NATIONAL

Arihant: top gun for second-strike

INS Arihant , India’s only operational ship submersible ballistic nuclear (SSBN) asset, is its most dependable platform for a second-strike, given the country “no first use” on nuclear weapons. The other options, land-based and air-launched, are easier to detect.

The submarine is manned by a staff of 100 with extensive training from the School for Advanced Underwater Warfare in Visakhapatnam and further hands-on training on INS Chakra , a Nerpa-class nuclear ship.

Arihant has been immobilised even as the second ballistic missile submarine, Arighat , was launched on November 19 for sea trials. The launch was kept a low-profile event attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and senior Navy officers.

A high-profile launch, to be attended by the Prime Minister, was put off.

Key to nuclear triad

INS Arihant and other nuclear launch platforms — land-based missiles and designated aircraft — are operationally handled by the Strategic Forces Command, and report to the Nuclear Command Authority chaired by the Prime Minister.

However, the over 100 nuclear warheads are not mated with missiles or bombs and remain in civilian custody of the Atomic Energy Department and the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Ambitious plan

India has an ambitious plan to build a SSBN fleet, comprising five Arihant-class vessels.

Naval sources say the plan hinges on Arihant ’s success. It has taken 30 years to build it, at a high cost. “It was initially estimated to cost about Rs. 3000 crore for three boats — now the cost of Arihant itself seems to have gone over Rs. 14,000 crore,” a former high-ranking naval officer said.

The Eastern Naval Command plans to operate its nuclear sub fleet from an independent Naval Operational Alternative Base (NOAB) being constructed on 5,000 acres of land at Rambilli, for direct access to the sea. The base is located about 50 km from Visakhapatnam, and jetties are under construction.

( With Sumit Bhattacharjee in Visakhapatnam )

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