ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s recent test of a short-range surface-to-surface missile was aimed at strengthening its conventional deterrence and complicating Indian war planning, experts said.
The May 29 test of the HATF-IX/Vengeance-IX NASR Short Range Surface-to-Surface Multi Tube Missile system was witnessed by retired Lt. Gen. Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, director-general, Strategic Plans Division, who said the test would “consolidate Pakistan’s deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum, thereby ensuring peace in the region.”
An image from the military’s Inter Service Public Relations showed the NASR missile system to be armed with four missiles. When it was first revealed in 2011 it was comprised of only two box launchers fitted to the back of the Chinese-origin TEL vehicle.
Mansoor Ahmed, lecturer in the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University where he specializes in Pakistan’s non-conventional program and associated delivery systems, says the NASR “is designed for counterforce targets.
“In this respect, it symbolizes Pakistan’s resolve to develop nuclear weapons and delivery systems for use at the substrategic level, designed to deter India from exploiting Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds and attempting limited war or pro-active military operations,” he said.
NASR was “particularly aimed to augment Pakistan’s conventional deterrence at the tactical level for eventual employment in case of collapse of conventional defenses on any vulnerable theater of operations,” he said, and signified “Pakistan is developing miniaturized warheads of appropriate counter-force yields.”
Because the test was carried out using a new four-round box launcher layout, Ahmed said NASR will probably be used to “salvo-launch low-yield nuclear weapons on an incoming enemy armored column that breaks through the conventional defenses.”
Former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, said the test highlights the similarities between the NASR and a similar Chinese system, the WS-2.
“It and Hatf IX appear very similar, although, of course, I don’t know the scale of the pictures. Both TELs are 6x6 and although WS-2 has six tubes, and Nasr four, the systems are remarkably alike, and I consider that at the very least there has been cooperation between the PRC and Pakistan, to their mutual benefit, as always,” he said.
Regardless, Cloughley believes it to be a significant weapon in Pakistan’s arsenal.
“When it enters service as a nuclear-capable [surface-to-surface missile] system it will be a significant battlefield player that India cannot afford to ignore,” he said.
Cloughley served as a reconnaissance and survey officer in an MGR-1 “Honest John” rocket regiment in the British Army, a weapon he remembers as having a very long preparation time because the warhead was de-mated. In this area, he rates NASR highly.
“It seems a most flexible system that probably has a very short preparation time, and it can be assumed that the rockets come ready-mated,” he said.
But such weapons are escalatory by nature, he said.
“Tactical nuclear weapons are a force multiplier of great importance, but they also raise the stakes enormously, because once they are employed there is no guarantee that the use of nuclear weapons could be confined to the battlefield. The risk of all-out nuclear war rises accordingly,” he said.
He would therefore like to know more about the doctrine, as he concedes would the Indians.
Analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said keeping the NASR solely as a non-conventional system is somewhat wasteful.
NASR “should also be equipped with conventional warheads and be used against forward bases and troop concentrations as just keeping such a system for nuclear delivery alone is not going to be cost-effective, and considering our economy, we need to have a Swiss Army-knife like mentality, in which one system should be used for multiple things.”
He also has doubts about the stated 60-kilometer range of the NASR.
“I think it is more than that. They are very much understating it,” he said.
Ahmed, however, believes it to be symbiotically linked with Pakistan’s nuclear, specifically its plutonium, program. This is especially so in light of recent reports by the Institute for Science and International Security that work on its fourth plutonium enrichment reactor at Khushab was proceeding at a faster pace than had been the case with the previous reactors.
“Coupled with the recent reports of the fourth plutonium production reactor at the Khushab Nuclear Complex being half-way to completion, the NASR test demonstrates that Pakistan is serious in providing plutonium and tritium for its evolving force goals and meeting the requirements of substrategic nuclear weapons”, he said.
Adding, “This ought to be seen in the context of Pakistan’s desire to offset the acutely exacerbating conventional military imbalance with India and potential for India to develop or deploy its own substrategic nuclear weapons.”