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INS Arihant. Nuclear Navy

Author: Dr. Vijay Sakhuja

The 6000 ton INS Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies) entered its home of sea water after the customary Indian prayers had been performed and the traditional coconut broken on the hull.

This indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine codenamed Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) had been shrouded in secrecy for over a decade and was for the first time put to public view during its launch ceremony in Vishakhapatnam on July 26, 2009 to serve the Indian Navy over the next forty years.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that India did not have "any aggressive designs" and "an external environment in our region and beyond that is conducive to our peaceful development and the protection of our value systems" was critical. Significantly, INS Arihant, with its armory of a dozen 700 km range Sagarika missiles, completes India's nuclear triad and in that context Indian Defence Minister AK Antony observed that INS Arihant supports India's "no first use" nuclear weapons policy. India plans to construct two more such platforms but the missile to be fitted on the new vessels is still not known. While INS Arihant has been built with Russian technological assistance, it is a technology demonstrator for India since such platforms require special materials and techniques for the construction of the hull and the nuclear power plant.

Reacting to the launch of INS Arihant, the Pakistani naval spokesperson has observed that the nuclear-powered submarine is a 'destabilising step' and that it could trigger an 'arms race'. He further noted that the government of Pakistan has to decide on the development of a nuclear submarine. In the past, Pakistani naval leadership has often argued that Pakistan being a nuclear power, must possess different means of delivery and a submarine offers the most credible delivery system. Pakistan began planning for a nuclear submarine soon after India acquired on lease INS Chakra in 1988. It was observed that the acquisition of nuclear submarines by India had exposed the vulnerability of Pakistans sea flank. Pakistan approached Canada for a conventional nuclear hybrid submarine and by 1990 Islamabad made enquiry at several other sources including China to buy nuclear submarines. Pakistan even had plans to train about two hundred personnel for the proposed submarine.

In May 1999, the Pakistan Navy was assigned a 'nuclear role' and the 'Strategic Directorate' was constituted at the Naval Headquarters. Reportedly, the Chairman of Nuclear Planning Commission (NPC) inaugurated KPC-3, a nuclear submarine project at Peshawar in 2001. Soon thereafter, Pakistan Navy announced that it was thinking of equipping its submarines with nuclear missiles for defensive purposes and that the French origin Agosta 90B submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) system could deliver nuclear weapons.