ISLAMABAD — The Feb. 11 test of the Hatf-IX (Vengeance-IX)/Nasr is evidence that Pakistan is leaning more heavily on its nuclear deterrent in the face of an increasing conventional and non-conventional imbalance relative to arch-rival India, said Mansoor Ahmed from Quaid-e-Azam University’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies. Ahmed specializes in Pakistan’s national deterrent and delivery programs.
According to a Feb. 11 press release by the military’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) media arm, “successive launches of two missiles” were carried out from a “multi-tube launcher” able to fire a four-missile salvo. It described the 60-kilometer-range Nasr as a “quick response system” that “ensures deterrence against threats in view of evolving scenarios.”
It went on to state Nasr had been “specially designed to defeat all known anti-tactical missile defense systems”.
Ahmed said there are several important aspects in the latest test.
The reference to the Nasr being able to defeat anti-tactical ballistic missile defense systems refers to systems such as the four-kilometer to 70-kilometer-range Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system, which Pakistan has feared India would acquire, thus rendering some of its short-range systems vulnerable to interception.
Developing an ability to defeat such a system would have far-reaching effects, Ahmed said, not least that it would mean Pakistan had mastered maneuverable warhead technology and could apply it to all its ballistic missile systems.
“This salvo launch of the Nasr system signifies Pakistan’s ability to master the technology of maneuverable re-entry vehicles for single-warhead ballistic missiles,” he said.
“If such a system capable of defeating anti-missile systems has been built for the Nasr, then it surely would have been developed for other strategic ballistic missiles such as the Shaheen series and the short-range Abdali and Ghaznavi. This would be the second most important achievement in strategic modernization after miniaturization of warheads for missiles,” he added.
He also believes the test “signifies Pakistan’s continued resolve to develop sub-strategic and short-range nuclear weapon systems and is a reflection of the country’s evolving force posture.”
This is in response to “the rapidly increasing technological and numerical asymmetries” vis-à-vis arch-rival India.
As examples, he cites India’s anti-ballistic missile and ballistic missile submarine programs, its quest to build a fifth generation Air Force, and also “primarily destabilizing and provocative doctrines — such as Cold Start — that call for limited conventional war below Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds.”
Ahmed said this imbalance is only likely to increase due to “Pakistan’s acute resource constraints and discrimination by supplier states to sell high-tech conventional systems.”
In response “the only effective and readily available option is an increasing reliance on indigenous solutions to maintain a semblance of deterrence stability in the region, i.e. sub-strategic nuclear weapons and strategic modernization of delivery systems such as ballistic and cruise missiles,” he said.
Ahmed also predicts much of the same for the future due to the completion of India’s nuclear triad as demonstrated by the recent successful test of a sub-launched ballistic missile, but this raises questions about Pakistan’s ability to produce enough stocks of fissile material, the current stocks of which he claims are “barely sufficient.”
In short, Ahmed says Pakistan is “relying on the strategy of self-help to maintain a credible minimum deterrent that caters for all levels and forms of conventional and nuclear challenges.”
Longer term defense planning for Pakistan looks bleak however according to analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank.
He says the skew in Pakistan’s defense planning doctrine toward non-conventional weaponry is because none of the “Armed Forces Development Plan 2025” has been implemented since the election of the civilian government.
He lists the most important of these military procurements as “three German U214 and six Chinese submarines, J-10B/FC-20 multirole fighter aircraft from China, new medium- to high-level SAM systems, and exercising the option to purchase 18 F-16 C/D [fighter jets]s, AH-1Z and Turkish A-129 helicopter gunships, CH-47 and more Mi-17 general utility helicopters, plus heavier frigates for the Navy.”
Though he says “Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine mirrors NATO’s flexible response doctrine,” which should be able to contain any Indian aggression, this is far from ideal because it is “a short-term solution for a bigger problem which is looming over the horizon.”