May 10, 2012

Controversy Over SLBMs for India's Arihant Submarine (ATV)

Arihant and its proposed K-15 (Sagarika) and the Agni IIISL missiles. (click to enlarge) Diagram  drawn from a very comprehensive Arihant article at
My previous post has drawn an interesting raft (or submersible) of queries and comments. They'll take a while to answer or at least to generate more questions. I'll respond in red in the next 2-3 days:

"A" said, Tuesday, February 01, 2011 1:01:00 AM

"Hi Pete, i think it is quite premature to assume that k-15 will be the mainstay SLBM fielded by indian submarines for next 20 years because already the indian media has reported the existence and launch of K-4 SLBM early last year.This SLBM is reported to have a range of 3500 kms and another missile of range 5000 kms+ is also under development.Another test of this missile is planned early this yaer.These are believed to be operationalised by 2017-2020."

Hi "A"

You're right that its premature to be certain that the K-15 (aka Sagarika and B-05) will be India's standard SLBM for 2 decades. Alternate developments are even less probable. The K-15 has been tested in a semi-submersible environment (from a pontoon) and has had a number of land launches where range and accuracy were tested.

Apparently the K-4 had a limited pontoon "cold" launch test after all (allegedly tested in January 2010 according to the Government sources telling India Today associate editor Sandeep Unnithan. The K-4 apparently "breached the surface" meaning its rocket motors (if installed) were not tested, no flight occured, hence no range claims could be tested see -  Significantly the K-4 is reported to be 10 metres long/tall (oddly the same length/height as the K-15) and 1.3 metres diametre while Agni III is reported to be 17 metres long/tall and 2 metres in diameter. These are two measurable indicators of how fundamentally different the K-4 and Agni III apparently are. of January 2008 on the K-15 launch. Meanwhile the variously labelled Agni III SL/K-X/K-4 has only been flight tested from land. The gulf between testing and developing a land based missile and an SLBM is very wide. Its like saying a successful test of a Minuteman IV indicates progress with a Trident II. The US never made the connection. Dimensions and the technical requirements of a submerged "cold" launch mean there is a great difference between land missiles and SLBMs.

It is also notable that the Arihant will only carry 4 Agni III SLs according to information in August 2008 when Arihant was launched - see Even then the armament expectations for Arihant were murky  - it was first to be armed with BrahMos, then K-15, then Agni III SLs.

Four Agni IIIs does not constitute an adequate war load compared to India's competitors, which vary from 12 (likely MIRVed) SLBMs on Chinese SSBNs, 16 for UK and France and 24 on US subs. This is also in the absence of any evidence that India has developed a MIRV (multiple warheads on each missile) capability. China has a decent chance of shooting down 4 Agni III warheads but not 240 (24 x 10 MIRVed) warheads from one US SSBN. This makes Arihant an unviable SSBN.

This also means India will need to develop a whole new class of nuclear submarine to fill the SSBN niche. New submarine classes often take 2 decades to develop. Although India could perhaps retrofit a 16 missile "plug" onto an Arihant style base.

In addition I think there is insufficient evidence, thus far, that Arihant's reactor is even operating. The Indian PMs speech in August 2008 indicated considerable Indian reliance on Russia for assistance in building Arihant (particularly the reactor ). If India is also placing some reliance on Russia for developing and launching the theoretical Agni III SL from a submerged submarine India may have the kind of setbacks Russia is experiencing with the RSM-56 Bulava missile  5 test failures out of 11.

Russia may prove of limited assistance and reliability (remembering ongoing Gorshkov delay and delays with Nerpa). Assuming India will not build a completely homegrown SLBM when mature technology is out there some intended or unintended (espionage) gathering from the US or UK may be in order. Alternatively with France's "record" (highly suspected testing and joint development of Israel's nuclear deterrent) help from France may be more explicit - especially if rolled in with the sale of 6 more Scorpenes (a current tender?) to India.

Naturally much of the above is speculation, but it may throw up likelihoods :) All this is not to disparage India - noting that Australia's homebuilt experience consists of 6 below average Collins SSKs.




PointSingularity86 said on February 01, 2011 4:26:00 AM
"Information sharing may well occur amongst those countries that see China as a potential threat"

Did u basically mean all countries? :P No not all countries. Information sharing might quietly occur between those countries that trust each other and/or they see the others' information on (say) Chinese SSN movements, as valuable. Sharing countries might also have a sound relationship with India. For example Russia would be an information sharing ally with India (but not directly with ther US) because Russia sees China as a threat and Russia has the facilities to track Chinese SSN's and then pass on the interlligence to India :P. 
In contrast North Korea (NK) is distrusted by all and is unlikely to have adequate tracking intelligence facilities about Chinese SSNs. NK would see China as an ally sometimes but also a potential threat. NK would be out of the intel sharing loop.   :P

One observation, the Nicobar islands (well I almost forget they're ours ;) are close to Malacca straits. Actually, I suppose there's no way a ship can pass Malacca strait and bypass Nicobar islands! If India monitors Great Nicobar seas and perhaps Andaman Island seas as well. , it will detect everything that moves thru Malacca!
So nuke subs can watch the open Indian Ocean south of Malacca. The Nicobar's certainly occur to the the terrestrial (island) eye view. There may also be sound reasons why particular undersea geographical formations or water conditions might also be concentrated on by India's undersea sensor arrays. The arrays may not need to connect with closest landfalls/islands - power/optical fibre signals might connedct directly with the Naval Base at Vishakhapatnam. Also the fairly fixed paths of India's spy satellites may influence surveillance choices. Further, the patrol areas asigned to allies would affect India's own surveillance efforts. 

.... Or maybe say hello to Oz and beg for Uranium more frequently (u knw, Mr. Krishna can't do daily begging down under)
or maybe steal some from Oz without saying hello... lol
God this uranium begging business has gone a bit too far! :P Amen to that PS86! The uranium embargo is a needless irritant to good Australian relations with India! :P

btw, I was thinking, a nuke sub's constrained only by supplies onboard (food more precisely) . In wartime (the last patrol...) food availability might be the only limitation. However in peace - for the US anyway, a voyage might be just 4-5 months (less than food stocks) because the Blue or Gold crews need to return due to: a degree of physical and mental exhaustion and sleep debt (less sleep than desirable), the need to see loved ones, need to perform maintenance or repairs for about a month on the SSN or SSBN (eg software and hardware updates might be needed for the computerised combat systems). Some nuclear missiles and torpedoes might need to be reconditioned or swapped due to chemical changes always going on in the nuclear warheads. Crews need to train and relax. Much training cannot be done on an operational sub, simulators or training subs might be used - see this for more info. P

. do u hav any idea why don't they just do some underwater fishing to solve that? ;)"

Since the mid nineteenth century foraging (living off the land or even sea) by the military has become quite rare due to the availability of compact rations, particularly in tins. Logistic systems can now cope. Modern militaary also use a division of labour to maximise the effctiveness of the minority (about 10%) on the front line. :P

Subs are about the least likely unit to forage due to the need to remain submerged - need to remain stealthy, and the stringent manpower availability. Fishing is also labor  time intensive and only preduces protein. Would take about half the crew to suspend all activity to catch, scale, clean and can the fish...P


Invalid said February 01, 2011 6:40:00 PM
Hi Pete

Thanks for the clarification. Unless the sensors density is too high, they may not be able to distinctly identify submarines from the container traffic. I think computer software and hardware would filter out commercial ship sounds The Hunt for the Red October is reputedly realistic in parts - such as the sonarman equipment and capabilities.

Does China / India have any ally around the Malacca Straits ? None of them have to an extent we can say that India had Singapore as an ally. Due to effective diplomacy of India, Singapore is not seeing India as an enemy and not as an ally too. Intelligence alliances can occur between strategic and economic competitors. Much happens quietly with the public unaware. I mention Singapore due to intuition that it and India (and Israel for that matter) all are threated be actual or pential Muslim threats, all have able, high tech submarine services to track "enemy" submarines and ships. Singapore also participated in MALABAR 2007 This exercise was hosted by India and it was a thinly disguised containment of China activity. :P

I always wonder why can't submarines propeller blade change its shapes slightly some might change or the cylinder shroud may change position (with lose in efficiency ofcourse) so that its broadband noise & cavitation noise signature can vary. The propellers are frequently kept from public view because photography may reveal alot including likely acoustic characteristics (including excess cavitation noise likelihood). Even the way propellers are made "milled" is often secret. :P

Invalid said Hi PointSingularity86,

You don't have to go near Nicobar Islands after you exit from Malacca strait. Ships can hug coastlines of Malaysia, Thailand & Burma. After they reach Burma, they can move into Bay of Bengal and then to Indian Ocean."