INS Arihant is a ballistic missile submarine armed with twelve K-15 missiles, each capable of carrying a 500-kg nuclear warhead to a target 750-km away. Ballistic missile submarines, termed SSBNs in the US Navy (colloquial term: "boomers" or "bombers"), carry nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
The Arihant will not be alone. Two other boomers are under construction at L&T's Hazira plant. These will, probably, be followed by more -- equipped with longer-range nuclear-tipped missiles.
An attack submarine's nuclear plant eliminates the need to surface, allowing it to remain underwater for months. India will shortly be leasing an advanced "Akula II class" attack submarine -- named INS Chakra -- from Russia, followed by a second after a year long interval.
In addition to a new fleet of nuclear submarines, a growing stable of major surface warships is catapulting the Indian navy into the league of serious maritime powers.
Cochin Shipyard is building a 40,000-ton indigenous aircraft carrier, which is likely to be commissioned into the Indian Navy in 2014, followed by a successor vessel in 2017. The controversial INS Vikramaditya, as the Gorshkov will be renamed, could also be commissioned by 2012.
India's three defence shipyards -- Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai; Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata; and the smaller Goa Shipyard Limited -- have more warship orders than current capacities can handle.
The latest order placed on Mazagon and Garden Reach is for seven new-generation stealth frigates under Project 17A, 5600-ton warships, each capable of dominating vast stretches of ocean.
Since the Cold War, for example, Britain's royal navy has functioned in alliance with the US navy, specialising in anti-submarine warfare, and relying on US cover for crucial aspects like anti-air defence.
In contrast, India has always rejected military alliances.
"India is different. We can operate for a short while as a partnership navy, but definitely not as part of a military alliance. We, therefore, need a balanced navy with all-round capability which can operate alone for as long as it takes."
But even while rejecting formal alliances, Indian navy admirals realise that to be taken seriously, a navy must be visible. That has spawned a series of annual exercises with foreign navies
"It's important to strut your stuff," says a naval planner, "you visit a foreign port and invite your counterparts to a cocktail party on board. While sipping their drinks on the warship's deck, they are taking note of the weaponry you're carrying. You're sending a clear message."
The deep-water Karwar naval base, located 34 nautical miles (55 km) south of Goa, is already functioning. Aimed at decongesting Mumbai, Karwar will be base for more than 40 ships, including the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya when it is commissioned.
Also nearing completion is INS Kadamba, an administrative support base, commissioned in 2005. Another important addition is the new Naval Academy at Ezhimala, 280 km north of Kochi, inaugurated this January to train 750 cadets a year. You will need professionals to man the Indian Navy's growing fleet.