Pakistan: Plugging the Cold Start gap
By S. M. Hali
Pakistan has successfully conducted the first flight test of the newly developed Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile Hatf IX (Nasr), much to the chagrin of Indian defence planners, as is evident from the Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) report: ‘Pakistan: Making Sense Of Nasr Ballistic Missile Test – Analysis’. The IDSA report tries to nullify the analyses by Pakistani experts. Undoubtedly, Nasr has been developed to add deterrence value to Pakistan’s Strategic Weapons Development programme at shorter ranges. With a range of 60 km, Nasr carries both tactical nuclear and high-explosive conventional warheads. It is powered by a high-thrust single-stage solid-propellant rocket motor. Nasr's launch platform is a double-tube transporter erector launcher (TEL) capable of carrying two missiles with high accuracy and shoot-&-scoot attributes. This quick response system addresses the need to deter evolving threats. The test of Nasr is a very important milestone in consolidating Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum.
This is a new and a very significant development because this latest missile system is in the category of tactical nuclear weapons. It is a low yield battlefield deterrent, which is capable of deterring and inflicting punishment on mechanized forces comprising armoured brigades and divisions. This was made possible because of miniaturizations to smallest level and it forecloses the Indian Army’s options of Cold Start and proactive operations. Indian military used to perceive gaps in the Pakistani side and was obsessed with finding space for limited war under the nuclear umbrella. Thus it was amassing conventional weapons and had developed its “Cold Start” doctrine to be able to deal Pakistan a telling blow before it could retaliate with its nuclear weapons.
India has been testing its Cold Start doctrine in various war games and military exercises including the current Corps level Exercise “Vijayi Bhav”, in the Rajasthan desertand at the same time has been browbeating Pakistan. However, Nasr or “help” which is also the title of one of the Quranic verses, will ably plug that gap and ensure that India is deterred from any such adventurism. With the development of Nasr, Indian planners will now think twice before considering options of limited war. Indians start beating their chests and crying hoarse with their battle cries prematurely. In May 1998 too after conducting nuclear tests at Pokhran, Indian defence planners as well as politicians were so convinced that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons capability that they became ballistic with their threats and jingoism, forcing Pakistan’s hand in crossing the nuclear threshold and coming out of the closet. Having learnt no lessons, the previous Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor had announced that “the time has come for teaching Pakistan a lesson”. General Deepak Kapoor had become blinded by the so called success of Indian war games testing Cold Start and thus he had broken into rhetoric.
A few details of Nasr, gleaned from overt sources; it is akin to a guided artillery shell in the form of Surface to Surface Missile (SSM). The Soviets had developed and used various types of such missiles as a propellant and heavily fortified fixed installation target clearance weapon system in the battlefield. Nasr however can successfully target armoured and mechanized columns on the move with nearly pinpoint accuracy. Judging from the test flight video released, Nasr appears to follow a depressed trajectory rather than typical ballistic trajectory which makes a lethal combination, when married to the high maneuverability, high speed and short range; which will cause nightmares and throw a challenge to any Anti Ballistic Missile system.
Comparing Nasr to the earlier versions of Hatf 1B and Hatf 1A, Nasr appears to be more stabilized in its flight. The use of terminal guidance enables the Nasr to be projected as a quick response precision guided ballistic missile with extremely low circular error of probability (CEP) to take the heavily defended targets in a 60 KM radius. Its quick reaction time, low CEP, terminal guidance and lethal warhead makes it far superior to a simple unguided multi barrel rocket launcher system. The test fire and diameter of the warhead suggest that Pakistan has achieved the capability of deploying sub-kiloton yield tactical nuclear warheadappropriate for a sub-kiloton nuclear detonation, which if boosted with 4-5 g of tritium, could yield a 10-20 KT nuclear detonation. When produced in bulk, it will wreak havoc in any battle field scenario, penetrating the fog of war and striking a telling blow upon any belligerent.