New round of Indo-Pak Ballistic Missiles

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PATRON Lt Gen (Retd) SARDAR FS LODI examines the new missile race in SOUTH ASIA

On April 11, 1999 India found it necessary to test her new longer-range ballistic missile Agni-II in complete defiance of world opinion which is moving towards the possibility of eliminating further nuclear and missile testing. The test was also a harsh reminder to India's neighbours about her future offensive capabilities and intentions. Which do not augur well for sustainable peace in South Asia.

Indian Information Minister Mr Pramod Mahajan called it a 'historic feat' and a 'golden effort' of the BJP-led coalition government. The Prime Minister of India Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee called it a 'defensive step' which was not meant for aggression against any country. The question is was it necessary when peace talks were in progress between India and Pakistan and India's security is not threatened by any of her neighbours including China.

India's latest IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) Agni-II has an announced range of 2,000 kilometres but is capable of reaching 2,500 kilometres with a nuclear payload. Is 20 metres long and weighs 16 tons. It is a three-stage solid-fuel missile with the latest navigation and guidance control systems on board.

Acquisition of a weapons system which is capable of delivering a nuclear payload 2,500 kms away certainly shows an aggressive intent on the part of India. Her intentions therefore do not seem to be honourable.

There are certain defence and security implications of a serious nature after India was able to acquire the capabilities generated by the longer-range Agni-II missile. It has enhanced India's military capability by adding to its offensive reach. India now possesses a missile system that is more reliable, has a greater range and is less vulnerable being comparatively more mobile than the previous one. India has now acquired the knowledge and expertise necessary to build and operate a three-stage ballistic missiles using solid-fuel. It is therefore evident that missiles of longer range are in the offing.

The greatest advantage that accrued to India after launching her Agni-II missile with a longer reach was the capability of deploying the new missile in South India, outside the range of Pakistan's Ghauri-I missile, and still be able to hit targets in the whole of Pakistan territory. This would enable India to eliminate Pakistan's second strike capability in a nuclear conflict, as India's missile launchers would be invulnerable in South India to a Pakistani counter attack. A second strike capability meaning the ability to counter attack, is essential to maintain the credibility of a nuclear deterrent.

By acquiring the ability to stand back at a safe distance outside Pakistan's missile range to fire her nuclear missiles without the fear of a retaliatory strike at her own missile capability, India deliberately upset the nuclear balance in South Asia to her advantage. For peace to have a chance in the region it was essential to regain the balance without much loss of time. A suitable response from Pakistan was a need of the hour and consequently inevitable.

Pakistan's response came three days after India took the initiative. On April 14, 1999 Pakistan launched her longer-range missile Ghauri-II from Tilla near the city of Jhelum. After a 12-minute flight it hit a target 1150 km away near the coastal town of Jiwani on the Balochistan coast. It has a planned range of 2,000 km, weighs about 13 tons and can carry a payload 1,000 kg. It was test-fired with a reduced range owing to space limitations. It may later on be tested to its maximum range over the Arabian Sea. The range can be extended to 2300 km by reducing the payload.

Ghauri-I tested last year has a maximum range of 1500 km and can carry a payload of 700 kg. It is comparable to India's previous ballistic missile the Agni-I. Both helped to maintain a military balance in South Asia until India tilted it in her favour by launching the longer range Agni-II when there was no military requirement of doing so.

On April 15, Pakistan was able to launch her short-range ballistic missile Shaheen from Sonmiani coastal testing base, which is located about 60 miles North West of Karachi. The missile covered a distance of 600 km before hitting its target. It has a planned range of 750 km. The missile uses solid-fuel which was considered superior to the conventional liquid fuel.

It is the opinion of defence experts at home and abroad that the only protection against a nuclear threat is to acquire nuclear weapons for a counter stroke. Similarly the only defence against an incoming ballistic missile is to possess similar ballistic missiles of comparable characteristics and destructive power to inflict unacceptable damage on an adversary. When this destructive equilibrium has been attained, a viable and credible deterrent to war and hostilities is said to be in place. This will eventually tend to eliminate armed conflict as an instrument of state policy particularly that of India which has used force against all her neighbours including China.

The military advantage of launching the Ghauri-II is to give Pakistan a greater reach to cover the whole of India. It would therefore eliminate the safe areas in the South and East of India which were the result of the previous missile Ghauri-I owing to its shorter range. In other words Pakistan's counter stroke or second strike capability in nuclear parlance, would be maintained.

The test-firing of Shaheen missile gives Pakistan the technical knowledge of a solid-fuel rocket motor which can be used in future missile technology. A solid-fuel missile has comparatively greater mobility and takes lesser time to prepare and launch which is an added advantage in active operations in war. The testing of new missiles will also contribute to the further development of Hatf-II and III short-range battle field ballistic missiles which are at present progressing very well.

I was asked as to why Pakistan was resorting to a tit-for-tat strategy with regard to nuclear and ballistic missile launching by India. The answer is clear and simple. Pakistan is a small peace loving nation which has no aggressive designs or intentions against any country. On the other hand India's plans are aggressive as her past record shows it up very well. India has gone to war with Pakistan three times and provoked a border conflict twice. The one at Siachin glacier still goes on. In 1971 India used force to split Pakistan asunder while the Security Council stood back and watched. It is essential to have the capacity to defend the country without the false security of outside assurances.

It is therefore as a purely defensive and protective measure that Pakistan is forced to respond to any Indian initiative which tilts the defence advantage in India's favour. The object being to regain military balance in South Asia. The balance will accord security to Pakistan and other small states of South Asia which will augur well for future peace in South Asia essential for prosperity and economic development of the region.

I was also asked with some degree of concern whether Pakistan would respond in kind when India tests her Surya ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) which is being developed and has a planned range of 10,000 km and above. I do not think it would be essential at all for Pakistan to respond with a missile of comparative range for the reason that Pakistan has no aggressive designs or a desire to become a major power in the region and beyond, dominating the Indian Ocean. A threat to Pakistan's security emanates from India only as is evident from the adversarial relations between the two countries since the last 52 years. Therefore as long as Pakistani missiles cover the whole of India, they can ensure Pakistan's security, there would be no further requirement to enhance the range and lethality of her missiles.

In view of the proliferation of ballistic and other missiles across South Asia, some armed with nuclear missiles, it is now becoming increasingly essential for India and Pakistan to conclude some form of Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR). This has been suggested by Pakistan as part of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between the two countries. The SRR would also be required to define and lay down the minimum level of deterrence in nuclear and conventional forces required for the genuine requirements of defence and security of each country. This would also help to prevent a form of arms race in the region while catering for defence needs. India does not seem to be amenable to this suggestion so far, probably owing to her future plans in the nuclear and missile fields, which are bound to prove detrimental to lasting peace in the region.

Inspite of the substantial nuclear and conventional forces now available in India and Pakistan, the first priority for the region continues to be peace and economic progress. This is the desire of the people in India and Pakistan which has been very well reflected in the recently concluded Lahore Declaration to solve all differences by peaceful means without recourse to force. It is therefore hoped that peace talks between India and Pakistan will continue apace with the new government in India.