Last week, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear program, A Q Khan made an ominous-sounding statement about Pakistan’s capability of nuking New Delhi in five minutes from Kahuta. While this veiled threat has stirred up the expected controversy, most experts in India are shrugging it off as mere grandstanding. Despite Khan being a reputed nuclear physicist and a trained metallurgist, military tactics and nuke war strategy are not his forte.
A few months prior to Khan’s bragging, reports from two US think tanks predicted an upsurge in the Pak nuclear arsenal — enough to make its stockpiles the third-largest in the world, after the US and Russia and with India lagging behind. India has followed a no-comment policy on this matter, which is still limited to academic speculation.
India has nearly 10 times the number of aerial vehicles capable of delivering a nuclear payload than Pakistan does…
After the Indo-US civil nuclear accord, followed by a similar arrangement with Australia, and a recent formal application of India to the NSG, new avenues have been unlocked for India to procure uranium for domestic energy demands. These newer sources will free up roughly 80K tonnes of indigenous reserves for military utilization, which are out of the purview of any external international observation or obligation.
This is just one part of the nuke narrative. While it comes to nuclear warfare, there’s a world of difference between possessing a warhead and delivering at the point of detonation (or as the military calls it, “nuclear weapons delivery”). Even if Pakistan has as many as or more warheads than India, we are accoutred with much more advanced technology in terms of delivery and defence.
A nuclear triad is defined as the capability to deliver a strategic or tactical nuclear warhead through air, land and sea. It means that a nation possesses strategic bomber jets, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and ballistic submarines. Having these three on hand ensures that a nation can launch a nuke into enemy territory by dropping it from the sky, launching it as a payload from its own land or dispatching it from a ballistic submarine in the sea.
Pakistan possesses neither the monetary resources to procure a ballistic submarine nor the technical expertise to develop an indigenous one.
India has a solid inventory of aerial vehicles that can do the job — the French Dassault Mirage 2000H, Russian-Indian Sukhoi Su-30 MKI, Russian MiG 29, and Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguars are all capable of delivering a nuclear warhead into enemy’s the territory. India has nearly 10 times the number of aerial vehicles capable of delivering a nuclear payload than Pakistan does, with its small fleet of 50-odd bombers comprising the Chinese made single-engine JF-17 Thunder and American F-16. Pakistan’s aspiration to procure additional F-16 aircraft from the US recently bit the dust.
By covertly partnering with China and North Korea, Pakistan has acquired enough technical know-how to build medium range solid- and liquid-fuelled ballistic missiles. A strategic appraisal of its Shaheen series (up to 2500km) and Nasr series (60km range) missiles easily reveal that they were invented with a single enemy in mind — India. With a medium-range proven Shaheen-III missile that can traverse 2750km and a firing base as deep as the northern ranges in Peshawar, theoretically, Pakistan can still deliver warheads to the tip of Kanyakumari. However, losing its bases in a counterforce strike from India, it has not many options left with its limited range missiles. India, on the other hand, has surface-to-surface Agni-II and Agni-III missiles having a range of nearly 5000km, and a three-times successfully tested Agni-V missile ranging nearly 8000 km. This gives India a clear advantage and the liberty to target from a very distant base.
It is apparent that Pakistan’s delivery triad is not a patch on India’s.
On the naval front, Pakistan is a no match for India. With INS Arihant nuclear-powered ballistic submarines that can carry twelve K-15 and K-4 nuclear missiles (estimated range of 3500km) and a more advanced INS Aridhaman under development, India’s naval might is comparable to that of the US, China and Russia. The Pakistan Navy has incorporated a Naval Strategic Forces Command responsible for looking after nuclear delivery from the naval front, and its admirals boast of this whenever they get the chance. However, the fact is that Pakistan possesses neither the monetary resources to procure a ballistic submarine nor the technical expertise to develop an indigenous one. It is apparent that Pakistan’s delivery triad is not a patch on India’s.
India’s globally hailed no-first-use (NFU) policy on nuclear weapons means that in the case of a war it will be Pakistan that sets a nuke war in motion. It is well known that Pakistan refuses to accept NFU policy and publicly threatens a pre-emptive strike (or first strike) against India’s conventional aggression. In the case of a pre-emptive launch, Pakistan has two options — either a counterforce strike intended to destroy military assets (including terrestrial bases capable of launching nuclear missiles) or a counter-value strike targeting cities and inflicting huge civilian casualties.
[Its] lack of second-strike capability — a retaliating capacity to counter an attack after losing one’s primary bases — is a sore spot for Pakistan.
If Pakistan opts for the former choice, India can still engage in a nuclear war with its alternative strengths, especially on the naval front. In the case of the latter scene, India’s multipronged recourse will bring Pakistan down to its knees. Either way, India’s first priority will be to annihilate the repositories and military bases of its enemy. This will leave Pakistan no option other than to use small-yield (in the range of sub-kiloton) tactical warheads that would not be a great concern for India compared to the larger strategic warheads.
Since Pakistan’s delivery options are extremely limited, it would not be able to maintain a strategic credible minimum deterrence against any nation, let alone India. This lack of second-strike capability — a retaliating capacity to counter an attack after losing one’s primary bases — is a sore spot for Pakistan. While former Defence Secretary of Pakistan, Lt. Gen. Lodhi last year boasted of possessing second-strike capability against India, his posturing was greeted with scepticism even by the Pakistani media and their military intelligentsia.
The development of India’s Pradyumna and Ashwin interceptor missiles, supported by the constantly improving Swordfish Radar, are seen by Islamabad as “upsetting the strategic balance”.
Distressed by the crucial ability of India to trample it from the Indian Ocean, Pakistan has resorted to knocking the door of the UNGA to declare the Indian Ocean as a nuclear-free zone under the guise of maritime security. Two things are apparent from this visible consternation of Pakistan — it has conceded its inability to match India’s military prowess especially on the naval front, and second, its wariness has compelled it to explore diplomatic avenues including recent overt subservience to China.
Ballistic missile defence system
In theory, when two nuclear powers go to war, they are inviting “mutual assured destruction”. If you hit, you’ll also get hurt. To shield the territory from the terror of nukes, interceptor missiles are developed to counter the ballistic missiles carrying a nuclear payload. They neutralize the ballistic missiles en route to the destination, making the nuclear warhead ineffective. The ballistic missile defence system is a package of advanced military radars, a command and control centre and a different range of missiles. After constant efforts of nearly a decade, India
Given its lack of capacity in a full-fledged nuclear war, Pakistan will have try a lot harder before it can give its arch-rival sleepless nights.
The development of India’s Pradyumna and Ashwin interceptor missiles, supported by the constantly improving Swordfish Radar, are seen by Islamabad as “upsetting the strategic balance”. Given 50% odds of neutralizing an incoming ballistic missile, it muddles Pakistan’s wartime strategy or virtually makes half of its arsenal ineffective. Like the ballistic submarine, even this technology is out of reach for Pakistan, whose meagre coffers apportion a paltry defence budget of $7.6 billion (India’s defence budget is $51 billion).
In conclusion, Pakistan’s committed approach to tie with India nuke-for-a-nuke may seem daunting on the surface. However, given its lack of capacity in a full-fledged nuclear war, Pakistan will have try a lot harder before it can give its arch-rival sleepless nights.