ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has announced a successful test of its indigenous anti-ship missile, which appears to be a variant of the Babur land-attack cruise missile family.
According to a statement released Jan. 3 by the country’s Navy, the Harbah is a “Surface to Surface anti-ship missile with Land Attack capability” and was launched from the new Azmat Block II-class fast-attack craft Himmat, commissioned in July 2017.
The missile accurately hit its target, as demonstrated in a video compilation of the test showing both the Harbah’s launch from the Himmat and its impact on a ship target.
“The successful live weapon firing has once again demonstrated the credible fire power of Pakistan Navy and the impeccable level of indigenization in high tech weaponry achieved by Pakistan’s defense industry. This is a clear manifestation of Government’s resolve to achieve self reliance in this field,” the Navy said.
The test was witnessed by naval chief Adm. Zafar Mahmood Abbasi from aboard the Perry-class frigate Alamgir (former U.S. Navy frigate McInerney), who “emphasized the need to capitalize on indigenous defense capabilities and reduce reliance on foreign countries.”
He “reaffirmed the resolve of Pakistan Navy to ensure seaward defense of Pakistan and safeguard national maritime interests at all costs.”
As reported by Defense News when steel was cut for the Himmat in late December 2016, images of the design appeared to depict it would carry new anti-ship missiles, possibly an anti-ship variant of the Babur land-attack cruise missile.
Two months earlier, at Pakistan’s biennial defense exhibition IDEAS, a spokesman for the Navy informed Defense News that the Azmat Block II boats would be equipped with indigenous anti-ship missiles, though the spokesman did not identify the type.
A test of an unnamed, shore-based anti-ship missile reported by Defense News in March 2017 further reinforced speculation that an anti-ship variant of the Babur cruise missile had been developed. Images from the Jan. 3 test confirm this to have been correct.
Pakistan has been increasingly concerned over India’s impressive naval expansion program, something that will further widen the huge naval imbalance between the two countries.
Asked whether the Harbah will become the Navy’s standard anti-ship missile, Brian Cloughley — author, analyst and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad — said he expects this to be the case.
Although the Harbah will help Pakistan project control over more of the Arabian Sea, he said, “I don’t think it’ll keep the Indians awake at night.”
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst for defense strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, believes the Harbah is “a step up for the Pakistan Navy.”
“It offers both anti-ship and land-attack. If it’s based on the Babur, then it has a range of up to 700 kilometers, which, whilst not very long range, is sufficient to be militarily useful and certainly better than older systems such as Harpoon and C-802,” he said.
As to whether it would help keep Indian warships at bay, he said: “I think in terms of India’s Navy, it would depend on context. How many such missiles might be launched — a single [anti-ship cruise missile] most likely would be shot down by anti-ship missile defense systems on [Indian Navy] vessels. How good are Indian Navy defenses? That includes radar systems and their ability to detect sea-skimming missiles early.
“So it’s hard to say specifically whether this missile will be effective at the time it is used. Clearly the land-attack capability is also important and adds to Pakistani Navy capability vis-a-vis India.”
Further indigenization efforts are focused on closing the critical gap in air defense capabilities. The same naval spokesman that informed Defense News about an indigenous anti-ship missile program also mentioned an indigenous air defense missile project.
He said the Chinese medium-range LY-80N has already been selected and a platform equipped with the missile would be acquired, as revealed by the recent news of a deal for a
Type 054A Jiangkai II frigate. He also stated there were no immediate plans to replace the FM-90 short-range air defense system that equips the F-22P Sword-class frigates.
Considering the bulk of the FM-90 system, however — only eight missiles are capable of being carried by the F-22P frigates — it is possible a smaller, short-range missile is being developed for those vessels unable to be equipped with the FM-90.
The next Pakistani missile program to break cover, therefore, may be such a system.
Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.