INS Arihant is India’s first ballistic missile submarine, specifically designed to launch nuclear missiles. Arihant will carry twelve K-15 short-range nuclear missiles or four K-4 intermediate range nuclear missiles. K-15 missiles, with their 700-kilometer range, are incapable of reaching China from the Indian Ocean. K-15 missiles, with their 3,500-kilometer range can reach as far as Beijing. As far as India is concerned, that is probably far enough.
Arihant incorporates aspects of Russian submarine design. It is both India’s first indigenously built ballistic-missile submarine and first indigenously built nuclear submarine. In another first, the 83MW reactor powering the ship is India’s first shipboard nuclear reactor. Russian shipbuilders lent extensive assistance to Indian shipbuilders, and Russian experts assisted the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in design of the reactor.
China should not fear the Arihant per se—India has a “no first use” nuclear policy, meaning it would not be the first to launch nuclear missiles. Even if that policy were to change, a successful Arihant class would only mean about twelve nuclear missiles at sea. Still, those twelve missiles represent the capability to do the unthinkable, and despite stated policy that such a potential threat be taken lightly.
Arihant is nearing sea trials. Three submarines are reportedly planned.
Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
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