Politicians’ tweets can sometimes reveal new intelligence about their own country’s military capabilities and programs. On August 28 the official Twitter account of the Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, tweeted photos of his visit to the country’s Naval Science & Technological Laboratory. Among the missiles and unmanned vehicles is a sub-scale model of a submarine. And it appears to be not just any submarine – the model may offer the first visual clues to India’s next-generation ballistic missile submarine, the S-5 Class.
The apparent leak comes just days after Defense Minster Rajnath Singh questioned how long India would retains its long-standing ‘no first use’ nuclear weapons doctrine. This new submarine will likely represent a major leap in the lethality and survivability of India’s nuclear arsenal.
The Indian Navy is already part of the exclusive club which operate nuclear-powered submarines together with the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China. India’s indigenous program has been slow but is now showing signs of maturing. And its focus has been to go straight to ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), leaving regular general-purpose submarines until later. There have been reports that up to six nuclear-powered attack submarines may be built to protect the fleet of missile submarines.
The new S-5 submarines will join the existing Arihant Class which are India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarines. INS Arihant undertook its first deterrence patrol late last year. The S-5 may enter service in the late 2020s after 4 Arihant Class boats have been constructed.
Significantly the new design will be a full-sized missile submarine with 12 or more launch tubes for the intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. For comparison the first generation Arihant Class are the smallest modern nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and can only carry 4 standard-size missiles. That is still more than the new North Korean conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine revealed in July, which can only carry 3 missiles. The model shows a taller and wider raised ‘turtle back’ deck casing over the missile tubes supporting the assessment that it will carry more missiles than the current design. Twelve missiles is four fewer than the U.S. Navy’s next-generation Columbia Class submarines, but the same number as Chinese SSBNs and also the Royal Navy’s next-generation Dreadnought Class.
The submarines will bolster India’s deterrence capabilities against its regional nuclear-armed adversaries Pakistan and China. The latter already has an extensive missile submarine program with around 6 operational boats, and Pakistan is reported to be deploying its own at-sea deterrent using its indigenous Babur cruise missile as a basis. This is likely the fastest and least expensive way for Pakistan to field a workable system. The Pakistani investment is nowhere near that of the multi-billion-dollar Indian program and the shorter range, comparative ease of interception and probably smaller payload of the cruise missiles do not make them directly comparable to India’s new weapons.
With its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, India may finally catch up with the established nuclear powers in terms of global reach.
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