Is India’s Nuclear Sub ‘Arihant’ Modi’s Show and Tell Ahead of Elections?

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It’s time of elections in India. Five crucial state elections are being held during the period Nov 12 thru Dec 11, and a general election is due by next May

ISLAMABAD; Nov 9, 2018: The state of India this week said it set sail its first nuclear “deterrence patrol” with INS Arihant– its first indigenously built nuclear powered submarine carrying ready to fire ballistic missiles (SSBN) that can hit targets 750km away.

The development comes amid absence of any news that a formal commissioning ceremony was held for the Arihant. A report on October 2016 had spoken of the Arihant as having been commissioned in a secret ceremony by Indian Navy chief.

Other reports, however, said that it was only this July that the Arihant completed its sea trials, that included deep diving and weapons firing. The report cited the Eastern Naval Command chief to say that “The submarine will be commissioned after completing all the sea trials.”

According to one report, Arihant had run into a major accident during one of the sea trials in 2017.

India’s indigenously built nuclear-powered ballistic submarine INS Arihant off Visakhapatnam.

A senior Pakistani security and defense expert while speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Arihant suffered a major incident in 2017 where the inside of the submarine was flooded by sea water and as a result its inside suffered seawater rusting. The vessel was undergoing major repairs since then. The submarine must have just completed the repairs and the current voyage can attest to being a sea trial. “The submarine needs a long series of trials before it becomes operational,” he added.

Once operational, at risk to its own safety though, Arihant can attempt to target Karachi and Gwadar. The limited range of the missiles would however require the Indian SSBN to come close to the Pakistani mainland where it will be targeted for sure by Pakistan’s diesel-electric submarines specialized for anti-submarine duties (SSKs).

The rest of Pakistan and all of China would be off-limits. It will be only after India develops the more advanced versions of long range (K-series) missiles over the coming decade that the SSBNs will come into their own as the key leg of India’s nuclear deterrent. In any case, a viable nuclear triad (air, land and sea) could come into being when India has an SSBN on patrol all the time, analysts say.

According to the defense expert, “India will need 3 to 4 nuclear-powered ballistic missile-carrying submarines (SSBNs) to have one on deterrent patrol all the time.”

According to him, on Indo Pakistan scenario, with such close proximity and availability of a large number of land and air delivered nuclear weapons, Pakistan will always have a second strike capability. “What will concern me more, is the availability of a (Indian) nuclear attack submarine which can pose long range persistent threat to our shipping.”

That’s almost 5 years away according to some analysts both Indian and Western. In many of the areas relating to missiles and submarines, India remains behind China, and Pakistan with the help of China continues to nip at Delhi’s heels. Indeed, all analysts say that in terms of the numbers of nuclear weapons, Pakistan remains ahead of India.

Nonetheless, India is said to be “shifting its posture from credible minimum deterrence to credible deterrence.” In October 2014, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had declared that India was “shifting its posture from credible minimum deterrence to credible deterrence.” Clearly, as of now this change has not been effected.

Meanwhile, Arihant provides Pakistan Navy a case to drum up the threat to secure additional funding, said the expert. And for Modi and his BJP party a hyped up event beyond its actual significance. It’s time of elections in India. Five crucial state elections are being held during the period Nov 12 thru Dec 11, and a general election is due by next May.

Therefore, it was not surprising that Indian Prime Minister’s Office press release on Arihant referred to Modi in six of the seven paragraphs of its note. It also mischaracterized India’s first nuclear propelled ballistic missile submarine or SSBN as a “Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine” whereas the conventional meaning of the acronym SSBN is “Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear Submarine.”

And Modi while addressing the crew of the submarine in a speech televised nationwide, called Arihant “fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail (Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence in place)” and said, “Arihant is an open warning for the country’s enemies, for the foes of peace: don’t try any misadventure against India.”

Polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana will be held between November 12 and December 7. The contest between Modi’s BJP and Gandhi’s Congress is tough.

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