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India’s first domestically constructed nuclear submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles is about to be launched. INS Arihant is the first in its class with four more to follow shortly. It is part of a program to make India a major military power in a region that is fraught with potential crises.

India’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma, has declared that INS Arihant is now in its “last stage of testing,” and is elected to join the Indian navy “within the next 18 months.” “The advent of INS Arihant into the fleet will complete the crucial link in India’s nuclear triad—the ability to fire nuclear weapons from land, air and sea,” according to Indian news sources.[1] Indian’s defense research organization last month announced the development of the missiles that are likely to be carried by the Arihant:

The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) announced last month that it has successfully developed nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Long shrouded in secrecy, unlike surface-to-surface nuclear missiles like Agni, the SLBM was a closely-guarded secret while in development and was called the “Sagarika Project.” In all probability, the INS Arihant will take this missile on board. So far, countries like the US, Russia, France, China and the UK have the capability to launch a submarine-based ballistic missile.[2]

The SLBM (K-15) only has a range of 750-km. However the INS Arihant can also carry 3,500-km range K-4 missile.[3]

Indian’s conventional navy is, however, in a state of disrepair and obsolescence. The Indian navy has asked the Government whether it can construct submarines at a foreign shipyard;[4] that is, in Russia. Indo-Russian co-operation in defense development is of long duration.

In regard to the INS Arihant, Ranjit Pandit writes that Russia helped with the submarine’s secret nuclear reactor. The rector was “designed, fabricated and executed in India,” by Indian industry and under the direction of Indian scientists, the Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Anil Kakodkar, stated. Of the important Russian input, Dr Kakpdkar stated back in 2009:

I would also like to thank our Russian colleagues…. [T]hey have played a very important role as consultants, they have a lot of experience in this so their consultancy has been of great help so that I think we should acknowledge.[5]

However, Dr Kakodkar emphasized that the reactor was of Indian design.[6]

Despite drawbacks, India is pursuing a vigorous naval construction program to redress the obsolescence of much of its fleet. A Times of India report states:

With 46 warships and submarines being constructed, and another 49 in the pipeline under overall plans worth Rs 2.73 lakh crore, Admiral Verma said, “Today, I am confident we do not suffer asymmetries with anyone. We have the wherewithal to defend our maritime interests.”[7]

There is no doubt about the reason for India’s determination to add nuclear-armed submarines to their military: China, although India has been elusive when questioned on this.[8] After all, there is supposed to be a magical new entity called BRIC which places India and China together in alliance with Brazil and Russia, and is supposedly conjuring a grand new bloc between states that not only have nothing in common but which include historical enemies. However, it has been reported that India’s development of nuclear-armed submarines is aimed at Pakistan and China.

In connection with the vast current naval construction program and the INS Arihant, Admiral Verma has insisted that India will not deploy its naval forces in the South China Sea.[9] However, this does not accord with his franker statements in previous interviews. Suman Sharma reporting for The Sunday Guardian, wrote of this in 2011:

With an eye on the strategic South China Sea, the Indian Navy is preparing to base some of its important assets on the eastern seaboard at the Vishakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command. It has outlined massive expansion plans for the same.

After former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam officially endorsed India’s Look East policy in 2006, the Navy, which is considered the strategic force among the three armed forces, has been building a strong base on the eastern front.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma, on the eve of Navy Day on 4 December, Sunday, outlined an ambitious expansion plan for the service, which is eyeing a greater role in the South China Sea. Militarily, India will have a greater footprint in the South China Sea. By 2027 the Indian Navy would have 500 aircraft, of all varieties, and 150 ships, in its inventory, with five ships every year being manufactured, after five years from now.

With Project Varsha underway, which is a special berthing base for India’s indigenous SSBN INS Arihant class nuclear-powered submarines, the Naval Chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma told The Sunday Guardian that the first indigenous aircraft carrier too would be based in the Eastern Command. Right now the Eastern Naval Command has 45 ships and six submarines.[10]

Lack of “Asia’s” Synergy

Unsurprisingly, Admrial Verma is emphasizing the need for peaceful solutions for the region. China has so far achieved its ends through diplomacy and economic relations, extending its influence while appearing to compromise. Meanwhile the regional powers talk peace but prepare for war. There are many unresolved territorial issues involving China. These include:

  • Aksai Chin in the disputed territory of Kashmir, at the junction of Pakistan, Tibet, and India. India claims the 38,000-square-kilometre territory, currently administered by China.
  • Arunachal Pradesh, a state of India, bordering on Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China. China calls the 90,000-square-kilometre area South Tibet.
  • The Senkaku Islands, five unpopulated islands in the East China Sea, which are under Japanese control. China and Taiwan both claim them, calling them the Diaoyutai Islands and Diaoyu Islands, respectively.
  • Portions of China’s western border with Tajikistan.
  • A section of the boundary between China and North Korea in the Baitou Mountain area.
  • The Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, administered by China, but claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
  • Rich fishing rights and oil reserves of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam.[11]

Russia’s dispute with China centered around the control of Zhenbao Island (Damansky in Russian) on the Usuri River and islands on the Amur and Argun rivers. These disputes led to shooting conflicts during the 1960s,[12] despite the friendship treaty and “fraternal relations” supposedly existing between the two major Communist powers. The compromise included Russia handing over half of Heixiazi Island (Bolshoy Ussurysky Island), at the confluence of the Amur and Ussurui rivers, to China in 2004.[13]

China has increasingly eased Russia out of Mongolia. In 2006, Russia and China offered to build railways, using different tracks running in opposite directions, running from the Tavan Tolgoi mine, one of the world’s largest unexploited coal deposits,[14] indicating the rivalry that continues between the two regardless of the smiles and handshakes, and use of terms such as “BRIC.” Border disputes between China and Khazakhstan from the Soviet era have been replaced by the two coming closer together, again with Russia being sidelined from this oil- and gas-rich state.[15] Russia’s traditional sphere of influence in Afghanistan was dislodged by an alliance between the USA and what are now referred by the neo-cons as “Islamists.” However, while Russia was eliminated, under the US occupation regime China has moved in to gain vast oil and gas concessions in northeast Afghanistan. Bhutan is regarded as a buffer between India and China and while aligned with India, diplomatic accord with China has not been extended, nor has a disputed 495 square km been resolved. [16]

What should be clear is that there is no “Rise of Asia,” despite the rhetoric from media and academe, and the friendly gestures among sundry states, because there is not, has never been, nor ever will be any such entity as “Asia” in a geopolitical, ethnographic, or any other significant sense that can define a power bloc. Despite whatever trade, diplomatic relations, and even some border concessions that might be gained, “Asia” faces a future that will become ever more uncertain in regard to conflict.[17] The “Asian Century” thesis revolves around the rise of China and India in conjunction, but the two remain in rivalry.[18]

What will emerge within “Asia” is the broadening or delineation of alliances that are based on geopolitics and realpolitik. The USA and China will both seek hegemonic status within Asia. Those states that reject Chinese or American hegemony will align in a Russo-Indic bloc. Russia’s role in Asia is already well established and historically contra that of China, even during the era where both were “Communist” states supposedly in accord.[19] The grinning façade of Chinese diplomacy will drop and the true character of the regime will again become evident, as it did during the 1960s with Russia, in 1979 with the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, and the war with India in 1962.