Tactical nuclear weapons like the Nasr are globally recognised as highly destabilising weapons since their use is very likely to trigger escalation to higher-yield bombs by the adversary
Ajai Shukla | New Delhi Last Updated at January 24, 2019 23:36 IST
This “tactical nuclear weapon” (TNW) has been developed as the Pakistan Army’s weapon of last resort if a successful Indian “cold start” offensive – a massed attack launched without lengthy mobilisation – rapidly advances into Pakistan, capturing territory and threatening vital cities and installations.
The Nasr TNW, which would carry a small-yield “sub-kilotonne” nuclear bomb, is not designed to cause widespread damage, in the manner of “city-buster” nuclear bombs of 20-kilotonnes and above. Instead, it is intended to serve the dual purpose of demonstrating Pakistan’s determination to protect its vital national interests; and to provoke international intervention to stop India.
To avoid provoking a “massive” Indian retaliation, which New Delhi’s nuclear doctrine mandates and which would involve demolishing several Pakistiani cities with large-yield nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s use of Nasr TNWs would aim to minimise destruction and, therefore, provocation. Analysts believe Pakistan is unlikely to use the Nasr TNW on Indian territory, far less Indian cities. Instead, the Nasr TNW is likely to be used on Indian forces deep inside Pakistan territory.
A video released by the Pakistan Army on Thursday showed a vehicle-mounted, four-tube missile launcher firing a salvo of four missiles. As each missile soars into the sky, troops shout “Allah-o-Akbar“. The video then shows the four missiles striking their targets – flags embedded in the desert sand – within a few tens of metres.
“Nasr is a high precision, shoot-and-scoot weapon system with the ability of in-flight manoeuvrability,” claimed the Pakistan Army. It suggests that India’s ballistic missile defence system (still being developed) and other air defence system (like the S-400 platform being procured from Russia) would not be able to intercept the Nasr TNW.
The Pakistan Army also claims that the Nasr TNW has augmented “full spectrum deterrence” – a Pakistani term for deterring India from launching even a conventional attack with mechanised formations, which could threaten vital Pakistani interests.
The video showed General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, who heads Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, congratulating scientists and engineers.
TNWs like the Nasr are globally recognised as highly destabilising weapons, since their use is very likely to trigger escalation to higher-yield bombs by the adversary – in this case, India. That tit-for-tat escalation would very quickly degenerate into a full-blown nuclear exchange.
There is also international concern that Nasr batteries, which must necessarily be deployed early in any war, with their nuclear warheads mated with the missile, might fall into the hands of terrorist groups in Pakistan. Alternatively, they might be used without authorisation by a rogue army commander.
Hayat attempted to allay these fears. “He expressed his complete confidence in effective command, control and security of all strategic assets and measures being taken to augment these aspects,” stated the official release.
The Nasr missile was first revealed after a test-firing in April 2011. The test programme is believed to have concluded in October 2013, after which the system is believed to have entered service.
Also called the Hatf-9, the Nasr is believed to be derived from China’s Sichuan Aerospace Corporation’s the WS-2 Weishi rocket system.
First Published: Thu, January 24 2019. 23:36 IST