Pakistan Counters India’s Nuclear Horn

Ammar Akbar |

“National missile defense is poised to retrigger a proliferation of weapons, notably nuclear missiles. Everything that goes in the direction of proliferation is a bad direction”, said Jacques Chirac, former president of France. However, the recent S-400 purchase deal inked between India and Russia has not only prompted an arms race but also created the question of balance of power in the region.

While India’s hegemonic ambitions have always propelled it to acquire state-of-the-art weapons, Pakistan, on the other hand, has made sure that a strategic balance is maintained to meet any challenges to its sovereignty. Therefore, Pakistan is fully aware of its security and defense challenges.

It’s not a surprise that Pakistan’s indigenous cruise missiles have the capability to beat the layered defense shield of S-400 and hit its target with pinpoint accuracy.

In actuality, it is the opacity of Pakistan’s missile and defense system technology, which would leave the adversary completely surprised. Similarly, the inherent weakness of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system and advanced missile systems of Pakistan make this nation of Quaid ready for any undesirable military adventures by the enemy.

The S-400 Triumf system, ‘considered’ to be the most advanced air defense system, has been in service for more than a decade but its performance and operationality on the field is marred with skepticism and uncertainty. On paper, the defense system is capable of engaging with all types of aerial targets including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 400km, at an altitude of up to 30km.

These abilities sound impressive but the failure of S-400 in intercepting American Tomahawks missiles targeting Bashar al-Assad’s Al Shayrat military airbase outside Homs, casted doubts on the capabilities of the system. Russian political statements previously advocating S-400’s effectiveness weakened when senior Russian officials accepted that further improvements were needed to make the system more defense capable.

It must be kept in mind that the S-400 has not been tested against American and Pakistani missile technology. With Tomahawks, the American cruise missile, having a range of 690 miles and ability to skim the surface of the earth and take complicated routes to a target to avoid possible interception, it seems that the Russians would require significant updates in its S-400 system.

What’s interesting is how the Pakistani missile technology was also designed to penetrate the defenses of the S-400 system. It’s not a surprise that Pakistan’s indigenous cruise missiles have the capability to beat the layered defense shield of S-400 and hit its target with pinpoint accuracy. Babur, Raad, and Ababeel cruise missiles, the crowns of Pakistan’s cruise missile technology all have the defensive features to safeguard the borders.

The third Pakistani masterpiece is a warhead carrier developed indigenously to counter the strategic imbalance created by India’s procurement of S-400 is Ababeel.

So much so that even International defense experts have labeled Babur as the Pakistani version of Tomahawk. Catherine McArdle Kelleher, a senior American national security expert, has identified the unique similarities between the two cruise missiles. Technically, the technological edge of the cruise over ballistic missile is the maneuverability of the former.

And when it comes to conquering S-400, the Pakistani cruise missiles with multiple stealth capabilities totally dilute the pride of the enemy’s confidence in its defense systems. The ingenuity of Pakistani scientists in missile technology is remarkable. Not only do they accomplish to penetrate the current Indian Ballistic Missile Defence but also have the technology to undermine the abilities of over-hyped S-400.

Even our adversaries have long agreed on the superiority of the Pakistani missile technology. For instance, Lt Gen Sarath Chand, Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) of Indian Army, had already commended the brilliance and technical advancement of Pakistan’s defense industry.

The first line of defense against any misadventure in case of miscalculation and over-reliance on S-400 defense systems by India will be Babur. The cruise missile Babur is an all-weather nuclear capable land, sea and air launch capable missile. With a range of 700km and other distinct features such as Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) and all-time Digital Scene Matching and Area Co-relation (DSMAC) technologies, which facilitate it to engage in different types of targets with pinpoint accuracy even in the absence of GPS navigation makes it impossible for S-400 batteries stationed across the border to interpret the subsonic missile.

Technically speaking, it’s low-flying, terrain-hugging missile and its flight capability of less than 5km over sea level makes it easy to evade the radar coverage of S-400. Russian defense sources have already disclosed that the maximum engagement attitude for S-400 interceptor missiles is between 15-20km. The nuclear-capable Babur missile even has an advantage over the current Indian missile defense system as it can beat the interception in the endo-atmospheric stage.

The second missile, which has the ability to neutralize the enemy’s defense, is Raad. Raad, which is also known as Hatf VIII, is similar to Babur in technology but is a far more advanced air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). Due to limited information on the missile’s full capabilities, the opacity surrounding its stealth technology is to leave the enemy defense systems unprepared and S-400 is one of those systems.

Gen Khalid Kidwai, former head of Pakistan’s strategic command, has called Shaheen-3 Pakistan’s answer to India’s so-called second capability. With 2750km range, the Shahaan-3 is a power to reckon with.

With an official disclosed the range of 350km, the missile is loaded with self-navigating technology and can fly on a non-ballistic very low altitude trajectory in order to avoid radar detection. Furthermore, its land and sea launch capabilities have included Pakistan in the League of Nations, which has both land and sea strategic standoff capability.

The third Pakistani masterpiece is a warhead carrier developed indigenously to counter the strategic imbalance created by India’s procurement of S-400 is Ababeel. It’s a great achievement for the Pakistani nation, its armed forces and the scientists who left no stone unturned to successfully test the missile. No doubt Pakistan has achieved a milestone in missile technology.

The concern and the recognition of Pakistan’s MIRV technology by Robert Ashley, the director of the American Defence Intelligence Agency, further solidifies the significance of the development. One must note that in military warfare, future enhancements of adversary’s defense technology are taken into account prior to the development of new defense equipment. Ababeel, a surface-to-surface nuclear-capable missile with the 2,200km target range, was one such project.

What has made this missile a center of attention in the western and Indian media was its Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology. If we explain the feature in simple words then one can understand the lethality of the missile in this modern age. The S-400 system boasts a multiple layered defense protection against hostile incoming missiles.

Despite high claims of having the capacity to engage with hundreds of incoming targets simultaneously, the success rate of S-400’s interceptor missiles is not 100 percent as witnessed in Syria. Therefore, Ababeel’s MIRV system, which is capable of launching multiple warheads with inbuilt decoys- flying objects to exhaust interceptor missiles- at mid-course and the terminal stage, has full ability to counter the effectiveness of S-400 air defense system.

Pakistan’s necessary strategic reliance on tactical nuclear weapons-a detailed review will be covered in later articles-is response to Indian cold war doctrine of which S-400 is the cornerstone.

Pakistan has not only updated its missile defense technology to deter the hegemonic policing ambitions of India in the region but also made sure the Indian Ocean littoral is secured. Gen Khalid Kidwai, former head of Pakistan’s strategic command, has called Shaheen-3 Pakistan’s answer to India’s so-called second capability. With 2750km range, the Shahaan-3 is a power to reckon with. With built-in MIRV technology, the missile has full capability to deter Indian second-strike capability from the Andaman and Nicobar islands and penetrate the blanket coverage of S-400.

The advanced terminal guidance system on board explains the combination of deterrence features on board of Shaheen 3. In fact, Pakistan’s own second-strike capability achieved through Submarine Launch missile system, Babur 3, has taken hostile forces by surprise. As a result, the Indian army has triggered an arms race by spending billions of dollars on anti-missile defense systems.

Upgrading the ballistic missiles and turning to a nuclear triad capable state was the only option for Pakistan for it was important to maintain the balance of power in the region. It is worth mentioning that Pakistan is fully combat ready to counter Indian aggression be it on land, sea or air. Pakistan’s necessary strategic reliance on tactical nuclear weapons-a detailed review will be covered in later articles-is response to Indian cold war doctrine of which S-400 is the cornerstone.

Hence, the strengthening of Pakistan’s defense industry is a direct response to those powers, which dream to weaken Pakistan in the international society. As Sun Tzu, the ancient military strategist said, “Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack”.

Apart from the technical and expert analysis on the impact of the recent S-400 Indian deal, it is also pertinent to discuss the geopolitical analysis, especially when India, Russia, China, and Pakistan are members of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The gradual yet explicit shifts in regional partnerships could destabilize the region if the powerful governments fail to take into account the ground realities.

Anti-state elements tried each and every technique to destabilize our country. The response was simple, the harder you press us, the stronger we will emerge.

Buzzwords such as nuclear proliferation, nuclear suppliers group and sanctions are becoming irrelevant while America’s strategic partner is being given special treatment. The vivid example is America’s new strategic partner, India, whose complete violations of international obligations under Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) are justified as a diplomatic understanding between the USA and India.

Michael Kugelman, an expert on South Asia, argues that despite the converging of American and Indian interests, Russia’s relationship with India remains strong. Similarly, America’s nuclear deal with India, despite non-signatory of the NPT, is a clear message to promote India at the cost of Pakistan while disturbing the regional peace and security.  However, Pakistan is aware of these changes and has credibly maintained its defense capabilities to defeat the hegemonic maneuvers of India and its partners.

Read more: India tests Brahmos missile in “extreme conditions”

Sadly, if Russia continues to prioritize its security equipment sales over peace in the region then SCO would follow the same trajectory as SAARC. Any significant arms deal should go through the SCO platform and Pakistan especially should be taken into confidence due to its important geopolitical location. The dream of India to act as a big brother will remain a delusion as Pakistan’s hard power is globally recognized.

Thus, Russia should rethink the S-400 deal and amend relations with Pakistan to benefit from its counter-terrorism and defense industry expertise. The resilience of Pakistan army in the war against terror is proof that as a nation we prefer peace over violence. The SCO and its member Russia have to follow zero-sum free policies towards Pakistan, as it will boost Pakistan’s role in the organization. The objectives of the organization have to take precedence over national interests.

The state-of-the-art weapons are the reminder to those who underestimate the full spectrum deterrence capabilities of Pakistan. Pakistan believes in the peaceful rise of its neighbors but not at the cost of hawkish policies of the surrounding nations.

It’s a defining moment for Pakistan because, despite years of uncertainty and internal and external challenges, Pakistan emerged as the winner. Anti-state elements tried each and every technique to destabilize our country. The response was simple, the harder you press us, the stronger we will emerge. While Pakistan fought for global peace, India spent billions to upgrade its defense abilities to bully other nations and S-400 deal part of the game.

But rest assured, despite economic constraints Pakistan’s defense industry has become one of the best in the world and is capable enough to produce missiles and tactical weapons, which can sheer through enemies defense lines irrespective of S-400 systems. Defense experts in warfare studies would remember and quote this act as a perfect example of the balance of power maneuvering.

The state-of-the-art weapons are the reminder to those who underestimate the full spectrum deterrence capabilities of Pakistan. Pakistan believes in the peaceful rise of its neighbors but not at the cost of hawkish policies of the surrounding nations.

Read more: Does S-400 air defense missile system signal an end of Pakistan…

We understand the social-economic issues of the subcontinent but survival is paramount in the international comity of nations. When countries– such as India– spend billions on arms purchases and disregard poverty-ridden public, than necessary measures have to be taken by peace-loving nations like Pakistan to safeguard sovereignty because as the father of the nation said, “There is no power on Earth that can undo Pakistan.”

Ammar Akbar Chaudhry is alumni of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He is International Youth Ambassador at Global Youth Parliament, is a Defence Analyst, and author at ‘Hilal’ magazine, Pakistan Armed Forces. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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