Friday, June 01, 2007

Why the Nuclear Triad?

I noticed a question that someone posed on the disreputable forum.

Another one (rarely, if ever discussed) - in its only material exercise, the NSAB drafted our "draft nuclear weapons doctrine". This doctrine eseentially advocated a "nuclear triad", ie, a network of air, land and sea based deterrent. Taken in as policy (de facto or otherwise), the country is therefore spenmding money land-based mobile missiles, sub-launched missiles and aircraft launched variants. Very few people have seriously questioned why India should be the third country in the world (after the US and Russia) to go in for this super expensive triad structure. Most other nuclear powers go in for one robust option - UK has selected a sub-based deterrent, China on a land missile based and so on. Why should a country like India be forced to choose a triad structure? Why shouldnt we simply concentrate on building one, surviveable second strike platform?

The answer is actually quite simple but first some inaccuracies have to be corrected.

Most nuclear powers go for a triad barring a few notable exceptions.

The French used to have a land based and air based deterrent during the Cold War. This was exquisitely expensive to maintain because France lacks any real strategic depth, but these systems were built in numbers until the first generation submarine based deterrents became viable. Today France has no enemies, they are everyone's friends, strictly speaking they don't need a nuclear deterrent but they keep the submarine based deterrent as a safety net.

The Chinese are now building a submarine based deterrent. They concentrated on a land based deterrent and for a while they tried out an air based deterrent but the Chinese aviation industry was dependent on imports and when the Chinese copied any design they imported, the foreign suppliers placed import restrictions on them. This combined with the dominance of the PLA on military decision making ensured that the PLAAF's nuclear ambitions were curtailed in favour of the PLA's own land based missle force. Given China's size, this option made economic sense as the missiles could be dispersed and survivability could be increased. Remember it took the Americans quite a bit of time to actually conduct the required number of surveillance flights using SR-71s and U-2s and establish where the Chinese deterrent was hidden. This made China's land based deterrent a sufficiently scary entity to achieve the desired international leverage.

The Russians and the Americans placed survivability on a very high pedestal and so as you know they had a triad.

That leaves the last one, the United Kingdom, and this is the notable exception. Due to the pressures of World War II, Britian's economy could not support the high cost of a deterrent. Initially while Britian could make even the vaguest pretence of being a free country, it invested heavily in air borne deterrent, the famed V force (Vulcan, Valiant and Victor). However the British soon realised that the force was irrelevant as there were a grand total of six airbases where it could be placed without attracting the enemy's attention, its survivability was questionable. This lack of strategic depth, also forced a negative assesment of any land based missile deterrent. The only choice left was to join up with the Americans and put up a common front. After much haggling the British finally agreed to deploy American nuclear armed bombers at various British airfields, they also agreed to let the Americans put a token force of Land Attack Cruise Missiles on British soil and finally they agreed to arm their Vanguard class submarine with the American Trident missile, a missile with known reliability issues. Some days I wonder whether Britian is a nuclear power at all, I even wonder if Britian is really a free country or an American colony these days.

Unlike France, India has real enemies. Like China, India has strategic depth also, but the unlike the PLA, the Indian Army is simply one armed service among three and actually sharing the deterrence responsibility vastly increases the apparent strategic depth of India. India does not have this "close friendship" or "shared anglic heritage" with America, so the Americans aren't going to rush to put their Tridents on our submarines and neither do we want something like that.

So like the Russians and the Americans themselves, we have to go it alone and we have to go for the Triad.


At 7:23 PM, Blogger s c r a p s s t u f f s said...

Actually I do agree somewhat with "that poster on the disreputable forum". India is better off with dyad since we have strategic depth in terms of landmass and enough airbases to disperse the nukes to. I'm not in favour of SSBNs simply because budgetary constraints being what it is, the numbers will be too little to be effective. Small numbers of SSBNs can simply be overwhelmed by the enemy (not including China or Pakistan in this category). Land based missiles running around in the vast hinterland should be more survivable. Once we can ensure sufficient numbers of SSBNs, then we can shift part of the nukes to the navy, until then we are better off as a dyad.

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

with increased remote sensing capabilities, the time required for a land survey is small. The hinterland will not be adequate refuge, this isn't the 60s and 70s when there was a grand total of 1 operational spy sat.

there is no alternative to thr subs


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