ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has test-fired an improved variant of its Shaheen-1 (Falcon-1) HATF-IV/Vengeance-IV short-range ballistic missile, another step in ensuring the survivability of its strategic forces.
According to a press release by the military’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) media branch, “The missile incorporates a series of improvements in range and technical parameters of the existing missile. It is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 900 km.”
The test missile was stated to have struck a predetermined spot in the Arabian Sea. No specific details of the improvements were given.
However, aside from being a “part of a series of tests designed to validate improved technical parameters such as propulsion, range, guidance and accuracy,” Mansoor Ahmed, from Quaid-e-Azam University’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, said today’s test has added significance.
“This particular test demonstrated enhanced range of 900 kilometers over 750 kilometers for previous versions, and most likely would also have tested advanced missile defense countermeasures or maneuverable re-entry or a post separation correction system for single warhead ballistic missiles, which was earlier tested on the Shaheen-1A,” said Ahmed, who specializes in Pakistan’s national deterrent and delivery program.
Given the growing conventional and nuclear disparity between India and Pakistan, Ahmed says Pakistan’s continuing missile tests “ought to be seen as part of an ongoing process of ensuring the survivability and effectiveness of its strategic forces in order to diversify its response options through a nuclear triad that provides assured deterrence for all levels of the threat spectrum.”
Harsh V. Pant, Reader in International Relations, Department of Defence Studies, King’s College, London, says the Shaheen “is important for Pakistan for maintaining a robust deterrence stability vis-à-vis India and its operationalization should help Pakistan in providing assured deterrence across a wide range of nuclear threat spectrum.”
He is, however, of the opinion that Pakistan’s increased production of nuclear warheads seems to be at odds with “maintaining strategic symmetry with India.”
Far from maintaining balance, Pant claims Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons has caused a certain “amount of panic in India.”
“Given India’s nuclear doctrine of credible minimum deterrent and no first use, tactical weapons change the equation radically, and New Delhi is finding it difficult to respond, especially given the role of nonstate actors in the mix.”
Pakistan’s missile developments seem to be following an evolutionary course in order to maintain a semblance of balance and credible deterrence in the face of India’s conventional and nuclear modernization and expansion efforts.
Pakistan’s missiles, therefore, are steadily improving in areas such as range, accuracy and ease of deployment and operation.
They are also evolving in response to Indian developments, such as maneuvering warheads to counter Indian missile defenses; submarine-launched nuclear-armed land attack cruise missiles to match India’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and also tactical nuclear weapons such as the Nasr HATF-IX system to counter any potentially overwhelming Indian conventional attack.