Pakistan is likely to remain focused on developing and improving short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles to deter India’s conventional military superiority despite the second successful test of India’s long-range, nuclear-capable Agni-5 missile, experts said in recent interviews.
Although India and Pakistan are nuclear rivals, New Delhi’s forays into longer-range missile systems do not seem to be spurring reciprocal developments in Islamabad.
In a Sept. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Naeem Salik, a retired Pakistani brigadier general, wrote that Pakistan is “not unduly concerned” with India’s development of longer-range missiles, such as the Agni-5, because it would not be cost effective to fire them at reduced ranges to target Pakistan. Because Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are “aimed only at India,” Salik said, Pakistan does not require longer-range systems because Islamabad can reach “any target” in India with its current inventory of missiles.
Salik added that Pakistan’s “self[-]imposed restraint” on its missile ranges also is a “conscious decision” not to develop missiles that would allow Islamabad to target Israel. This prevents “unnecessary hostility” from Israel and “pro-Israel lobbies in the United States,” he said.
India’s Sept. 15 test of the Agni-5, its longest-range missile, “met all the mission objectives,” Ravi Kumar Gupta, spokesman for India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said in a statement released following the test. The Agni-5 is a three-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile that can carry a 1,500-kilogram payload 5,000 kilometers, according to reports. It was first tested in April 2012. (See ACT, May 2012.)
In a Sept. 19 e-mail, Toby Dalton, a former senior policy adviser to the Office of Nonproliferation and International Security at the U.S. Energy Department, offered an analysis similar to Salik’s on some key points. Pakistan is not responding “solely or even primarily” to India’s nuclear developments but rather to New Delhi’s “conventional military plans and growing [conventional] capabilities,” he wrote.
Dalton, now the deputy director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that India’s nuclear developments are “primarily driven” by China’s growing nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s presumably growing conventional forces.
The reported 5,000-kilometer range of the Agni-5 puts it just below the 5,500-kilometer threshold for classification as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), but it is capable of reaching most of China, including Beijing, and the Middle East.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Sept. 15 that China “noted relevant reports” of the Agni-5 test and that “both sides should make concerted efforts to enhance” political trust and stability in the region.
As India pursues longer-range systems, Salik said that Islamabad is focused mainly on development of two types of missiles: cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles.
The emphasis Islamabad is placing on cruise missile development is important, Salik said, because of India’s “ongoing efforts to indigenously develop or acquire ballistic missile defense systems.” Ballistic missile defense systems are not designed to target cruise missiles.
For the past several years, Pakistan has been testing several types of cruise missiles, including the Babur, which has a range of 700 kilometers with a 300-kilogram payload. The Babur can also be launched from naval surface platforms. Islamabad also is testing an air-launched cruise missile, the Raad, which has a range of 350 kilometers. Salik noted that the Raad will give Pakistan a “stand-off capability,” which allows pilots to launch a weapon at a distance from the target, thus allowing them to avoid defensive fire.
Pakistan also has been focusing more attention on its short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, including the Nasr. Islamabad began testing the Nasr, which has a range of 60 kilometers, in April 2011. It is “ostensibly for use as a battlefield nuclear weapons delivery system” to deter India from launching its Cold Start strategy, Salik said.
Cold Start is India’s conventional military doctrine aimed specifically at responses to Pakistani incursions into India. It involves quick, limited strikes into Pakistani territory.
India’s conventional military capabilities exceed those of Pakistan.
Dalton said that Pakistan is focusing on shorter-range systems to deter Indian conventional operations to address “substrategic” deterrence gaps. Pakistan’s current focus on short-range systems does not preclude the development of longer-range systems in the future, but at this point, “the objective of such a development is not clear,” Dalton said.
Future Agni Development
In a Sept. 15 press release, the DRDO called the successful Agni-5 test a “major milestone” and announced that the missile will now be tested from a canister, which is how the missile will eventually be deployed.
DRDO Director-General Avinash Chander said that the Agni-5 “canister-launch” should take place early next year. In Sept. 15 remarks, Chander said that, after three or four more tests, the Agni-5 will be stored and deployed in canisters to “drastically” reduce the reaction time for launching the missile, a priority for India. (See ACT, September 2013.)
Recent statements indicate that New Delhi plans to focus on increasing the range of its ballistic missiles in the future. India is in the initial stages of developing an ICBM with a range of at least 6,000 kilometers, the Agni-6, DRDO officials have said on several occasions.
In his Sept. 15 comments, Chander said that increasing the range of future ballistic missiles is the “least problematic” area for India. New Delhi could develop a missile with a 10,000-kilometer range in two and a half years, he said. India does not currently “see the need” for that range, he said.
The DRDO is working on technology for multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), which will allow future Agni missiles to carry several warheads. Although the Agni-5 is being tested with a single warhead, the Agni-6 could be equipped to carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, a DRDO scientist told the New Indian Express on Sept. 18.
Dalton said that on “technical drivers” of Indian missile development, including areas such as MIRVs, the DRDO is “often out front of the rest of the government in claims about its technology developments that may not in fact be settled policy.”