Second strike capabilities and role of submarines and SLBMs

A nuclear triad refers to the nuclear weapons delivery of a strategic nuclear arsenal which consists of three components: strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The purpose of having a three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation’s nuclear forces in a first-strike attack; this, in turn, ensures a credible threat of a second strike, and thus increases a nation’s nuclear deterrence.

In nuclear strategy, a second-strike capability is a country’s assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker. To have such an ability (and to convince an opponent of its viability) is considered vital in nuclear deterrence, as otherwise the other side might attempt to try to win a nuclear war in one massive first strike against its opponent’s own nuclear forces.


The possession of second-strike capabilities counters a first-strike nuclear threat and can support a no first use nuclear strategy. Reciprocal second-strike capabilities usually cause a mutual assured destruction defence strategy, though one side may have a lower level minimal deterrence response.

Second-strike capabilities can be further strengthened by implementing fail-deadly mechanisms. These mechanisms create a threshold and guaranteed consequences if that threshold is breached. For instance, a threshold may be for an allied nation to not be attacked. If a rival nation then breaches this threshold by attacking
the allied nation, then the predetermined consequences for this action go into effect. These predetermined consequences could include a wide range of responses, including a retaliatory nuclear second strike.


The crucial goal in maintaining second-strike capabilities is preventing first-strike attacks from taking out a nation’s nuclear arsenal, allowing for nuclear retaliation to be carried out. The nuclear triad is a way for countries to diversify their nuclear arsenals in order to better ensure second-strike capability.

Submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the traditional, but very expensive, method of providing a second strike capability, though they need to be supported by a reliable method of identifying who the attacker is. Using SLBMs as a second-strike capability has a serious problem, because in retaliation for a submarine-launched ICBM, the wrong country could be targeted, and can cause a conflict to escalate. However, implementation of second strikes is crucial to deter a first strike. Countries with nuclear weapons make it their primary purpose to convince their opponents that a first strike is not worth facing a second strike. Such countries have many diverse launch mechanisms, prepared responses to various nuclear attack scenarios, launch mechanisms in many different areas of the country, and underground launch facilities that are specifically designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

Launch on warning is a strategy of nuclear weapon retaliation that gained recognition during the Cold War between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc. In addition to the nuclear triad, nations deploy an early warning system that detects incoming nuclear missiles. This gives that nation the capability and option to launch a retaliatory second strike before the incoming nuclear first strike hits any of its targets. This is another method of solidifying second-strike capabilities and deterring a first strike from another nuclear power.
Because of the low accuracy (circular error probable) of early-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles (and especially submarine-launched ballistic missiles), second strike was initially only possible against very large, undefended countervalue targets like cities. Later-generation missiles with much improved accuracy made second-strike counterforce attacks against the opponent’s hardened military facilities possible.

India’s land based, air based and second strile capability-

India’s nuclear-weapons program possesses surface-to-surface missiles such as the Agni II and Agni III. In addition, the 5,000–8000 km range Agni-V ICBM was also successfully tested for third time on 31 January 2015 and is expected to enter service by 2016. India has nuclear-capable fighter aircraft such as the Dassault Mirage 2000H,Dassault Rafale, Sukhoi Su-30 MKI, MIG-29 and SEPECAT Jaguar. Land and air strike capabilities are already in place under the control of Strategic Forces Command which is a part of Nuclear Command Authority.

India has recently become a nuclear triad with INS Arihant, which has been officially commissioned as of August 2016. INS Arihant will either carry 12 K-15 missiles with a range of 750 km or 4 K-4 missiles with an extended range of 3500 km. India maintains a no first use nuclear policy and has been developing a nuclear triad capability as a part of its credible minimum deterrence doctrine.

INS Arihant: India’s first nuclear Ballistic missile submarine
INS Arihant (Sanskrit: अरिहंत, meaning “Slayer of Enemies” (S-73)) is the lead ship of India’s Arihant class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The 6,000 tonne vessel was built under the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project at the Ship Building Centre in the port city of Visakhapatnam.

INS Arihant was launched on 26 July 2009, the anniversary of Vijay Diwas (Kargil War Victory Day) by the then Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh. After fitting out and extensive sea trials, on 23 February 2016, she was confirmed as ready for operations, and was quietly commissioned in August 2016.

INS Aridhaman is the second Arihant-class submarine. It is the second nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine being built by India.


INS Arihant is to be the first of the expected five in the class of submarines designed and constructed as a part of the Indian Navy’s secretive Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project. The Arihant-class submarines are reported to be based on the Akula-class submarine. Their crew will have the opportunity to train on INS Chakra, an Akula-class submarine, which the Indian Navy leased from Russia. Arihant will be more of “a technology demonstrator”, rather than a fully operational SSBN according to Admiral Nirmal Verma.

The vessel will be powered by an 83 megawatts (111,305 hp) pressurised light-water reactor with enriched uranium fuel. A land-based prototype of the reactor was first built at Kalpakkam and made operational in September 2006. Successful operation over a period of three years yielded the data that enabled the production version for Arihant. It was reported that an 80 MW nuclear reactor was integrated into the hull of the ATV in January 2008.

The hull for the vessel was built by L&T’s Hazira shipbuilding facility. Tata Power built the control systems for the submarine. The systems for the steam turbine integrated with the reactor are supplied by Walchandnagar Industries. The consultancy for this project was provided by Russia. Russia was also reported to have provided assistance to BARC scientists in miniaturising the reactor to fit into the hull of the nuclear submarine
Arihant has four vertical launch tubes, which can carry 12 smaller K-15 missiles or four larger K-4 missiles. The K-4 has a longer range of 3,500 km (2,200 mi) and has commenced trials

K Missile family

The K family of missiles is a series of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) developed by India to boost its second-strike capabilities and thus the nuclear deterrence. Information about this family of missiles has mostly been kept classified. “The classified ‘K’ missile family” is known as the “Black Project” which DRDO officials are covertly working on. It is reported that “the top secret indigenous “K” missiles are faster, lighter and stealthier.”

The Sagarika/K-15 missile –  (Sanskrit: सागरिका, IAST:Sāgarikā, meaning Oceanic) is the SLBM version of the land-based Shaurya missile. With a shorter range than K-4 missiles it is to be integrated with Arihant class submarine concurrently developed for the use of Indian Navy.Medium range K-15 ballistic missile has a range between 700  km to 1,500 km with varying payload. This will also get help from Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) to ensure guaranteed national access to precision navigation. These will enable high accuracy required for precision strike. The last developmental test of the missile was conducted on 28 January 2013 from an under water launch platform off the coast of Visakhapatnam

K-4 Missil – K-4, named after former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, is the next significant development under the K-X series by DRDO. It was covertly tested off the coast of Visakhapatnam in January, 2010. However, any detail regarding the developments in this project are confidential and this project is sometimes referred to as “BLACK PROJECT” whose existence is neither denied nor acknowledged by DRDO. While there are some reports that claim that K-4 is a submarine-launched version of AGNI-V, other reports state that it is actually a SLBM Version of the Agni-III missile that is being worked on. The goal of this project is to expand the second-strike options for the country, DRDO scientists told reporters during a briefing. A total of 258 private firms and 20 DRDO laboratories were involved in this venture. The Missile is said to have two variants. One with a range of 3,500 km that is 10 m long and the other with a range of 5,000 km will be 12 m long to arm future nuclear submarines of the Arihant class. K-4 will provide India with the capability to target China and Pakistan simultaneously. INS Arihant, first of the Arihant Class Submarines, will be able to carry 4 (10 m long) K-4s or 12 K-15s.The K-4 missile in its final version was successfully tested on 24 March 2014 from a simulated underwater pontoon submerged 30 m deep and the missile is expected to be operational on INS Arihant in early 2015.

K-5 Missile – K-5 missile is reportedly being developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the Indian strategic forces’ underwater platforms. It will arm the future variants of Arihant class submarines of the Indian Navy. Reportedly, DRDO is in the process of developing a submarine-launched solid fuel missile with a maximum range of 6,000 kilometres and a payload of one tonne. However, there is strong opacity regarding the details of this project.


These ‘K’ missiles are intrinsically important for India’s nuclear deterrence arsenal because they provide India with a much needed ideal and invulnerable second-strike capability stated in India’s Nuclear Doctrine and thus shift the balance of power in India’s favour in Asian region.

[foreign concerns: An article from

“Development of second strike capability … would put pressure on Pakistan to take remedial measures and develop its own version of the capability,” the official said while speaking at a round-table discussion on ‘Growing Challenges to Strategic Stability in South Asia’ organised by the Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS).The reported successful testing of nuclear-capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) by India last month from its nuclear-powered INS Arihant has taken India closer to what is described as second-strike capability” in nuclear deterrence.A statement issued by the Foreign Office had said: “The reported Indian tests of a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) and development of a nuclear submarine fleet are serious developments, which impact the delicate strategic balance of the region. It has resulted in the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean.”

Suggesting that Pakistan could have already moved in that direction, the SPD official, who was speaking at the CISS, recalled that Pakistan set up its Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC) in 2012.

At the time of the commissioning of NSFC Headquarters, the Inter-Services Public Relations said that it “will perform a pivotal role in development and employment of the Naval Strategic Force. The Force, which is the custodian of the nation’s 2nd strike capability, will strengthen Pakistan’s policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence and ensure regional stability”.

Former defence secretary retired Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi had claimed last year that Pakistan possessed second strike capability against India.

However, defence analysts had questioned the claim, saying that Pakistan was yet to achieve submarine-based ‘assured second strike capability’ for stable deterrence.

The SPD official, speaking about India’s development of anti-ballistic missiles, said it could give its military planners ‘false sense of security’ while contemplating military action against Pakistan.

He said up-gradation of military hardware by India for operationalising Cold Start Doctrine; building a variety of nuclear capable missiles ranging from tactical weapons to inter-continental ballistic missiles, enabling of its nuclear triad; acquisition and up-gradation of aircraft carrier fleet and nuclear submarines were all worrisome developments that would destabilise the nuclear stability.

Alongside these, the official said, India was also disturbing sub-conventional stability by shifting Pakistan military’s orientation from external to internal security challenges by using its intelligence agencies.

Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal of the Quaid-i-Azam University believes that it would be wishful to think of strategic stability in the region as long as mistrust existed between India and Pakistan.

He said although there was imbalance of power between India and Pakistan, but still ‘balance of terror’ (due to modernisation of weaponry) was sustaining a semblance of strategic stability in the region.

Dr Riffat Hussain, a professor at NUST, was of the view that any additional military capability acquired by India would hurt Pakistan.

CISS Executive Director Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi said that Pakistan needed to closely watch the India-US strategic partnership, especially in the context of the upcoming Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) and accordingly assess its policy options. LSA is to be signed later this year between India and the US.

The prospects of conflict between the two nuclear armed rivals have only increased due to absence of an institutional dialogue process and deliberate escalation by India both by covert and overt instruments against Pakistan, he added.]

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