nuclear powers consider submersible launched nuclear-tipped missiles critical in terms of providing second-strike capability. Submarines are autonomous under water platforms for launching nuclear-tipped missiles and are relatively safe from enemy action as these are practically noiseless and stealth makes it hard to detect by sonar and radar. Thus they are able to achieve both mobility and surprise. And by escaping detection they can survive adversary’s first strike. Nuclear-powered submarines’ distinct advantage over diesel electric ones is their unlimited endurance in remaining submersed and therefore in a state of readiness. This is the major reason why US, France and few other countries have abandoned the production of conventional submarines and only manufacture nuclear-powered submarines.
In terms of technology too, Arihant is a major breakthrough for India. Manufacturing a submarine requires mastery of a broad range of critical technologies ranging from development of a pressurised water reactor, containment vessel, turbines, sonar and sound navigation and ranging systems, electronics, long-wave communication network and systems integration.
In addition India has undertaken a parallel development of missiles to be launched from submarines. India’s defence production has greatly benefited from the support received from Russia in terms of design, production of major assemblies, training equipment and training of personnel. France, Israel and other countries have also assisted in this project and continue to do so. In the longer term India aims at achieving strategic parity against China through the development of its naval nuclear and conventional capabilities.
Induction of nuclear submarines is directed primarily to remove asymmetry with China that has 11 nuclear and 60 conventional submarines and has recently inducted three new nuclear submarines. Meanwhile, in the coming decade India plans to augment its surface ship fleet by an additional 40 ships.
Both India and China aim at expanding their influence in the waters of the Indian Ocean, Gulf and Malacca straits. They want to secure sea lanes by projecting power. United States and Russia are supportive of India’s ambitions.
India is simultaneously modernising and expanding its air force. It plans to induct 126 fourth and fifth generation multi-role aircraft from US, Russia and France to phase out old fleet of Russian MiGs and adding 10 squadrons to the IAF. After initial procurement emphasis is on establishing indigenous production lines. If the recent US offer of sale and co-production of F-18 Hornet E/F series to India materialises it will bring a qualitative upgrading in its delivery systems. With the help of Israel and US, India is also developing a long-range reconnaissance capability and an air defence system. India’s missile capability is set to grow at a steady pace. It has developed both ballistic and cruise missile technology providing it the ability to project power. India is improving range and accuracy of its long range missiles to be able to reach potential targets in China. Pakistan has kept pace with India in both missile and nuclear development and have operational missiles with a range of 2000 km that practically cover most of India.
Critical technologies associated with India’s space program that includes two vehicles the Polar Stationery Launch Vehicle and the geostationary-launch vehicle have been transferred to the missile programmes.
Unlike India, Pakistan does not contemplate having missiles launched from nuclear powered submarine as a part of its nuclear force in the foreseeable future. High cost, non-availability of nuclear submarines and different strategic goals are the main reasons for this. However, if the vulnerabilities of Pakistan’s land-based systems to pre-emptive attack should increase the option of using conventional submarines with Independent Air Propulsion systems procured from France or Germany and fitting them with nuclear-tipped missiles could be an option.
It would, however, be a folly to imitate or be reactive in responding to India’s military build-up. India’s size, population and resources, and its industrial, technological and economic base places it in competition with China and other major players. Prudence demands that we formulate domestic, foreign and defence policies that are commensurate with our power potential and based on well articulated national priorities. This does not imply that Pakistan should lower its security guard that could allow external powers to exploit. What is crucial is to balance resources between development and defence and take a more comprehensive approach towards security, keeping in mind that our immediate threat is internal. Moreover, acquisition of advance weapon systems alone is not sufficient to protect a nation against aggression. We have a classic example of Soviet Union and later of Yugoslavia disintegrating despite their inflated military power. Besides we must learn from the example of Finland and Switzerland that have struggled to stay independent and not accepted the hegemony of relatively very powerful neighbours. Middle level powers like Pakistan have to defend their national integrity and interests through political stability, economic development, national cohesion, astute diplomacy and professionally dedicated military force.