December 20, 2014

India’s ‘Annihilator of Enemies’ Takes to the Sea


17 December 2014
On Monday, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar approved sea trials of the INS Arihant, his country’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine. The boat, which first slipped into harbor water in July 2009, is designed to launch ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads. “Arihant” means “annihilator of enemies.”
The Indian Navy already operates a nuclear-powered sub. INS Chakra, however, is a Russian Akula-2, leased for 10 years from Moscow and commissioned in April 2012. This “attack” boat, designed primarily to kill other submarines, carries only conventional weapons, most notably torpedoes and cruise missiles.
India is now going all-in on a nuclear sub force. Shipyards are already building two other “boomers” of the Arihant class. Moreover, New Delhi will soon authorize the construction of six nuclear-powered attack boats. At the moment, only five other nations operate nuclear-powered subs: the US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China.
The last on the list is particularly on the minds of Indian political leaders and defense planners. China and India call each other “strategic partners,” but Beijing acts like anything but. So there was consternation in New Delhi when a Chinese nuclear attack boat made a port call in Sri Lanka last month, closely following a port call there by a Chinese diesel-electric sub in September.

The Chinese are far ahead of the Indians. The People’s Liberation Army Navy, known as PLAN in defense circles, is thought to have 10 nuclear-powered subs. Three of them, of the Jin class, can fire ballistic missiles.
China’s Navy, if it has not done so already, will this month begin “deterrence patrols,” a bland-sounding phrase for long deployments of submarines carrying the ultimate weapon strapped to the top of long-range missiles.
India won’t be able to do that for years. The Arihant is scheduled to begin service in late 2016, but if its overly long harbor-acceptance trials are any indication, the date could be pushed back well beyond that year.
“We should be worried, the way we have run down our submarine fleet,” said Arun Prakash, former head of the Indian Navy, to Reuters recently. “But with China bearing down on us, the way it is on the Himalayas, the South China Sea, and now the Indian Ocean, we should be even more worried.”
Until the Arihant joins the fleet, Parkash suggests New Delhi will use diplomacy to keep the Chinese “in check.”
So what will India use after the Arihant begins its service under the waves? The US and Soviet Union took decades to work out understandings, guidelines, and agreements to prevent accidents and encounters at sea from escalating into Armageddon. Chinese and Indian submarines—some carrying nukes and all bearing fearsome weapons—are bound to surge into the same waters in the near future, as will surface combatants. We can only hope the two navies can work out accommodations that will keep vessels apart, and disagreements within bounds.
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