Pakistan’s launch of Land Attack Cruise Missile: The Larger Perspective

Issues Details: 
Vol 12 Issue 2, May - Jun 2018
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
Pakistan’s Missile programme and India’s response capabilities
Lt Gen VK Saxena (Retd)
Friday, May 25, 2018

The Event

It was reported by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of Pakistan Military, that on 14 Apr 18, Pakistan has successfully test fired the enhanced range version of its indigenously developed Cruise Missile named Babur, which is capable of striking targets at land and sea.

The weapon named Babur 1(B) was launched from a land based transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). Though the missile is reported to have a range of 700 Km, the report did not specify, up to what range it was tested. It was claimed that the missile is equipped with niche technologies in navigation called terrain contour matching (TERCOM) and all -time digital scene matching area co-relators (DSMAC). Both these combined,  enable the weapon system to  engage various types of targets with pin -point accuracy even in the absence of GPS navigation. The missile can carry either a conventional or a nuclear warhead.

This article puts the above event in its larger perspective and draws out some implications for India.

The Beginning

In 1982-83 the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGDMP) to be managed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). IGMDP was designed to develop four different types of missiles, namely, short range surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), codenamed Prithvi, short range low level surface to air missile (SRSAM), codenamed Trishul, medium range SAM (MRSAM) codenamed Akash and third generation anti tank guided missile (ATGM), codenamed Nag. The Agni series of missiles were initially conceived as technology demonstrators, these were later upgraded to ballistic missiles with different ranges (1100-5000+ Km) under the IGMDP banner.

The felt need for the SSMs  was  to provide delivery means for both conventional, as well as, nuclear weapons deep into the enemy’s hinterland while the SAMs were to provide the capability to thwart  the growing severity and the lethality of the air threat posed by our potential adversaries. The anti tank missiles were to create a capability against enemy armour.

The Response 

In response to India’s planned build up of SSM and SAM capability, Pakistan’s missile programme started around 1987. The initial motivation for this programme was to counter the ‘missile gap’ created by India’s testing of Prithvi missile system and was aimed to develop short to medium range missile systems to deter missile threat from India.

 The missile programme adopted an umbrella code name - HATF  meaning “Vengeance”. In Arabic, HATF means “death” and refers to the sword of Muhammad which was used in many of his military conquests and had  the unique distinction of never missing its targets. Looking from Pakistan’s  point of view, it was an apt name  to a series of missiles that it intended to use against India.

Ballistic missiles worldwide are classified as short, medium, intermediate and intercontinental range  missiles, abbreviated as SRBM, MRBM, IRBM and ICBM respectively. The range brackets are- SRBM 300 -1000 km, MRBM  1000-3500 Km, IRBM- 3500-5500 km and ICBM >5500 Km.

Under the above Programme a series of SSMs were developed.  These include Hatf I- SRBM, range 80 Km payload 500 Kg, status - operational. Hatf II (Abdali) - named after 18th Century Afghan conqueror, SRBM, range 200 Km, payload 500 Kg, status - operational. Hatf III (Ghaznavi), named after the invader MohdGhaznavi, SRBM, range 290 Km, payload 500 Kg, status-operational. Hatf IV (Shaheen 1), Shaheen meaning death, SRBM, range 750-900 Km, payload 850 Kg, status - operational. Hatf V (Ghauri I and II) Ghauri1 -MRBM, range 1500 Km, payload 750 Kg, status - operational, Ghauri II -MRBM, range 1800 Km, payload 750-1200 Kg, status - operational. Hatf VI (Shaheen II) - MRBM, range 2500 Km, payload 700 Kg, status - operational. Shaheen III - range 2750 Km, payload 700Kg, status -  operational. Hatf VII (Babur)- Land attack cruise missile range 700 Km payload 500 Kg, status operational. Hatf VIII- (Ra’ad)-Air Launched Cruise Missile or ALCM, range 350 Km payload 500 Kg, status – operational and  Hatf IX (Nasr)-quick reaction shoot and scoot missile ideal for launching Tactical Nuclear Weapons or TNWs, status - operational.

An attempt has now been made to see the above capability of ballistic missiles in the larger context of the capability of Pakistan to deliver nuclear warheads on its adversary. The above said capability is considered “realised”  only when the three pillars on which it stands are achieved. These pillars are:-

•             Nuclear warheads.

•             Delivery means on land, sea and air.

•             Command and control aspects including field infrastructure.

Following points are stated in context of the above three pillars:-

 An open source estimate puts the Pakistani nuclear stockpile at 110-130 warheads with a capability to make 20 devices annually (not discussed further)

While the ground based delivery means in terms of SSMs stands described above, a careful examination of the details presented would reveal that as far as ground delivery systems are concerned, Pakistan has a family of eight different types of ballistic missiles that could serve as a ground based delivery systems for its nuclear arsenal.

 As regards the sea based delivery capability, Pakistan on 01 Apr 18,  reportedly tested a nuclear capable submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) Babur II, the land attack version of which was tested on 14 Apr 18.  It is suspected to be fitted on the French made diesel-electric  submarineAgosta 90 B- Khalid Class, or it is likely to be fitted in the future on the S-20 Yuan Class submarines that  Pakistan is likely to acquire. The SLCM Babur II has a range of 450 Km.

As regards the air delivery capability, it is reported that Pakistan  has three types of aircrafts that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. The first is  F-16 that can be equipped to toss-bomb nuclear warheads, the second is Mirage III/V and the third is JF 17 S. Last two mentioned could be equipped with Hatf VIII Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Out of the ballistic missiles mentioned above, two types demand a special mention. First are the cruise missiles which reside on the cutting edge of technology and bring in a measure of high speeds (Babur 1- 880 Km/h) and high accuracy. Babur II  launched on 14 Apr 18 reportedly destroyed its intended target “within meters”.  The second type of SSM in the Pakistan arsenal deserving a separate mention is Nasr (Hatf IX). These are quick-reaction missiles which are shoot and scoot weapons. Nasr is an SRBM with a range of 60 km. It has a multiple launch rocket system capable of carrying four ready-to-fire nuclear capable missiles with  a weapon yield in the region of 0.5 to 5 KT. Starting from its first flight test on 19 Apr 2011, the missile was quickly claimed to be operational on 05 Oct 2013. As evident from the weapon yield mentioned above, missiles like Nasr are suitable to launch TNWs  which bring in a totally new dimension to the entire spectrum of nuclear deterrent (not discussed further).

As to TNWs, it is stated that in order to play the nuclear blackmail card with India (but keep it below the threshold of attracting punitive nuclear retaliation) and under its garb, conduct nasty acts of terrorism, Pakistan has reportedly developed lower yield nuclear weapons (TNWs) which are capable of being carried accurately by Nasr tactical ballistic missile having multiple tubes for launching several TNWs together (test fired on Jul 5, 1917).

As regards the third pillar of strategic capability that is command and control aspects, following points are made in brief.

The National Command Authority (NCA) was established in 2000. NCA is the apex civilian led (PM of Pakistan is its Chairman) command to oversee the employment, policy formulation, exercises, deployment, research and development, and operational command and control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

NCA is  comprised of two committees namely the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and Development Control Committee (DCC) besides a Strategic  Plans Division (SPD).

ECC is responsible for directing  policy making  during peace time, making recommendations for evolution of nuclear doctrine, establishing the hierarchy of command and the policy for authorising the use of nuclear weapons and establishing guidelines for an effective command and control system to safeguard against accidental and unauthorised use.

DCC is responsible for exercising technical, financial and administrative control over the strategic organisations involved in the nuclear weapons programme and overseeing the development of strategic forces programmes.

SPD is responsible for formulating policy options (nuclear policy, strategy and doctrine) for the NCA. It is also responsible for implementing NCA’s  decisions, drafting strategic and operational plans for the deployment of strategic forces.

A look at the range and reach capability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles will reveal that it has the capability to reach well inside India’s hinterland and beyond. It is also clear that the missiles have the capability of delivering both conventional as well as the nuclear warheads. The triad of delivery means as enumerated above also indicates that Pakistan has options of delivery from all the three mediums viz land, sea and air.

The above stated inputs broadly put the Babur launch in its larger perspective as is the purport of this work.

Response Capability: India

While the own SSM programme as enumerated earlier continues unabated  in an eternal cause effect cycle, SSMs do not defeat SSMs. It is anti missile capability (referred to with the generic name of Ballistic Missile Defence or BMD)  that defeat adversary’s SSMs.

In the above context it is known that the indigenous capability in the BMD domain is being developed under the DRDO’s ‘Programme AD’

This programme was to be developed in two phases.  Phase I was to build the BMD shield against an incoming threat of ranges up to 2000 km while Phase 2 extended this capability to cover the missile threat from 2000-5000 km. The time lines for completion of Phase I were 2012 and for Phase 2 by 2016.

The focus in Phase I and Phase 2 was both endo and exo regions, interceptors were designed accordingly. For Phase 1, Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) was to be the interceptor for the exo-atmospheric interception up to altitudes of 50-80 kms while Advanced Air Defence (AAD) was meant for interception in the endo-atmospheric region up to an altitude of 30 kms. PAD is a two stage liquid fuelled interceptor. Its future version is Prithvi Development Vehicle (PDV) in which the liquid fuel propulsion stage is replaced by solid fuel stage.

Phase 2 was to have two interceptors AD-1 and AD-2.  Roughly, the Phase 2 systems was supposed to match the capability of THAAD type of missile deployed by the US.  Such a missile can intercept targets up to 200 km, altitude and track targets at ranges in excess of 1000 km.

As per open source data, the entire system consisting of weapon and support systems configured in Phase 1 and Phase 2 stand fully configured, tested and operationalised. As of Aug 2017, the govt is reported to have cleared the allocation of 850 acres of land in Khoa, Alwar and 350 acres in Pali (both in Rajasthan) for setting up of the radars and support systems of Programme AD.

Programme AD will also find a connect with the S 400 system  with clearance being accorded for the procurement of equipment for  five regiments ex Russia. S 400 is also an anti missile system and will therefore complement the indigenous capability as contained in Programme AD.

It is however to be appreciated that  given a huge quantum of VAs/VPs that need to be protected, the limited quantities of Programme AD FUs combined with FUs of S 400 will still leave voids. In any case, S 400 is a far cry for now as the FUs of this system will only get operationalised a phased manner starting 4-5 years from now.


BMD and S 400 are only scalar capability verticals which cannot exist in a vacuum. For them to become a “capability” in the manner explained, a host of other actions need to be completed as “imperatives”. These are stated below.

 The need of the hour is to move forward expeditiously towards realisation of the Programme AD systems as deployable FUs under Strategic Forces Command (SFC).

The declared NFU doctrine essentially premises that we have the capability to take on the enemy’s first strike and survive to cause the stated unacceptable punitive retaliation. This would call for building robust and survivable infrastructures, fail-proof and survivable regime of codes and authorizations for weapon delivery, duly supported by several layers of redundant and secure communications. Besides the wherewithal to stage a response, the survivability of actors also needs to be ensured through alternate Command Posts with a chain of hierarchy fully defined and known to the decision makers, up and down the chain.

As to the collateral damage and casualties to the civil population, the enemy’s first strike will be a calamity, very much like a man-made disaster as explained by the guidelines issued by the Natural Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Regrettably, much of these comprehensive and very well documented guidelines, which call for a whole lot of actions at the Centre and State level, have largely remained on paper with the potential victim population quite unaware of the looming danger and the authorities quite indifferent and generally unprepared to handle the same.

Planned dual use of existing infrastructure, like construction of mass shelters, keeping disaster relief bricks at hand, catering for disaster medication and many other calamity management measures as defined and laid down in the NDMA guidelines call for immediate attention and action by the concerned authorities and organisations.

Another time-urgent requirement will be to ensure that the operationalisation of the BMD system moves forward at top speed. For this to happen following is required.

• The system must change hands “from the DRDO Scientists” to the “users and stakeholders”. In that, the Strategic Forces Command must fully own, operate and actualise the system a weapon in its arsenal. Full operationalisation must be achieved by 2020.

•             The sequence of deployment of Programme AD FUs, which involves a large number of actions besides multi-disciplinary and multi-agency coordination must start to unfold in the immediate future.

•             Sequence of action to realise associated command and control infrastructure, missile testing and storage sites and tuning up the disaster management response must come up alongside.

The Babur launch as one isolated event when seen in its larger context reveals how our potential adversary is “working to a plan” which needs to be defeated by a “superior plan”.

Military Technology