Nuclear Triad


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Prelims: General Science

Mains: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

The Nuclear Triad of India is a three-sided military-force structure consisting of ICBMs (land-based nuclear missiles), SSBNs (nuclear-missile-armed submarines), and Strategic Bombers (strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles). The theory underlying the triad is that spreading the country’s extensive nuclear arsenals across various weapons platforms and dimensions would provide a Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD). In 2018, with the deployment of INS Arihant (an SSBN),a Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine, India got its fully operational Nuclear Triad.

Components of India’s Nuclear Triad

India’s Nuclear Triad, as with other nations, comprises three components, each having the capability of a nuclear strike - Land, Air, and Naval (Sea).

Land-based Components

It mainly includes missiles that can be launched from land-based platforms such as ICBMs (Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles), SRBMs (Short Range Ballistic Missiles), etc. The ICBMsare quite responsive and lethal.

  • ICBMs are deployed in hundreds of silos and can be launched and reach targets within minutes, creating a nearly insurmountable targeting problem for adversaries.
    • For example, the Agni-V missile can go up to a range of 5500 Km with nuclear warheads.
  • Other land-based missiles that can support the triad are Prithvi, Akash, Trishul, etc.

Sea-based Component

This component majorly includes the Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear Submarines (SSBNs).

  • The SSBNs are considered survivable because a portion of the SSBN fleet is always on patrol, making it very difficult for potential adversaries to track all of them, contributing to their survivability.
    • For example, INS Arihant with K-15 Sagarika missiles (700 Kms range) and K-4 (3500 Kms range) missiles.
  • Also, the trials are going on with INS Arighat which has a possibility of getting inducted by 2024.
    • It is more suitable to carry more K-4 missiles than INS Arihant.
  • The SSBNs play a crucial role in the Second Strike against any nuclear attack complementing the Nuclear Doctrine as their location is unknown.

Air-based Component

It majorly includes the Bombers which are considered as flexible for attacking. The bomber aircraft are flexible and can resolve during a crisis and provide a variety of deployment and yield options when placed on alert.

  • The aircraft that would work as bombers include the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Mirage 2000H, SEPECAT Jaguar, and most importantly Rafale.
  • The Land and air strike capabilities are controlled by Strategic Forces Command, a part of the Nuclear Command Authority.
    • NCA was created in 2003 and is responsible for the management and administration of the country's tactical and strategic nuclear weapons stockpile.
      • NCA is the authority responsible for command, control, and operational decisions regarding India's nuclear weapons programme.
Indias Nuclear Triad

Significance of India’s Nuclear Triad

India is among very few countries (United States, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan) which have achieved the capability of nuclear triad. The Nuclear Triad has its own significance in providing security to a nation.

  • Capability of Second Strike: The Nuclear Triad helps the country to counter-attack a nation after being attacked by nuclear warheads.
    • This triad ensures that even after being hit by a nuclear warhead, one can counter the attacking nation.
  • Balance of Power: For India, this triad is very crucial, since it shares its borders with its nuclear-empowered adversaries such as Pakistan and China.
    • Both countries have sophisticated arsenals and believe they have the assets to credibly harm India.
    • Having a nuclear triad, India is now aiming to counterbalance China’s assertiveness in South Asia.
  • Credible Minimum Deterrence: It is one of the objectives of India’s Nuclear Doctrine which is complemented by possessing a fully operational nuclear triad.
    • It provides sufficient deterrence from any attacking nation by creating a fear of the consequences (Second strike).
  • Massive Retaliation: As per the Nuclear Doctrine, India’s second strike would be massive and the Triad supplements it.
    • Hence, the Triad provides resilience and feasibility to counter.

Limitations of India’s Nuclear Triad

The deterrence of a nuclear triad depends on the vehicles (platforms) and the capabilities of missiles. The Nuclear Triad of India, though complete, still faces a few shortcomings.

  • Regarding sea-based components:
    • There is a need for more than one SSBN (nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine) to ensure continuous deployment at sea.
    • The K-15 missiles’ utility is limited by its 750 km range, which means that to counter China, submarines need to be present in the South China Sea to make the K-15 effective.
    • The INS Arihant has the capacity to carry a lesser number of long-range K-4 missiles (still in development).
  • Regarding Strategic Bombers:
    • The air component of the triad includes nuclear warheaded Strategic Bombers for which India depends on other countries like Russia (Sukhoi), France (Rafale), etc.
    • This increases the import burden on the country as well. Thus, indigenisation of the platforms and missiles is the need of the hour.
  • Regarding land-based components:
    • India has ICBMs as part of the triad but these can be tracked by Ballistic Missile Defence technology in the early phase of flight.
    • Other advanced technologies such as Fractional Orbital Bombardment Systems (FOBS), Hypersonic Glide Vehicles, Hypersonic Cruise Missiles, etc. need to be developed, and these are in the development stage in India.

FAQs on Nuclear Triad

How many countries are known to have a Nuclear Triad?

Only five countries are known to have the nuclear triad: the United States, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. Israel is suspected of having it as well. France gave up its triad when it renounced ground-launched missiles.

Does India have a nuclear triad?

After the INS Arihant was completed, India now contained air-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-missile-armed submarines, and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles. This allows the country to join the nuclear triad.

What is our nuclear triad?

A three-sided military-force structure consisting of land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-missile-armed submarines, and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.

What is India's stance on nuclear weapons?

India has been an outspoken supporter of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. This is even though it has its own nuclear weapons programme. A variety of factors have shaped India's stance, including its historical experiences, strategic interests, and desire for international recognition.

Is Pakistan a nuclear triad?

Pakistan has obtained the nuclear triad through the development of submarine-launched cruise missiles and is steadily securing second-strike (retaliatory) capability.