Intro- American aggression during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and their eventual withdrawal due to the presence of Soviet SSNs was enough for the Indians to realise the importance of nuclear powered subs. Thus in the 1980s under immense secrecy work on a domestic reactor for naval propulsion was started and after that work on India’s first domestic nuclear powered sub began. They named it as the Arihant class which in Sankrit means “slayer of its enemies”.
India’s close ally, the USSR had suggested that they use nuclear subs as early as the 1980s and a formal offer to lease one was officially made in 1981 which led to the lease of a Charlie I to the Indian navy. Reportedly, Indians loved the idea of nuclear powered submarines carrying long range missiles which was one of the main deterrents the USN faced as they tried to project power in India’s backyard. This actually sheds some light as to why BrahMos, a potent cruise missile was tested from a submerged pontoon thus giving rise to a popular speculation that this sub will have mixed loads of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
Arihant’s development programme is very secretive which is evident from the number of pictures released showing a significant amount of its hull, this number is “4” ( we have all those pics in this article) whereas there are 2-3 others showing some or the other part. The info on this sub is pretty sketchy too but there are few aspects which are confirmed. The displacement is close to 6000 tonnes making it the smallest SSBN ever built. She features 4 SLBM silos which will carry either 4 K-4 SLBMs (range 3500-4500km) which is essentially a sub launched variant of Agni 3 IRBM or tripack K-15 SR-SLBM (range 700km). It is said that K-15 is essentially a stop gap designed to fill the gap between commissioning of Arihant and K-4. Both of these missiles have been successfully tested as of now from an under water pontoon. There is a speculation that it can also carry BrahMos AShM whose sub launched variant has been tested as well, thus making it an SSGN/SSBN combo if deployed, this is one of the many speculations associated with this project.
This SSBN is powered by a 83MW reactor, the designation for which hasnt been released. This reactor powers a single turbine which inturn powers a single screw giving it a submerged speed of 24knots which is enough for an SSBN. She will have a crew of more than 90 and max diving depth of 300m. She is 111m long which makes it the shortest SSBN as well. She sports 6x533mm torpedo tubes with unspecified number of weapons carried internally. There are sources claiming that she uses a smaller variant of Akula’s hull, one of which is on a 10 year lease to the Indian navy. The similarities are said to be below the water line and there are CG images which support this claim but like all secretive projects we cant confirm it. She sports an Indian bow mounted sonar array along with wide aperture arrays which are synced with a domestic integrated sonar and targeting system.. Presently, some part of this hull is constructed in an L & T facility in Gujarat and final assembly takes place in Visakhapatnam. Indians have maintained the security of both these facilities pretty well as there havent been any leaks in the form of pictures or info from both of them.
INS Arihant was launched on 26 July 2009, the day India celebrates as Vijay Diwas ie the day on which the Kargil conflict ended. The date on which her keel was laid hasnt been released. After being launched, additional work was done on her, her reactor attained criticality in 10 Aug 2013 ie 4 years after being launched. The delays in the programme are supposedly caused due to extensive testing of all her components as she is the first domestically designed sub in India and is nuclear powered which adds complexity. She has successfully completed her harbour trials and sea trials. She has probably been commissioned into the Indian navy in Aug 2016 as per some rumours. Usually such events get a lot of media attention but looking at the secrecy involved in this project, this is acceptable. India plans to build atleast 4 subs of this class off which the 2nd sub has been named as Aridhaman. The status of Aridhaman is unknown as no pictures of news has surfaced recently.
This programme has been criticised by some simply because Arihant is no match for SSBNs operated by other countries. They fail to understand that the first step in any domain is difficult and developing a domestic sub that to nuclear powered is even more difficult, for eg Chinese did it with the help of Russians, Brazilians are using existing SSK design for developing a new SSN with Chinese help, the British needed American help as well. Hence this programme basically provides Indians with vital experience in the field of sub designing. With this experience, they are already designing a new 170MW reactor for future subs, a new 12000 tonne SSBN with 12-16 SLBM silos with a newer and longer ranged SLBM. This potent SSBN can only be built with the experience gained from this smaller yet potent SSBN.
The shear amount of speculation accompanied with the programme is massive. To start with, the displacement is around 6000 tonnes which is close to that of SSNs operated by many countries around the world, hence it is thought to be a sub, hull of which can be used for an SSN. They also claimed that the first two will be SSBNs where as the remaining two will be SSNs. There are many arguments against this speculation as the sub is simply too slow to be an SSN and India is developing a domestic SSN which will most probably be powered by the new reactor currently under development. As discussed above, there is a speculation that it is an SSGN as a sub launched variant of BrahMos was tested, which has both land attack and anti ship variants in service on surface vessels, this however hasnt been confirmed. Another popular speculation is that it is part SSBN and part SSGN as some silos will be used for BrahMos others will be used for K-4/K-15, this hasnt been confirmed either. We will have to wait for the Indian navy to release official data on this project to confirm or bust any of these speculations.
Arihant heading for sea trials
INS Arihant being the first SSBN to be built outside the 5 permanent members of the UN, gives India a potent but small sub which is still a big deterrent. This SSBN, along with its successor and the under development SSN will allow India to be more assertive and aggressive while protecting its interests and securing them. The SSN will allow them to patrol and control the two very important choke points ie Strait of Malacca and the connection between the Red sea and the Arabian sea, these two choke points are very essential for the world trade and a naval blockade could be disastrous for some Asian nations.
Note-Unlike many other articles which show pics of other submarines and claim they are Arihant, all the pictures posted with this article are confirmed pics of INS Arihant.