Admiral Arun Prakash on the Need For Nuclear Submarines

Here's Part IV of our ongoing interaction with Admiral Arun Prakash. In this, he tells us about his perceptions of deterrence and the need for a steady nuclear submarine programme:

Admiral Prakash:
Before jumping into this arcane region, let us get a couple of terms clear.

Firstly, “Deterrence” essentially means, conveying to the enemy, a clear message of assured retaliation of such devastating and horrendous proportions that it would make even the thought of a first strike meaningless. Secondly, when you speak of the “credibility” of a nuclear deterrent, it comprises of a number of further factors: Reliability -- This includes fail-safe early warning, and command, control and communication systems, as well as the reliability and accuracy (CEP) of the launch vector. Lethality -- The warhead should have adequate yield to completely destroy the intended target; be it enemy population, troop/armour concentrations or nuclear weapons. The lethality factor should cater for inaccuracy of vector as well as the steel/concrete/earth protection that the target may have. Survivability -- In the case of a declared no first use (NFU) nuclear power like India, the deterrent is meant ONLY for a devastating retaliatory riposte, after absorbing the enemy’s first strike. The primary targets of the enemy strike will certainly include as many of our nuclear weapons/vectors whose location he knows about. Therefore, for our nuclear arsenal to deter an adversary, a substantial component must be able to survive anything that the enemy can throw at us.

Now I must convey with all the emphasis at my command that in India’s case nuclear weapons are NOT meant for war-fighting. In fact they must not even be thought of as “weapons”, but as “political instruments” of state policy to be used to deter an enemy from contemplating a nuclear attack, and if required for persuasion, coercion, or compellence.

Having said that, it must be borne in mind that for deterrence to function, it must be seen to be credible, and should therefore possess the three attributes I have listed above.

Currently, we have two types of land vectors; missiles and strike aircraft (essentially ground-attack fighters), and a ship-borne missile vector. Aircraft operate out of large, static airbases, and missile sites are marked by a large paraphernalia including TELs and other specialist vehicles which makes them easy to spot from space. Therefore, with the technical means (of surveillance) and the intelligence resources available to our adversaries, it must be assumed that the location of many of our weapons/vectors is known to them, and that they figure on their first strike target list. Only some of our road/rail mobile launchers may be able to escape destruction.

Coming back to the original proposition, if a major part of your deterrent is going to be wiped out in an enemy first strike, then it is no longer credible, and your deterrence may have failed. In such a scenario, if the enemy has not launched a first strike at you all these days, it is not because your deterrence has worked but possibly for a hundred other reasons.

Under these conditions, one alternative to retain some credibility is to ensure that your warheads (and vectors) outnumber the enemy’s. However, if deterrence fails, and we are subjected to a first strike, it must be remembered that we will lose a substantive part of our political and military leadership, and much of our command & control systems will suffer from the after effects of EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). There will be hundreds of thousands of casualties, and a general breakdown of all services, countrywide. In such an environment of panic, chaos and entropy, it is difficult to envisage the launch of a retaliatory strike in any meaningful timeframe.

The moral of the above doomsday tale is: national security demands that your deterrent must always remain credible. The best way of providing invulnerability to your deterrent is to put it underwater, on a nuclear submarine (SSBN) and let it sail away into the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean where no one can find it. Unseen and unheard, the SSBN can remain for months in its patrol area, with its sub-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) ready at a few minute’s notice.

That is why it is urgent for us, as a NFU nuclear power to have a small fleet of SSBNs, carrying nuclear tipped missiles, so that we can always pose a credible deterrent threat to the enemy from the sea, regardless of what happens on land.

Our Nuclear Doctrine clearly envisages a “triad” of nuclear vectors, and the only missing component is an SSBN. As you say, there are only two ways of acquiring an SSBN: a temporary solution would be to take it on lease from the same source as we got INS Chakra. The high political and fiscal costs for such a deal would need to be carefully weighed against the security benefits that accrue.

The real answer, of course, lies in marshalling our available scientific, technical and submarine construction skills to build a SSBN force in India. In either case the nuclear weapons on board will have to be of swadeshi origin.

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