Preparations are afoot for the fourth test launch soon, and second from a submerged Arihant SSBN, of the K-4 missile. The first two firings were from an anchored underwater pontoon.
While this is good, the restricted number of launches planned from submerged submarines imperil the thorough training of submarine crews and the testing of the capacity of the vessels to instantaneously fill the ballast tanks to buffer the recoil from the launch. The international standard is upwards of 15-20 test launches at a minimum to get everything right in terms of not just ensuring that the technical mechanisms work properly but the crewmen — two crews to a submarine — know just what each of them has to do, how to do it, and, most importantly, to hone their firing drill and reduce the launch sequence and time taken to less than ten minutes. This sort of rigorous training requires repeated tests of missiles from submerged boats.
In previous posts, I have questioned the tendency of the government to minimize the test firings of every type of ballistic and cruise missile before its induction. When the K Kasturirangan Committee established the metric a decade back of three successful test firings before missile induction, it was essentially an economizing measure. Whether this standard should still hold at a time when the strategic milieu daily grows more tense is a thing to ponder, as also the effects of such pusillanimity in terms of the quality of strategic/conventional military preparedness.
This kind of thinking has already affected the credibility of the Agni-5 5,500 km missile, which has yet to be launched to its full range. So far the A-5 has been fired four times, all at depressed trajectories. Until the IRBM is seen to reach its advertized distance and to successfully achieve its fabled accuracy, there’ll always be a question mark around its performance, and India’s nuclear deterrence will have to be a matter of faith, not evidence. China and anybody else would not be wrong in taking Delhi’s claims of securing the wherewithal for strategic deterrence with a ton of salt.