India today crossed a crucial naval milestone with the induction of its first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant as prime minister Manmohan Singh made it clear that the country does not have any aggressive designs against anyone but has to take all measures to safeguard itself.
Singh said the sea is increasingly becoming relevant in the context of India's security interests and "we must readjust our military preparedness to this changing environment. Our navy has a huge responsibility in this regard."
In a symbolic launching ceremony, Singh's wife Gursharan Kaur broke a coconut on the hull of the submarine at the secret Matsya naval base here, taking India into an elite club of nations that have built nuclear-powered submarines.
After a brief puja, with the prime minister, defence minister AK Antony, navy chief admiral Sureesh Mehta, and Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy by her side, Kaur unveiled a plaque naming the 112m submarine.
"I name it INS Arihant (destroyer of the enemy). All the best to the submarine," she said, announcing to the world the completion of India's nuclear triad, the capability to launch nuclear-tipped missiles from land, air, and sea.
Declaring that India had achieved a "historic milestone in the country's defence preparedness", the prime minister said, "We do not have any aggressive designs nor do we seek to threaten anyone. We seek an external environment in our region and beyond that is conducive to our peaceful development and protection of our value systems."
With today's induction, India has made its entry into an elite club of nations comprising the US, Russia, France, the UK, and China, which possess the capability to develop nuclear submarines.
"Today, we join a select group of five nations which possess the capacity to build a nuclear-powered submarine," the prime minister noted.
Code-named Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), the Arihant will carry the Sagarika (K-15) missile, which has a range of 700km.
As India has already declared its "no first use" nuclear doctrine, the country's weapon systems must survive a first strike to be able to retaliate. Therefore, Arihant's primary weapon is stealth. The submarine can lurk at depths of up to half a kilometre or more and fire its missiles from under the sea.
"Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us to take all measures necessary to safeguard our country and to keep pace with technological advancements worldwide," the prime minister said. "It has rightly been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
He said the government was fully committed to ensuring the defence of national interests and protection of territorial integrity. "We will continue to render all support to the constant modernisation of our armed forces and to ensuring that they remain at the cutting edge of technology," he said.
The prime minister congratulated the ATV programme and all the personnel associated with it for achieving a historic milestone in the country's defence preparedness. "Today's launch is a reflection of the immense technical expertise that exists in our country and the strength of our research and development organisations," he said.
"More importantly, the launch represents the determination and patriotism of our technologists, scientists, and defence personnel, who have overcome several hurdles and barriers to enable the country to acquire self-reliance in the most advanced areas of defence technology," he said.
Noting that the submarine is the outcome of a productive public-private enterprise in the country, he expressed his appreciation to "our Russian friends" for their consistent and invaluable cooperation, which symbolises the strategic partnership between the countries.
Four more nuclear-powered submarines of this class have already got the government's nod and will be added to the navy's underwater combat potential in the years to come.
Sea trials of the Arihant will be conducted in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam, where the vessel was under construction for the last two decades. The Rs30,000 crore secret project was started in the 1980s though it was conceived by the late prime minister Indira Gandhi in the 1970s.
Antony, referring to India's non-aggressive stand and no-first-use nuclear policy, said the situation in the region had necessitated the need for a credible second-strike capability.
Admiral Mehta said the launch of the Arihant was the "first visible step towards realisation of the third leg of the nuclear triad. It will help the navy to decisively influence events in a wide geographical area and counter all spectrum of conflict."
Retired vice-admiral DSP Verma, director-general of the ATV programme, said the Arihant gives India a sea-based strategic capability, and thanked private companies such as Larsen & Toubro and Moolchand Industries, apart from the department of atomic energy and the Atomic Energy Commission (its chief, Anil Kakodkar, was also present) for the help they had rendered in building and testing the pressurised water reactors for the submarine.
India has land-based nuclear-capable Agni ballistic missiles, apart from Indian Air Force fighters such as the Mirage 2000 that can deliver tactical nukes.
Two decades ago, India operated a Charlie-class nuclear submarine, christened INS Chakra, leased from Russia for three years between 1989 and 1991. Moscow is again leasing two Akula-class nuclear submarines to New Delhi for 10 years. Plans to deliver the submarines this June were hit by a mishap during sea trials late last year. But hopes have soared for delivery of the subs in 2010 after Russia took the repaired vessel out for sea trials again early this month.
The first official admission of the project nearing completion came this February when Antony had announced it during the Aero India show in Bangalore.