India’s Nuclear Second Strike Capability

In nuclear warfare, second strike is a deterrence measure adopted by most of the nuclear weapon equipped countries. This strategy focuses on hidden nuclear weapons which can launch a retaliatory strike in the event of a massive first strike by an enemy nation on its nuclear forces. The second strike capability is supported mainly by the nuclear triad i.e. the capability of a nation to launch nuclear strikes from land, air or water. This strategy enables a nation to diversify its nuclear strike capability which ensures that in the event of a first nuclear strike all of its nuclear assets are not destroyed.

India became a nuclear weapon nation on 18 May 1974 after it detonated a nuclear fission bomb in Pokharan under the codename ‘Smiling Buddha’.  Like any other nuclear power India also started the development of its Nuclear Triad in order to achieve the second strike capability. The first on the line was the development of land based delivery vehicles i.e. the Ballistic missiles. Development of India’s first ballistic missile started in 1982-83 under the banner of ‘Integrated Guided Missile Programme’. Similarly  India acquired many nuclear weapon delivery capable aircrafts like Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi-30MkI. While these assets are very important nuclear delivery system but these systems are mostly above land and hence are easily discoverable thus making them prone to annihilation in the first strike. So to be capable of second strike it is necessary for any country to hide its nuclear weapons and for this role nuclear submarines are the ideal case.


Nuclear submarines are the types of submarines which are powered by nuclear reactors. These submarines are different from the diesel submarines as due to having a nuclear propulsion they don’t require air to burn their fuel. This enables them to be underwater for very long durations and hence are very hard to detect. Hence all the nuclear submarines are made such that they are very quiet and stealthy so that no one can detect their movement under water.

Now coming to India’s sea based nuclear capability, it has a naval version of the Prithvi nuclear missile named as Dhanush which can be launched from sea but it the ships carrying the missiles are easily detectable and hence it is not different from the land or air based assets of Indian Strategic Forces. The main second strike capability is handled by the under development Arihant Class Nuclear Submarines and the K- series Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs).

INS Arihant is the lead ship of its class and is regarded as a prototype for all the follow on submarines. INS Arihant was built as a black project by the Indian Government and the whole project is under a large veil of secrecy and hence no official data can be gathered on these submarines. Currently it is known that these ships have 6,000 tons displacement and hence it makes them the smallest nuclear submarines in the world. There are confirmed 3 subs in this category of which 2 are under construction while the lead ship is undergoing testing. The Arihant Class Submarines have 4 missile launch tube which are capable of carrying 12 K-15 Sagarika missiles or 4 K-4 SLBM missiles.

INS Arihant in background

While the submarines are the main stealth vehicles required to keep the nuclear weapons safe, the very purpose of these vehicles will not be fulfilled if India does not have the capability to make SLBMs. In order to complete its nuclear triad India secretly pursued development of these ballistic missiles as a black projects. The first missiles to be confirmed under this project was the K-15 Sagarika missiles with a range of 750 KM. Since India’s nuclear weapon programme is primarily focused on China hence these missiles are not useful for their intended use as the sub would have to get very close to the shore of its adversary and thus risking detection. To counter this flaw a larger missile was required and hence K-4 missile has been developed which has a range of 3,500 KM. With the completion of this missile the nuclear triad of Indian Strategic Forces would be complete in the truest sense.

K-15 ‘Sagarika’ Ballistic Missile

Till now the above mentioned programmes have been strongly kept under secret and no one had any idea of the development that India carried out in that direction until these projects were partially revealed to the general public. Hence it can be inferred that a large part of this programme is still under veil and many more developments in this field is being undertaken whether it be development of bigger and stealthier nuclear subs or longer ranged SLBMs. In future we might get surprised over the progress that India did in this field when all the details of these projects are revealed to public. With these developments India has made its place in the elite club of superpowers having a second strike capability and hence India has increased its nuclear deterrence capability to the next level.


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