The most advanced vertical launch system (VLS) is a flexible system which can accommodate BrahMos, K-15, K-4, and the necessary longer range K-4+ (of 6,000+ km). India needs much longer range than K-4 for an assured second strike against China.
The article below can be connected with earlier Australia by the Indian Ocean articles which indicate that K-4 prototypes have had some previous pontoon testing as early as January 2010 :
- Arihant, India’s first homebuilt nuclear submarine has been launched (drawing on July 2009 data) http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2009/08/arihant-indias-first-homebuilt-nuclear.html , and
- Controversy Over SLBM’s for India Arihant Submarine (ATV) – drawing on February 2011 information http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/undersea-sensors-submarines-slbms-and.html. The K-4 had a limited pontoon "cold" launch test in January 2010. The K-4 apparently "breached the surface" meaning its rocket motors (if installed) were not tested, no flight occured, hence no range claims at that time could be tested see - http://livefist.blogspot.com/2010/11/mag-report-indias-secret-k-missile.html .
The problem with the K-4 SLBM in its principal mission, of being a first or second strike weapon against China, is that its current official range 3,500 km from Indian protected waters is inadequate to hit its most vital target which is northeastern China including Beijing.
It would be unnecessarily hazardous to penetrate through the Asia-Pacific gap (Strait of Malacca and other gaps through the Indonesian Archipelago). Indian SSBNs, from Arihant onwards, would need to pass through up to 50 Chinese SSNs and SSKs, and fixed undersea defenses (including SOSUS and other spectrum defences) into the South China Sea to launch.
The current Indian SSBN prototype (Arihant) is yet fielding BrahMos, the K-15 (750 km Pakistan killer), let alone the 3,500 km K-4. India would need a post K-4 generation missile of 6,000+ km (of Poseidon-Trident range) equivalent to the Chinese J-2 to safely launch from Indian aircraft protected waters in the Bay of Bengal. It may take India 10-15 years at the current rate of progress to field, in service, such a post K-4 missile. The current rate of progress may need accelerating.
Ankit Panda for The Diplomat, May 13, 2014 wrote the following article: http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/india-inches-closer-to-credible-nuclear-triad-with-k-4-slbm-test/
"India Inches Closer to Credible Nuclear Triad With K-4 SLBM Test
According to The Hindu, the K-4 was tested on March 24, 2014, a few weeks shy of the 16th anniversary of India’s controversial 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests. The test went off without a hitch:
The launch took place from a pontoon submerged more than 30 metres deep in the sea off the Visakhapatnam coast. After a powerful gas generator ejected it from the pontoon submerged in the Bay of Bengal, the K-4 missile rose into the air, took a turn towards the designated target, sped across 3,000 km in the sky and dropped into the Indian Ocean.
The K-4 SLBM was one of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) most secretive projects and is intended to succeed the K-15 underwater-launched ballistic missile. Once fully tested and proven to be reliable, the K-4 will be installed on India’s new INS Arihant – its first indigenously developed nuclear submarine.
The K-4 is tailor-made for second-strike purposes. According to the New Indian Express, the missile has the advantage of a hypersonic cruise speed and uses an innovative system of weaving in three dimensions as it flies towards its target, making it an exceptionally difficult target for anti-ballistic missile systems and other air defense systems. Other features of the K-4 include its high accuracy, with an alleged near-zero circular error probable (CEP).
The abilities of the K-4 are set to allow India to deter China with greater credibility. While Pakistan is a concern for India, its relative lack of strategic depth and India’s massive conventional advantage have pushed Indian thinking on nuclear matters towards China in recent year. With the K-4-equipped INS Arihant, India has a survivable second-strike capability against China. The Arihant can reportedly carry four K-4 missiles (or 12 of the less-advanced K-15 missiles). The first Arihant-class submarine is undergoing sea trials in 2014 and will be succeeded by three additional boats, expected to be in commission by 2023.
India’s credible minimum deterrence doctrine, with a no-first use (NFU) caveat, may be subject to revision if a BJP-led government comes to power this year (a highly likely development). As of now, the specifics of the BJP’s ambitions remain ambiguous but India’s proximity to fielding a credible nuclear triad with a survivable second-strike capability could make NFU revision less urgent."