The existence of Indian nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines is critical to the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific strategy and overall deterrence posture.
As the U.S. Navy’s Columbia-class submarines come closer to existence, the presence of similar Indian submarines could only increase pressure on China and greatly fortify any deterrence posture.
This is critical at the moment given the pace at which China is accelerating the size and pace of production of its nuclear arsenal.
China is also building newer, longer-range JL-3 submarine-launched nuclear missiles capable of traveling unprecedented ranges of 4,000 miles. This increasingly places more parts of the continental U.S. at great risk of a Chinese nuclear submarine attack.
How India Nearly Lost a Nuclear Submarine
This is likely a key reason why the U.S. Navy was encouraged to see the Indian Navy recover from an unwanted incident years ago.
An Indian nuclear-armed submarine called the INS Arihant suffered a terrible accident. In 2018, a crewmember left the hatch open and flooded the propulsion system, something that derailed the submarine’s operations for ten months.
As was explained a few months back in 19FortyFive: “The incident necessitated nearly a year’s worth of repairs, a brutal experience for the Indian Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine. When a sailor left the hatch open, the vessel’s propulsion compartment was damaged by seawater. According to the state-media outlet, numerous pipes had to be completely gutted and replaced in what the Navy detailed as “cleaning up.”
The boat was back on deterrence patrol in November of 2018, according to a report outlining Indian Nuclear Submarine Capabilities from NTI.
Why India Needs These Subs
The return of the Arihant was quite significant for India as it began the progression of what is now a small-size emerging fleet of Indian ballistic missile, nuclear-armed submarines. The Indian Navy plans to build and ultimately deploy a fleet of four nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, three of which will fire K-4 SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) able to reach ranges out to 3,500km.
These missiles are capable of holding targets in mainland China at risk from the Indian Ocean. The addition of Indian nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines could prove critical to deterring China in the Indo-Pacific, specifically given that the U.S. Navy has yet to deploy its new Columbia-class submarines.
The U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines have already served well beyond their anticipated service life, so the Navy is fast-tracking its new fleet of cutting-edge Columbia-class boats.
The presence of a stronger allied undersea deterrent takes on increasing significance in light of China’s nuclear weapons expansion. In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army has not only expanded its undersea nuclear weapons but also added hundreds of missile silos across mainland China with the intention of massively increasing its arsenal of ICBMs.
Therefore, holding major Chinese targets at risk from multiple angles with nuclear-armed submarines quietly lurking in secret, yet highly advantageous positions might help prevent China from thinking it could survive launching any kind of massive “bolt out of the blue” missile salvo.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
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