Early Warning Systems: Relevance for India and Pakistan

The nuclear missile proliferation in South Asia has further complicated the strategic situation. This development in reference to of the existing irritant issues and the armed conflicts and between countries like India and Pakistan, calls for the need of some technological innovation in missile defence. The missiles are a mode of launching nuclear warheads and both India and Pakistan have nuclear capable missiles; that have very minute and sensitive launching mechanisms. These mechanisms can have complications and similarly the movements of the related launching arsenals and systems, by their mechanical build up are capable of causing misperceptions. The parties to conflict must have a system where the probable launch intentions of the adversary can be known before hand or at least at the time of forward deployment. The Early Warning Systems can be helpful in such circumstances. They can be a mode of removing any misperceptions that can lead to a nuclear launch or a counter strike along with being a credible system of missile defence.

Columnist AHMED IJAZ MALIK makes a full study of this important capability.


The nuclearization of the south Asian region since May 1998 and the adverse relations between India and Pakistan with the history of armed conflicts between them have raised the fear of probable use of these weapons. The use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare leaves the deep impression that a future nuclear war would be irrational and unthinkable; therefore the nuclear weapons must be deployed and used for the purpose of deterrence only. The likelihood of use of these weapons no matter how remote; is further confronted with certain scenarios like the accidental use, the unauthorized use and the misperceived reaction compelling to the launch of the nuclear strike.

In such a situation the knowledge of nuclear weapon related technologies, particularly, early warning systems and the risk reduction measure are of great importance. To adequately define and understand the early warning systems there is a need to have a clear understanding, an advanced knowledge of the nuclear arsenals and the weapons.

The case of India and Pakistan deserves attention because there is probably the least strategic warning time in the case of any two nuclear belligerents. The early warning systems are not so helpful when the time to respond is five to eight minutes; but the irony is, that these two countries do not have any other option to save themselves from a nuclear holocaust but to ensure certain measures that reduce the risk and prevent accidental nuclear war. 

The concept of warning has been diversified by the recent developments in strategic situations and missile developments. A nuclear missile can be launched due to the misperception or the complications existing in the launching system itself, capable of causing errors. Without stretching the point too far, there can be situations where there is a coup and the weapons fall in the hands of irrational individuals, or a region having nuclear installations declares independence and decides to use nuclear weapons against its adversary, or a situation where a computer hacker is able to break-in to a system and give a false signal to one of the parties in crisis.

There is an idea of a bolt-out-of-the-blue nuclear missile attack, where a country faces an unexpected and unforeseen, but deliberate attack. In such a situation there, technically is no time to respond even in the cases where the strategic warning time is between twenty five to forty minutes. Considering the case of India and Pakistan such an attack is unlikely and would be very difficult to be justified by the aggressor, on strategic, moral or political grounds. The history of conflicts between India and Pakistan shows that there has been a specific pattern of the stages in a conflict; where there are tensions over some irritant issue, leading to the diplomatic truculent statements, leading to further provocative moves like the forward movements and deployments of troops further leading to skirmishes and then limited intensity conflicts. The relevance thus, for Pakistan is to keep its warning systems as a mode of monitoring the deployed sites of Indian missile capability.

The early warning systems include the radars, sensors and strategic photo-reconnaissance with aircraft like SR-71 or the U2, which act for surveillance and provide information of a missile launch. These systems work together with the retaliatory response mechanisms. The incoming warhead is detected and tracked by some combination of radars. The information obtained by the radars is interpreted and processed by sophisticated computer facilities. The destruction of incoming warhead is accomplished by an interceptor (missile) warhead exploding in the vicinity of the incoming warhead. “The sheer magnitude of the task, intercepting an enemy warhead travelling at four miles per second with an interceptor travelling much more slowly, seemed to give meaning to the metaphor of hitting a bullet with a bullet”.

This paper seeks to highlight some of the recent trends after the overt nuclearisation in South Asia. Present a general overview of early warning and missile defence as a concept in the context of command and control structure. The early warning capabilities of both India and Pakistan, early warning in a short strategic warning time, necessity and feasibility of advanced early warning and the concept of deterrence and second strike capability in the current scenario. In the end the probable propositions for Pakistan and India to cooperate in a “Shared Early Warning” and mutual information exchange will be presented. The unilateral options for Pakistan will also be discussed.

South Asian Nuclearisation

The basic theory that has been in play in South Asian nuclearisation has been the ‘Balance of Power’. The concept of shift or tilt in the balance has caused India and Pakistan to strive for nuclear superiority, actually trying to overbalance each other. A Proliferation-by-reaction model has been observed. “This model hypothesizes that, if one country acquires (nuclear weapons), the traditional foe feels itself under compulsion to acquire (the nuclear weapons) for the sake of protective equilibrium”.

For Pakistan, this was a situation with pressing need to achieve national objectives and maintain regional security. Motives are of two types, ‘in-order-to’ and ‘because-of’. The difference between the two is the element of choice. Pakistan’s motives of going nuclear were not the result of the element of choice. It was not a case of Pakistan going nuclear ‘in-order-to’ achieve a prestigious and dominant status in south Asia; but ‘because-of’ feeling vulnerable to a threatening posture of Indian strategic and tactical nuclear policy. The action-reaction model of nuclear proliferation was observed in south Asia. “America’s nuclear weapons called the Soviet Union’s in to being; the Soviet Union’s, China’s; China’s India’s; India’s, Pakistan’s. The United States grudgingly accepted the first two steps in this reasoning, but balked at the third and fourth. Pakistan is obviously a state that needs weapons. For Pakistan to compete on conventional military grounds with India is economically impossible. Nuclear weapons, if linked to a sensible strategy, however, are low-cost way of levelling the playing field”.3 The strength of Indian army is greater than Pakistan’s, so the nuclear weapons are defiantly a successful deterrent in avoiding a conventional war.  

The Indian motivations on the other hand, as presented by P.R.Chari, Director IPCS, were a combination of perception threat from China, pressures from scientists at the atomic energy commission and the motivations of prestige at the level of domestic politics.

The trends in the current situation have changed quite a bit since the earlier strategic and tactical uses of nuclear weapons. The two developments have made the situation more volatile. “First, the technologies and capabilities have advanced to a point where more nations could proceed rapidly to nuclear weapon status. Second, the United States is backing away from its commitments to the international non-proliferation regime and undertaking actions such as the deployment of missile defence system that could catalyse the reaction chain”.

Related to these developments is the ‘nuclear doctrine’ enunciated by India. Pakistan has a Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) and the C4I that have presented the Pakistan’s nuclear policy. The Indian doctrine has obligated Pakistan to present its own nuclear policy, though the Indian doctrine has been vastly criticized for it being ambiguous. In the idea of a shift from a peacetime deployment to a fully employed force in the shortest possible time, the term shortest possible time suggests alert deployment. Moreover, maximum credibility can only be achieved by maximum deterrence, and the integrated action and sequential plans are not clear in the context of command and control.6 The organisational pessimists who are studying the South Asian nuclear proliferation believe that the military officers have a bias in favour of preventive war. The organisational pessimists say that the military officers believe, war to be inevitable, and military officers have biases in favour of offensive doctrines. The “principle of the initiative” suggests that offences are highly advantageous. Finally military officers are less likely than civilians to focus on domestic or international political disincentives against preventive war.

These themes portray the worst-case scenario for a country like Pakistan, where the nuclear command and control is firmly in the control of the military. There can be arguments in response to these themes. The massive annihilation caused by a nuclear strike is best realized and perceived by military officers who have had an experience of war fighting. The examples of Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and the Berlin blockade show that nuclear war is not an option even in the situation of extreme crises. Instead, statesmen look for other pragmatic ways of face saving when deterrence fails. “The logic of nuclear deterrence holds that nuclear states do not fight wars with each other”8, this concept can be relevant in the context of fighting a nuclear war. The risks of nuclear conflict are no doubt, high in south Asia and the future conflicts can escalate to the extent of nuclear weapons being deployed. The essential point worth considering is that nuclear weapons are meant for deterrence and have their utility only until they are not used. This is assuming that both the belligerent parties are rational. The need thus is to ensure certain basic precautions, warnings and risk reduction measures. It is also essential that sanity and rationality prevail in nuclear command and control hierarchy on both sides.   

The role, relevance and importance of early warning systems

The concept of Early Warning is understood when the targets, missiles and the surveillance systems are collectively studied. The nuclear delivery force currently consists of a triad of three weapons systems: long-range bombers with nuclear air-to-surface missiles, ICBMs and SLBMs launched from nuclear-powered submarines. The defence of this force is more complex and consists almost entirely of passive defence systems designed to provide early warning of a missile strike, as well as to protect missiles by concealing them on submarines, dispersing them on mobile launchers, or fortifying them in underground silos.

The targets are identified and categorised according to their significance to the command and control. In its ideal form a ballistic missile launched is identified by the space or ground based surveillance and monitoring system. The velocity and direction along with the heat signature of the incoming ballistic missile warhead is assessed and the information is sent to a computer system. This system in connected to the interceptor missile launching system and the incoming ballistic missile is targeted on the basis of the information collected. The ballistic missile launched goes through a boost, entry and a re-entry phase. It can be targeted when in the re-entry phase because it has reached a certain specific velocity and direction and the decoys attached to it (to misguide the interceptor missile) have been detached. Moreover, the ballistic missile now has a specific heat signature (which in the basic sense is the amount of heat it emits) making it easier to be identified by the interceptor missile; that are usually heat-seeking missiles in nature. The interceptor missiles usually consist of exoatmospheric kill vehicles that have infrared sensors. As the name signifies these interceptors are meant to destroy the ballistic warheads in the outer atmosphere.

North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) employed a variety of means to monitor the strategic missile forces of the Soviet Union, which at one point in the mid-1980s consisted of 1398 ICBMs and 983 SLBMs. The detection and tracking devices installed by NORAD include radar and sonar; laser beams; high-resolution optical devices using natural or artificial illumination; and magnetic, thermal, chemical, and acoustical sensors. This equipment may be located on ground, on sea, on airplanes, or on space satellites, and, when linked together by a central control for a specific set of tasks, it constitutes a defensive system. The most important of these systems is the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), a complex of warning and tracking radars based at sites in Alaska, Greenland, and the United Kingdom. This equipment can detect a missile as far as 4800 km (about 3000 miles) away and provide a 15-minute warning of an attack on North America. BMEWS is backed up by the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System (PARCS), formerly the tracking unit of the phased-out Safeguard ballistic missile defence system. Operating in the US interior, PARCS is powerful and precise enough to tell how many warheads are arriving and their specific impact areas. Warning of SLBM launches is provided by radar systems using phased-array antennas located along the Atlantic, Pacific, Alaskan, and Gulf coasts. This set-up replaced the old SAGE (semiautomatic ground environment) air defence radars. In addition, early warning satellites are used to sense missile launches and aid in tracking trajectories.

 There are three kinds of targets categories for ballistic missiles. The first target category consists of ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles), second type of targets consists of command, control and communication (C3) facilities and other military targets and the third target categories consist of population and cities.

“The defence systems are basically on the nature of interceptor missiles. The BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) system that could be developed to defend these three targets sets is drawn from wide range of technologies, encompassing seven different capabilities.

1. Traditional endoatmospheric defence consists of radars and interceptor missiles designed to destroy Re-entry Vehicles (RVs) in the atmosphere, relatively close to the targets being defended. A system of this sort may employ a nuclear or non-nuclear kill mechanism, is ideally suited to the defence of hard targets with small keep out volumes, and may itself be deployed in a deceptively based hardened mode. It requires relatively simple radars and uses existing and well-tested technology.

2. Traditional exoatmospheric defence consists of radars and long-range interceptor missiles designed to destroy incoming RVs outside the atmosphere (or at a great distance and altitude) and can be used either to cover a large area with a single defensive battery or to augment an endoatmospheric BMD by providing an extra layer (or level of defence). It may employ either a nuclear or non-nuclear kill mechanism and uses a combination of very large (and vulnerable) radars and infra red (optical) sensors for guidance, target acquisition and RV/decoy discrimination. Such a system has some utility in defence of “soft” fixed targets.

3. Simple-novel systems, designed for the terminal defence of hard targets such as ICBM silos, use relatively unsophisticated technology to “spread a curtain of projectiles in the path of an attacking warhead during the final seconds before the arrival at the target”. Simple radar is required, and the kill mechanism involved range from multiple unguided rocket launchers (Swarmjets) to Gatling guns, large fragmentation warheads, and — in the more sophisticated variants —missiles with homing seekers.

4. Dust defence consists of an arc of high-yield nuclear weapons buried in the ground some distance north of the ICBM silos that they are to defend (under the likely re-entry path of incoming RVs). After positive warning of an attack, and five or ten minutes before the arrival of the first adversary RV, the buried devices are detonated. The resulting clouds of dust and debris rise to high altitudes in the path of the incoming RVs, ablating each RVs heat shield and causing either the warhead’s destruction or a severe degradation of its accuracy.”

In the recent developments in missile defence, the theatre missile defence as been updated. In Tucson, Arizona, US scientists are crafting 140-cm long, 55 kg missile killers. These “exoatmospheric kill vehicles” are designed to smash invading weapons 225 km above the earth’s surface, long before they can reach a US city and kill thousands, if not millions. The US space shield satellites would detect the launch of an enemy missile and cue ground-based radars to find it. Data on its path would be downloaded into the interceptor before their launch from the main land Alaska bases, with update radioed to them in flight. Four interceptors fired two at a time, would be dedicated to each incoming warhead. If the first pair should miss another would be fired. The tests conducted so far, have still not been completely successful. The second in January 2000, missed by about 130 m when a “few molecules” of water froze inside a cooling pipe 0.09 mm in diameter — the width of human hair — and shut down the interceptor’s heat seeking sensors.

The system works in four phases. The US spy satellite in orbit detects an enemy missile launch. An X-band radar in the Aleutian Islands tracks the path of the incoming missile, distinguishing a real warhead from its decoys. The Battle Management Centre in Colorado hands of the radar data to the fleet of interceptor missiles in Alaska. The exoatmospheric kill vehicle separates and, using infrared sensors, guides itself into enemy missile destroying it 140 miles (225 km) above the earth. In fact, there is a concern that the new and more powerful booster — which will shake the kill vehicle ten times as hard as the test booster now being used — could damage its own optics or electronics and render “the interceptor impotent”.

If the second strike is made credible and reliable it dissuades the adversary to launch a first strike. This situation is called ‘Reliable Superiority’. Reliable superiority would mean that an opponent would gain very little by attacking first, and would lose nearly all of his deterrent capability if we struck first.12 This can be ensured if the second strike missile capability is either well guarded in underground silos, in mobile launchers or installed on under sea submarines.

This kind of an arrangement is also referred to as the ‘Thin System’. The arguments for a ‘thin system’ of Anti-Ballistic-Missile (ABM) have been evaluated in the past. If a first strike is discouraged for the fear of a massive retaliation, a ‘balance of terror’ is maintained and war is rendered unthinkable. But it is imperative that both the actors be rational.13 The ABM system is considered to increase insecurity and arms race, because the deployment of any kind of ABM system marks a new level in arms race simply because it is qualitatively so different from any system currently deployed.14 The balance of terror has its own merits and demerits. Whereas it prevents a pre-emptive strike it also can lead to an arms race of superiority in achieving a massive second strike capability. Such a balance of terror can also help in building up an arrangement of non-usability of the strategic weapons because of a common interest avoiding a holocaust. In turn facilitating an environment where shared early warning can be established.

India’s case

The fact that the relationship between India and Pakistan remain stagnant and have shown little improvement for the better, have raised concerns. It would be rational if the areas like nuclear war fighting, uncontrollable escalation, deliberate nuclear war through misperception, accidental nuclear war, unauthorised deliberate launch, are kept under consideration while formulating and achieving a system of nuclear early warning. In India and Pakistan’s case the less strategic warning time has lead to the misperceptions of the nuclear threshold and thus, speculations on how and when the adversary will react are abundant. Early warning systems, in such a scenario, are the only assurance for adequate information and a means of reliability.

In the technical aspect the separation of ownership from control of nuclear weapons is a state that could lead to, the two countries agreeing on cooperation on nuclear early warning systems. Since early warning includes the systems and all associated scenarios like the doctrinal aspect, the structure of arsenals, the technological trajectory, the nuclear command and control, increasing the strategic warning time and nuclear CBMs (Confidence Building Measures), it is imperative that cooperation in these areas of concern is achieved through exchange of information. As it is in the interest of both the countries, even the smallest degree of information exchanges is better than quitting.

The Indian early warning systems consist of radars for space surveillance. The objectives of Indian space surveillance system fall in two categories. The first would be to create strategic surveillance asset so as to enable the country to make independent intelligence assessments of the situation in countries of special interests. The second would be to survey areas of conflict to generate tactically valuable contribution. The first objective is met by the IRS satellite series even today, whose visual range down to 6 meters is being made available to the armed forces and to RAW. The present minimum resolution is inadequate in locating missile sites, camouflaged weapons, moving strike formations and any such dynamic processes. A slightly degraded capability exists with the IAF’s MIG-25, but flying them repeatedly in peace times would be tantamount to escalating tensions.  In times of crisis, however, the country would probably need a supplementary satellite in geosynchronous orbit capable of surveillance at night.

Since India and Pakistan are in this situation of higher probability of misperceptions through false signals, it is adequate that they mutually agree on a common language for the understanding of each other’s warning and launch facility. “The ICBM flight time from Rawalpindi to Delhi over a trajectory is 143 seconds. An Indian Early warning system (IEWS), which is systematized against a bolt-from-the-blue attack, is quite out of the question. For the Indian missile system to be able to launch from a lower Defence Conditions (DEFCON) in 143 seconds is impossible”.

The Indian concerns for the need of early warning against missiles are more in the maritime field. The most vulnerable avenue of attack against Indian peninsula would be from the sea. A Pakistani Air-independent submarine is just around the corner. To retrofit this submarine with a land attack capability will not take more than ten years. The submarine launched cruise missile was designed to evade large missile detecting radars in use in many parts of the world.17 The Indian maritime capability is not very advanced and since the nuclear submarines are the most potent second-strike arsenals, Indians are upgrading these with the help of Russia. These include building up five nuclear submarines by year 2004. The Advanced Technology Vessel (AVT) programme is the result of Charlie-I (K-43), class cruise missile submarine leased by Russia in 1998. Moreover, the Indian Navy officers have been visiting Severdovinsk to gain technological knowledge of attack submarines.18 According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the PWR reactor will use 20% enriched uranium.

India is advancing in the field of radar upgradation technology; Indian radar manufacturers have recently succeeded in producing phased array radar of smaller size. “Such radar would have large computing power and would be capable of trajectory prediction”.20 Though the Indians do not feel an urgent need of building a sophisticated early warning system yet they are calculating their options and rationale in view of the changing strategic scenario of South Asia. If Indian missiles are well targeted and a second strike does not in reality exist, then the warning system would be of critical importance for the survival of Indian arsenal. What this leads an Indian policy-maker to is that, there may not be an immediate need for an IEWS, but to forego the option for all times would be suicidal.

The debatable theme at this stage is of missile defence and early warning in the case of a launch. The dichotomy of Indian nuclear doctrine in missile defence is in the fallacy of ‘no-first-use’ and the fact that majority of the Indian arsenal is of a first strike nature. Moreover, as mentioned earlier the idea of threat perception and use against a potential enemy (entity) are ambiguous. Considering the Indian missile capabilities and deployment postures the strategic trends these themes can be examined. Prithvis are described as battlefield missiles. However, in Indian and Pakistani context, these missiles can be placed somewhere between the tactical and strategic bracket. Mobile targets can be attacked by Prithvi missiles, using Falcon Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) with TV and imaging infrared (IIR) sensors to locate these targets. The Indian army is composed of 12 corps. Out of these the important corps that concern Pakistan are Srinagar, Nagrota, Jullundar, Bhatinda and Jodhpur. India plans to equip all these Corps with Prithvi-I missiles.

India has been developing a Theatre Missile Defence (TMD), with assistance from Russia and Israel. It has been receiving foreign technology (covertly/overtly) for its missile defence project. India’s other project for augmenting its TMD capability is to buy these missiles from friendly states. For example Israel is transferring its Arrow- Anti-tactical Ballistic missile (ATBM) and Phalcon-Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft. India is also developing AEW platform equipped with array radar technology, similar to be used by Phalcon, to cue its ATBM system.

Rationality demands that India and Pakistan at least agree to form a shared early warning system based on the idea of exchange of verifiable data. In the current situation where there is a need to reach a mutually agreed upon system of defence deployment, the Indian missile deployment ambitions would not help in progress towards shared early warning. The deployment of TMD like Akash would destabilise the strategic balance between India and Pakistan. The erosion of strategic equilibrium and shift of balance of power in favour of India would undermine Pakistan’s defence. By neutralising Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence, India could launch a conventional war or nuclear pre-emptive strike against Pakistan. This compels Pakistan to enhance the size and sophistication of its nuclear arsenals, which would place a great burden on Pakistan’s economy. India’s possession of several systems of offence is a cause for concern for Pakistan. Any reservations or doubts by Pakistan towards India’s seriousness for risk reduction would thus not be misplaced. Pakistan subsequently would be compelled to build up its land based and sea based second strike.

Pakistan’s case

Pakistan’s defence policy has its basis on a minimum credible nuclear deterrence supported by an adequate conventional arsenal. Though in the conventional sphere India is superior to Pakistan, yet the history of armed conflicts shows that Pakistan has successfully matched India’s onslaughts. Conventional war fighting thus is more a matter of war strategy and tactics than just a magnanimous size of conventional arsenal. The situation took a drastic turn when Pakistan’s nuclear ambiguity ended in May 1998, and the defence policy had to be re-evaluated. As a nuclear state it was an essential prerequisite to declare a nuclear policy and command and control structure. “Casting off the veil of ambiguity surrounding its nuclear decision-making, Pakistan announced on February 2, 2000 that it had set up a nuclear command authority (NCA) to manage all aspects of nuclear activity”.

The NCA is responsible for policy formulation and exercised employment and development control over all strategic nuclear forces and nuclear organizations. It consists of three distinct bodies: an Employment Control Committee, (ECC) a Development Control Committee (DCC) and the Strategic Plans Division (SPD).

“As an apex of ‘politico-military body’, ECC is chaired by the head of the government with the minister of foreign affairs as his deputy. Its other members include: Minister for Defence, Minister of Interior, Chairman JCSC, services chiefs, Director-General of SDP and technical advisors as required by the Chairman. The main function of ECC is to issue policy directions during peacetime and war. The Development Control Committee (DCC) is a military-scientific Committee, which controls development of strategic assets. It is also chaired by the head of the government and also includes CJCSC (Deputy Chairman), services organization and scientific community. The Strategic Plans Division (SPD), headed by a senior army officer, functions directly under CJSC. Besides acting as a secretariat for NCA, it performs the functions, of planning and coordination and provides policy inputs for the task of setting up a reliable command and control. Communication, intelligence and surveillance system (C4I  SR) to facilitate the exercise of command and control over strategic assets by NCA during Crisis situation. In addition, Pakistan is also trying to evolve Strategic Force Command in each service to take care of training maintaining and custodial safety of their respective strategic assets. An Army Strategic Force Command (ASFC) has already been set up while other services are in the process of evolving their strategic commands. The operational control of these commands rests exclusively with the NCA. Thus a hierarchy of command has been established.  The establishment of NCA by Pakistan under scores the seriousness with which Islamabad has tried to grapple with the “always/never” dilemma posed by its overt nuclearisation in May 1998”

Pakistan has not formally promulgated a nuclear doctrine, yet the declarations and statements of policy makers have portrayed the principle objectives of Pakistan’s nuclear policy. The basic professed objective is to attain a level of mutual deterrence through a Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Dr A.Q. Khan gave an interview to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyar in 1984. The interview was significant because it presented Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, which was that while Pakistan would need five nuclear devices to target an equal number of Indian cities, India required three or four bombs for a similar action. According to this strategy, Islamabad could threaten important and populous Indian cities such as Delhi and Bombay, which have a combined population of 22.75 million (1991) census. India could do the same to at least three Pakistani cities — Rawalpindi/Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi with a total population of 20.1 million (1998) census. It was assumed that the potential of destruction magnitude would dissuade both countries from nuclear encounter or any conflict that could lead to total war.

The theories of strategy are all relevant only when there is a situation of conflict. Indian proposition of no-first-use has posed certain challenges for Pakistan. Though it is a welcome proposition yet the non-use of nuclear weapons even after a no-first-use declaration cannot be guaranteed. It has also been argued that the helpful war preventing shadow of nuclear weapons would not be seriously weakened by NFU promises, because as long as there are nuclear armouries they will always provide “existential deterrence” — in other words, the fact that they exist means that an adversary can never rule out the possibility of their use.27 Prime minister A.B. Vajpayee himself contradicted India’s NFU, in February 2000 he said that NFU nuclear policy doesn’t mean that “we would wait and watch while Pakistan destroys us with its nuclear weapons”.28 Pakistan has to examine the situation in its own specific circumstances. The most significant aspect of New Delhi’s advocacy of no-first-use arrangement with Pakistan is to lock Islamabad in a situation in which Pakistan’s nuclear weapons lose their deterrent value. The best way to ensure peace between India and Pakistan is not to float self-serving arms control proposals but to work together to mitigate the causes of conflict between the two countries.

All these developments when examined in the reference of the need for Early Warning Systems bring out the fact that Pakistan needs to develop Early Warning Mechanisms that are capable to monitor the deployed missile sights of India. Al-Badr is the first space surveillance system project undertaken by Pakistan. Though Pakistan is planning to develop new early warning airborne systems by the cooperation between Pakistan Navy and Air force, there is a need for developing U2 type surveillance systems. The essential need is to have systems that are capable of monitoring the deployed missile sites during the times of crises, this can be accomplished by upgrading the already existing missile warning radar systems and the satellite surveillance systems. It is not urgently needed to acquire the most modern technology if the purpose is monitoring of the installations. Moreover, infrared systems are not needed at these stages, until the level of missile technology is upgraded simultaneously. There are certain natural limitations too; the infrared signals can be interfered by rain clouds and heavy dust, conditions that are frequent over central Asia and Pakistan.

If the early warning capability is present it will only at best inform of a missile launch, and even at this juncture the possibility of it being identified as a conventional or a nuclear missile are remote. Moreover, the response can be difficult in the sense that it is not possible to target it in the boost phase, which has the time period of five minutes and the velocity of the missile is maximum. So early warning in such a scenario would rather be destabilising. The answer thus is in acquiring a strong second-strike capability, and the dispersal of the nuclear warheads by also keeping them mobile. The air delivery mechanism, and the underground silos can also be used, as they are difficult to detect. The mobile launchers were used in the gulf war and were very successful but they face the problems like the probability of accident, sabotage and lack of communication. The Cuban missile crisis showed that no missile system is 100% efficient. The evidence of this is in the fact that Americans did not launch a pre-emptive strike, knowing the possibility that even if two warheads were left undestroyed they could play havoc.

‘Heat signature’ the amount of heat emitted by a warhead is much more than the decoys so the heat seekers can detect and destroy the missile warheads. The endoatmospheric and the exoatmospheric experiments have shown that if the missile technology is advanced it can either be made to dodge the heat seeker or the interceptor. The system like the TMD can also have missiles that follow a zigzag path and they avoid the heat seekers.

The safest second strike is the SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles).

The nuclear powered submarines are the most suitable and undetectable along with being feasible. Even the diesel powered submarines can be upgraded and cruise missile can be launched through them but then the problem is that they can be detected when they come to the surface to recharge, and thus leave behind diesel fumes that can be detected through special detecting systems, however, the missile launched through them cannot be easily intercepted because of the high velocity and the curvature of the earth making it difficult to hit the coming warhead at an angle, in the boost phase. The submarine launched ballistic or cruise cannot be effectively targeted in the entry or re-entry phase in the case of India and Pakistan because of the less distance it will be left to cover in the entry or the re-entry phase.

The Naval submarine Agosta is capable of being upgraded and made capable of launching cruise missiles. Agosta 90Bs have independent propulsion and firing system of longer-range missiles and could deliver nuclear weapons. They are fitted with 200KW MESMA Air independent propulsion system (ATP) equipped with SM-39 long-range anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles. These have enhanced endurance and submerged capabilities, and Pakistan Navy has included Euro-Torpedo for its three new submarines. The government has established Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) for the promotion of defence equipment. Pakistan Navy and Air force have joined to develop an indigenous airborne, early warning system, and the maritime version of Turkish CASA 235 aircraft. The Navy has missile boats, Sea Kings and Atlantic. For Air defence there are Mirage V.31 Launching cruise missiles through diesel operated submarines, requires that the crew be prevented from the blast and the effects of the massive recoil of a cruise missile launch. The detailed examination and feasibility reporting has to be done to prevent any accidents, and ensure accuracy and precision of the missile.

Pakistan has to consider its resources and the type of threats it faces, while choosing its strategic missile arsenal and early warning facility. It is neither required nor feasible to build up space based surveillance systems and ballistic missile defence capability. Pakistan’s military is well equipped to upgrade its mobile launchers at the local mechanical complexes. Therefore, the components of Pakistan nuclear force should be land-based missiles; aircraft and nuclear-equipped air and submarine launch missiles.

Research in the development of sophisticated weaponry is needed. The navy could be provided with nuclear capable air and submarine launch missiles. Pakistan does not need to match India’s IRBM, having range more than 2500 km and ICBM projects. The Pakistan-specific missiles are India’s Prithvi and Agni I and II. Moreover, Pakistan does not require ICBM or IRBM having range more than Ghauri II, Ghauri III and Shaheen II. Thus Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are to deter conventional as well as nuclear aggression against it.

In the context of early warning, if the Indian missile sights are adequately monitored during a crisis situation it is fairly probable to judge the new developments in the deployment postures and any forward movement or launching intentions. The liquid fuel for Prithvi is very toxic and must be adequately preserved and uploaded just prior to launch, this process take time and is done with extreme professional expertise, thus providing enough time for the monitoring and surveillance systems.

Other than taking these measures it is essential to have a level of transparency too. Therefore, there is an urgent need for missile confidence building measures MCBM in South Asia. For instance, it would include information measures such as exchange of information about missile development, deployment and testing.32                

As mentioned earlier the proliferation in South Asia has been a result of a proliferation-by-reaction model, so there are factually three actors in the situation. China is a major player that has to be considered and included when the prospects of cooperation in the strategic fields of missile deployment, risk reduction and shared early warning is concerned. Joseph Cirincione concludes “India’s nuclear tests and current deployment plans have much to do with China and US than with Pakistan”.

The East West Institute organized an international workshop in Prague in February 2001 on the “Current Trends in Early Warning and Ballistic Defences: Areas for Cooperative Action”. There is a proposal of a Global Monitoring System.

Russian proposal of a “Global Monitoring System” (GMS) was new idea presented in the workshop. The aim is to establish a ‘missile launch transparency regime’ after three stages of notification of pre-and post-launch of missiles more than a range of 1500 km, a multilateral centre fort processing and distribution of information and establishing a regime for monitoring of the missile launch —as a verification measure for correct notification. Moreover, there are security assurances for the states participating in GMS and renouncing the possession of missile delivery systems and there are proposed internal consultation mechanisms under the aegis of UN for effective confidence building.

Pakistan-China-India could form such a monitoring system. The pressing questions, however, are that how much will the countries contribute to this system, the incentives and the institutional structure for negotiating and developing the non-proliferation regimes. Factually it could take about six minutes for a Scud type missile to fly the 425 miles between Islamabad and Delhi, about the time taken for the pentagon’s threat assessment conference during the false alarm of 1979 and 1980. In fact real early warning time might prove destabilizing, if any of these countries decided to go to a launch on warning policy they would not have enough time to properly consider and eliminate the inevitable false alarm. Misperceived action like an accidental nuclear explosion might be perceived as an attack on its installations, such situations can be avoided.

Of course, either India or Pakistan, and certainly China, might object that they know their own nuclear weapons are safe. The point, however, is that they cannot be sure all the nuclear weapons in the other countries in the region are safely deployed. For instance, if there is a nuclear explosion in Pakistan it is vital to India’s security that Pakistan realizes that it was an accidental detonation and not an attack. Otherwise, Pakistan might mistakenly launch a “retaliatory” strike on India. China’s interests are also served by India knowing that a nuclear explosion in Indian territory was not a result of an attack. Similarly, Pakistan is well served if India knows it was not attacked. 

The concept of ‘Shared Early Warning’ is based on the principle of sharing and authenticating the information provided, where each country maintains control of its own national systems. A shared Early Warning can be effectively achieved and established when there is confidence in early warning information. There, however, can be situations where concealing information might go to one’s interest, such tendencies cannot be totally ruled out but it  is important that the larger and collective interests be given priority. Implementation of information matters the most and the information has to be verifiable. If the countries in shared early warning systems have more than one system in the set up of radars and infrared systems, it becomes easier to achieve a level of communication between them. Confirmation of the information is essential and the technologically advanced regional actors that have had such warning systems in the past can act as the parties to confirm the information.

There can be some reasons for not entering the shared early warning system. For instance, the evaluation of the risk of having nuclear weapons would be the same despite having entered a system of mutual surveillance and information exchange; the belief that the early warning has not lessened the fear of accidental war and in a way it is the acceptance of the fact that nuclear weapons are lethal and liable to be irrationally used.

The other positive aspect of early warning systems is the incentives for conflict resolution since false alarms can lead to escalation in crises. A scenario of repeated “alerts and false alarms” is likely to prevail in Indo-Pak context, particularly till confidence-building measures, which would reduce the risk of unintended or accidental nuclear war, are firmly in place.

In the ‘Pattern Of Conflicts’, there are two major phases. In the ‘Initial phase’ the tensions rise, either the tensions continue to spiral upwards until a major war occurs; or the tensions level off and enter a period of relative stability. The ‘Second phase’ is of the conflict timeline (tensions may ebb and flow but, the basic trajectory is level) during this period diplomatic process may have time to work on strategic issues.

The Early Warning Systems by initiating inherent cooperation among the parties in conflict help in stabilising the situation. “The primary goal of shared early warning is to establish stability in an adversarial relationship or strengthen stability that has already been established through increasing transparency”.

Considering the model of conflict resolution (where an early warning system can act as a positive stimulus) and applying it to the China-India-Pakistan case these goals could be achieved:

1. Increase situational awareness; reduce the risks of accidental nuclear war. Control the risk of irritants like Kashmir causing tension or geopolitical reasons that China and India view each other as rivals, to worsen the situation. “Because of the minimum time to respond the US/ Russian model would not give either side time to respond; nevertheless in the case of China, Pakistan and India keeping their forces off alert and relying on these systems some stability can be expected by letting all parties know that an attack was not under way particularly during a crisis”.

2. Monitor ‘De-alert’ nuclear forces; the missile silos would be out fitted with sensors that give information about the status of the missile inside. For de-alerting systems there are the pressing problems of mutual mistrust in the region, hence, there is a need of designing the early warning systems in such a nature so that each country has confidence in them even if it does not trust the other. Even if the goal of an off alert status is achieved it is going to be a significant contribution.

3. Reduce concerns about US NMD, for instance for china the concern that NMD might nullify its strategic deterrent, would be addressed. Building up Nuclear detection systems can be a positive development if the nuclear detection sensors (nudets) based in space or on land these sensors detect whether a nuclear weapon has exploded or if the country is attacked. China has had FSW-3 type of radars for early warning. China has a ground based nudet system and these acting as monitoring systems can be a good start for India and Pakistan.

Moreover, these systems act as confidence building measures by helping improve the communication, expanding the areas of understanding and promote cooperation. Improvement of joint monitoring of peacetime arms control agreement during crisis can be ensured, the criteria for network shared early warning systems is the Confidence that the information received is reliable, accurate, relevant, sufficient and not manipulated.

Improving the level of intelligence can be helpful for avoiding the incidents that can lead to irrational behaviour in the ranks of nuclear command and control. This can be achieved through the ‘Personal Reliability Programme’. Personal Reliability Programme (PRP) is the psychological evaluation, along with the assessment of the psychiatric orientation of personnel associated with nuclear command and control. The need of this programme arose from the realization that human beings can be frail, in their nature. Moreover, men in the forces who are working under strict surveillance and hold national secrets are vulnerable to mental tension due to pressures at work place and stagnation in daily routine. These conditions are not normal and such individuals even fall to drug abuse. This makes it more imperative that the control over the decision-making in the use nuclear arsenal be held with stable and sound individuals.

According to Herbert L. Abrams, a scholar at the centre for International Security and cooperation, reliability can be assured in developing safeguards, which increase the difficulty of missile launch, such as permissive links to the ‘two-man rule’. A second approach is to screen personnel who will be involved with nuclear weapons with great care, to make certain that only stable individuals will be assigned to operational or guard duties in the nuclear weapon corps.

In Pakistan, there is not such a grave concern about such problem among the people in command of the nuclear weapons, yet it is an area of concern. It depends primarily in the degree to which the problem is perceived. The greater concern is that drug abuse and mental maladies leading to drug use do not have any boundaries, and steps to control such incidents before they occur are very necessary. The problem can arise when even the sane and psychiatrically cleared individuals are exposed to extreme pressure or isolation. The personal Reliability programme, however, is desirable and necessary, it will not totally eradicate the problems of probable psychotic behaviour, but considering the need of formulating a nuclear policy if not a nuclear doctrine such programmes are essential.

In addition to these a ‘common language’ about the matters and terms of strategy can be evolved and developed. This common language is the common knowledge of the terms that all the parties to the conflict know or believe that their adversaries know and understand. All the problems of misperception arise from the fact that the deterrence theory pays scant attention to the infrastructure that supports nuclear forces, early warning systems, command and control arrangements and war plans thus ignoring the organizational behaviours that could lead to accidental or inadvertent nuclear strikes and nuclear war.38

The perceptions and suppositions about the nuclear threshold are made according to each party’s own understanding of the situation, mostly based on speculations. The common language on the missile deployment postures and the forward movements if properly branded with terminologies would make it a lot easier to understand and perceive the messages during the times of crises and conflicts.


Pakistan and India are both in a tight situation, which is referred to a situation of two scorpions in a jar, both can sting the other but none can sting and get away with it. It is rational that the two countries agree to reduce the probability of conflict through introducing early warning, risk reduction measures and confidence building. Early warning in India and Pakistan’s case could be against any movement or activity on the deployed sights during the crises. Related to these can be the nuclear missile zones, where the deployed missiles are monitored and the information is shared and evaluated. Verifiable information can be ensured in this manner on the basis of the mutual data exchange centres; this initiative can lead to the lengthening of the fuse and increasing the strategic warning time.

The level of high Human intelligence can be achieved on the principals like the principle of establishing a common language and PRP, where a ‘Two men rule’ can guarantee that a missile launch was not accidental or whimsical.

Crisis prevention centres can be established that have a task to thaw the situation of crisis and basically distinguish between the defence postures and the offensive movements. These could include 24-hour hotlines between the top most commands. The two countries can rely on the external source of intelligence including the space based surveillance and detection systems. Both countries need to set up an indigenous ABM type system with specific attention given to the defence shield over the command posts.

The western countries must recognize the fact that Pakistan and India are two nuclear states that must be given the due recognition and must not be discriminated. The non-western nations resent the hypocrisy of the “do as we say not as we do” sermon.39 India has gone so far as to denounce the NPT as “nuclear apartheid”. Pakistan has to evaluate its options for a minimum credible deterrence and consider the concept in the realistic framework, that it is not actually a fragile set-up which can be destroyed easily. Credible deterrence combined with capable second strike in a set-up guaranteeing reliable early warning and ensuring risk reduction measures would be a favourable strategic situation for Pakistan.

1William Schneider, Jr., “Missile defence systems: Past, Present and future”, in Johan J. Holst & William Schneider, Jr,  Why ABM?: Policy issues in the missile defence controversy (New York: Pergamon Press, 1969), p.3.
2James.E.Dourherty, “Proliferation in South Asia” Orbis (Fall 1975, special issue) quoted in Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, Pakistan’s Arms procurement and military buildup 1979-99 in search of a policy, (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001), p 26
3Kenneth Waltz. “Does India Need The Bomb?” The Times of India, January 26, 2001.
4Mallika Joseph A. and Jolie M.F.Wood, “Nuclear testing in South Asia”, first IPCS seminar on the Implication of Nuclear Testing in South Asia, 12 June 1998. http://www.ipcs.org/issues/articles/115-ndijolie&mallika.html
5Joseph Cirincione, op. cit., pp.123-124
6Mallika Joseph A, “India’s Draft Nuclear Doctrine”, (Report of the IPCS seminar held on 27 August 1999). http://www.ipcs.org/issues/articles/255-ndi-mallika.htm
7Scott Sagan, “The perils of proliferation in South Asia”, paper presented at conference on Nuclear risk reduction measures in South Asia organised by Islamabad Policy Research Institute in March 2001.p.
8Davin T Hagerty, The Consequence of Nuclear Proliferation, quoted in Scott Sagan, op. cit., p.184
10Wolfram F Hamreider (ed.) Global peace and security trends and challenges (Colorado: West view press’1987), pp.194-195
11Mark Thompson and Douglas Waller, “Shield of Dreams”, Times Weekly, May 8, 2000.
12Raymond D. Gastil, “Missile Defence And Strategic Doctrine” in Johan J. Holst & William Schneider,Jr (ed.) op. cit., p.47.
13Herbert Kahn, “The Case For A Thin System” in Johan J. Holst & William Schneider,Jr (ed.) op. cit., p.66
15Raja Menon, “A Nuclear Strategy for India” (New Delhi: Saga Publications, 2000) pp.267-268.
16Ibid. pp. 261-262.
17Ibid. pp. 262-263.
18The Nuclear Chronicle from Russia, (on the Web) http//www.belona.no/imaker?id=1+sub=1
19The Nuclear Chronicle from Russia, (on the Web) http//www.bellona.no/imaker?sub=1&id=9515
20Raja Menon, op. cit., p.264
21Ibid. p.262.
22Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, “India’s missiles capabilities: regional implications”, National       Development and Security, (July 2001), Vol. No. Rawalpindi, FRIENDS.p.6
23Gregory Koblentz “ Theatre missile defence and South Asia” quoted in Zafar Nawaz, op. cit., p.10
24Dr.Rifaat Hussain, “Prospects for peace between India and Pakistan”, quarterly journal. Vol IX, number 3, Spring 2001, quoted from Dawn feb.3 2000  “ National Command Authority formed”.
25Ibid. p.10-11
26Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha “Pakistan’s Arms procurement and military buildup 1979-99: In search of a policy” (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001), p.179
27Michael Quinlan, “No First Use Of Nuclear Weapons”, paper presented in the Ditchley Foundation. UK
28Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, op. cit., p.6
29Dr.Rifaat Hussain, op. cit., pp.12-13.
30Raja Menon, op. cit, p.269
31Statement of the Chief of the Naval Staff Abdul Aziz Mirza in Pakistan Observer  June 11, 2001
32Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, op. cit., p.14-15
33Joseph Cirincione, op. cit., pp. 121-135.
34Geoffery Froden, “Increasing Nuclear Stability through Sharing Early-Warning information: U.S.-Russia and China-India-Pakistan”, Paper presented at the International Workshop of the EAST WEST INSTITUTE at Prague, 2-3 February 2001. pp. 50-53.
35Gurmeet Kanwal, “Command and Control of Nuclear Weapons in India”, Strategic Analysis, Vol. XXIII, No.10. (New Delhi: IDSA). p.1712
36David.E.Mosher, “ The Potential Impact of Shared Early Warning on the Strategic Landscape and Relationships”, Paper presented at the International Workshop of the EAST WEST INSTITUTE at Prague, 2-3 February 2001. pp. 55-66.
37Andrei Zagorski, “Concepts Relating To Multilateral Cooperation in Early Warning”, Paper presented at the International Workshop of the East West Institute at Prague, 2-3 February 2001. pp 67-77.
38David Holloway, “ Nuclear History And The Nuclear Future”, paper presented at conference on Nuclear risk reduction measures in South Asia organised by Islamabad Policy Research Institute in March 2001.
39 Joseph Cirincione, op. cit., p. 133

About the  author

Mr ahmed ijaz malik is a research officer and web editor at islamabad policy research institute. He holds a master’s degree in international relations and his field of research is nuclear command and control, missile defence and diplomatic studies. Mr malik has been consultant for national rural support programme. He has also completed research work on early warning systems, role of environment in foreign policy making, security for pakistan in a changing geo-political scenario, revolutionary philosophy of ernesto che guevara, nrsp and the environment and terrorism (search for definition, motivations and causes).       

Mr. malik has written papers on us-indian convergence of interests,  on “terrorism”  (for ipri), and a book review “khaki shadows”. his newspaper publications are environmental action plan, prp in nuclear command and control, missile defence and early warning systems, m.t.c.r. and indo-pak confidence building, governance and devolution plan and poto and state terrorism in india.