ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s recent test of a short-range ballistic missile shows the military’s progress toward developing a response to India’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program, officials said.
The Feb. 15 firing of its Hatf-II/Vengeance-II Abdali missile was the latest test of its short-range ballistic missile arsenal, which can be armed with tactical nuclear warheads.
A press release by the military’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated the test-firing was “part of the process of validation of land-based ballistic missile systems.” The 180-kilometer-range missile can carry nuclear or conventional warheads and has “varied maneuverability options” providing an “an operational level capability,” the statement said.
Mansoor Ahmed from Quaid-e-Azam University’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, who specializes in Pakistan’s national deterrent and delivery program, highlights this latter aspect as the reason for the test in response to arch-rival India’s ABM efforts.
“The recent test of Nasr and now Abdali— both short-range systems designed for counterforce targeting — have assumed added significance with the testing of maneuverable re-entry vehicle [warhead] technology aimed at defeating ballistic missile defenses against short- to medium-range missiles,” he said.
Abdali, and the remainder of Pakistan’s battlefield ballistic missiles, are primarily designed to counter surprise attacks and “forward-deployed forces as envisaged in India’s cold start doctrine and other military targets close to the border,” according to Ahmed.
These would include India’s integrated battle groups or air bases.
Linking the test with Pakistan’s tactical nuclear warhead program, Ahmed says it is “another demonstration of the development of sub-strategic nuclear warheads,” or what the ISPR statement refers to as an “operational level capability.”
He cautions, however, that “these tests should not be seen as a sign that Pakistan is going for a nuclear war-fighting strategy, but rather as a means of consolidating an all-aspect credible deterrent.”
Former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, is clear where use of tactical nuclear weapons would lead.
“It is the ultimate weapon of last resort. Use of tactical nuclear weapons would lead, without a shadow of doubt, to escalation and employment of longer-range missiles and air-delivered bombs, and probably quite quickly — hours rather than days”, he said.
Despite the efforts and resources being put into it, he does not think India’s ABM program would provide “airtight” protection and give Indian forces immunity from attack.
“The Indians do have a rudimentary ABM system, but it would be absolutely impossible for it to defend all vital points. Possession of tactical nuclear weapons is certainly a deterrent, but if the genie left the bottle, there would be nuclear devastation in the sub-continent,” he said.