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Deterrence and Second Strike Capability of South Asia

Pakistan successfully test fires Submarine Launched Cruise Missile Babur-3 (Courtesy: Radio Pakistan)

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” (Sun Tzu)

In the contemporary era of nuclear deterrence, the probability of a conventional war has lessened because of fear of escalation. The nuclear weapons capable states are threatening and deterring each other by making more technological advancement in their nukes. In this approach deterrence policy is to threaten an overwhelming conventional military attack and is articulated as, “the prevention from action by fear of consequences. Deterrence is a state of mind brought about by existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction.” Deterrence will be more credible if states attain second strike capability in their nuclear defence system with successful first strike capability.

The most serious issue arising as a result of this invention of nuclear weapons is nuclear proliferation. The USA and USSR have signed several treaties to ensure nuclear non-proliferation. Since then, several international treaties and conventions have been adopted in pursuance of this purpose. Despite this, several countries such as Pakistan and India have acquired the nuclear weapons technology and maintain well over a 100 nuclear warheads each. The nuclear weapons have so far deterred both the states from a conventional war like the one in 1965. However, the simmering Kashmir dispute has the potential to blow up into a full-fledged nuclear confrontation because this is the bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Both these states have upgraded their nukes and missile systems to get technological edge.

Second strike capability is traditionally acquired by having submarine-launched cruise missiles. They serve as credible deterrence and give a great boost to the defence of a state. To deter the adversary state, a contender state must have three integral components which are universally known as the three Cs of deterrence i.e. capability, credibility, and communication. These three components are interdependent. Nuclear weapons states have over the years enhanced and upgraded these three C’s. The South Asian antagonists are committed to have an effective deterrence and aptitude to craft advance nukes and then threaten each other. For that matter, these states have coalitions in exterior region with other powerful, influential and authoritative states like Russia, USA, China and France. They are making advancements not only in their nukes but they are also building an efficient, effective, and successful missile defence system. Both India and Pakistan are strengthening their cruise missiles and short range missiles catalogue to counter each other and to neutralize any threat to their defence and national security.

Indian missiles defence system consists of various categories of weapons such as Agni, Prithvi, and Brahmos missiles. It has an effective ballistic missile defence system but has so far failed to develop an efficient defence system for cruise missiles. Pakistan has over the years improved its capabilities of building cruise missiles. Pakistani ballistic missiles include Shaheen, Ghauri, Ghaznavi, and Tipu among others. Missiles normally fall under the categories of short range, medium range, long range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Pakistani cruise missiles inventory contains Babur and Ra’ad Missiles. Nasr is Pakistan’s short range missile which was launched in defence against India’s Pakistan-specific Cold Start Strategy dogma.

Initial production of the Babur missile began in 2006 and the system entered initial operational service in 2010. Pakistan is believed to have had successfully tested the Babur 3missile system. Pakistan has also developed the turbojet-powered Ra’ad (Hatf-8) cruise missile, which was first tested in August 2007. It has a range of 350 km with the capability to carry a variety of different warheads, including a nuclear warhead. According to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Babur and Ra’ad both have “stealth capabilities” and “pinpoint accuracy”; both of them have been described as “low-altitude, terrain-hugging” missiles “with high manoeuvrability”. The Ra’ad “can deliver nuclear and conventional warheads” and is believed to have “enabled Pakistan to achieve a greater strategic stand-off capability on land and at sea”.

Pakistan launched Babur 3 cruise missile on January 9, 2017 from Agosta submarine at an undisclosed location in Indian Ocean and completed the nuclear triad i.e. the capability to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from air, land and sea by launching this missile. Babur 3 is basically a sea based variant of ground or land-launched cruise missile (LLCM) Babur 2; which was successfully tested earlier in December 2016. The Babur 3 cruise missile can strike its target with very high accuracy at a range of 450km.

The Babur 3 sea-launched cruise missile incorporates state of the art technology including underwater controlled propulsion and advanced guidance and navigation features duly augmented by three elements that are global navigation, terrain, and scene matching systems. The missile features terrain clasping and sea floating flight capabilities to evade hostile radars and air defence in addition to certain furtiveness technologies in an emerging regional ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. The Babur 3 cruise missile is capable of carrying various types of payloads and will provide credible second strike credibility and enhanced deterrence.
By launch of this submarine cruise missile, Pakistan claims that it has attained credible second strike capability. “The successful attainment of a second strike capability by Pakistan represents a major scientific milestone; it is manifestation of the strategy of measured response to nuclear strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan’s neighborhood,” the military said after the test.

Pakistan has launched its first ever supersonic cruise missile and accomplished second strike capability. USA, Russia, China and India already had second strike capability. Why is second strike capability of so much importance for nuclear states especially in the South Asian region? Second strike capability refers to the surety that in case of a nuclear attack by one state towards another, the second state (the state attacked) would be able to survive the initial strike and have the ability to counter with a strike of its own.

Weapons that are capable of second strike could be missiles launched either from mobile launchers or from nuclear submarines which can stay submerged for long periods of time and are therefore difficult to locate and destroy.
The strategic implications of the Babar 3 cruise missile’s second strike capability are very much imperative. This missile launch has created hype among dominant and nuclear advanced states especially India. On one hand it might impinge on the nuclear doctrines of the states as Pakistan articulated its nuclear posture a first-use while India declared its policy as no-first use of nuclear weapons despite having second strike capability. On the other hand, this missile is a supersonic cruise missile; it might be useful for nuclear deterrence requirements against India as it is second strike capable if in any case, India attacks then this missile will be used in retaliation. Pakistan has also attained nuclear triad which refers to the delivery of nuclear arsenals which comprises of three components i.e; strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

Different defence and security analysts have diverse opinions on the effectiveness of Pakistan’s cruise missile systems. Former Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Arun Prakash characterized Pakistan’s surprising cruise missile acquisition as a destabilizing event in the regional strategic environment. Shane A. Mason, a graduate research assistant in the Monterey Institute of International Studies, is of the view that Pakistan’s nuclear-capable cruise missiles have the potential to complicate India’s missile defence strategy.

If Pakistan launches its supersonic cruise missile from an undisclosed location, it will become a great challenge for India as this missile cannot be detected and targeted before impact because of stealth technology. To counter this, India would have to acquire an effective command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system.

India considers this submarine-launched missile threat because Pakistan has now obtained second strike capability. Second strike capability is important as it gives edge to Pakistan nuclear capabilities and pledges ability to respond to any nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker. Second strike capability is considered vital in nuclear deterrence, as otherwise the other side might attempt to try to use nuclear weapons in one massive strike against its opponent’s own nuclear forces. On other hand, Pakistan is also maintaining diplomatic and military relations with Russia, a strong ally of India, and is already strengthening its ties with China. The attainment of this second strike capability coupled with its effective diplomacy is bound to make Pakistan safe and secure.

Cruise missiles themselves are considered an “offensive counter to missile defence”. Precision capable cruise missiles are effective for conventional strikes against targets of strategic importance. Besides, a combination of advanced conventional forces, cruise missiles, C4ISR systems, missile defence, and nuclear weapons bequeaths a nation the assurance for pre-emptive attack. Pakistan has acquired all these capabilities except a ballistic missile defence system like India.

This Babur 3 supersonic cruise missile is of utmost importance as it has changed the scenario. The deterrence parity level might be countered by India. This is only possible by maintaining a balance of power in the region. Both states must not engage themselves in an armed confrontation and should focus on the development and prosperity of their countries. Both states have to come forward and take more confidence building measures (CBM’s) to avoid conflict and crisis.

Zarnab Tahir

Zarnab Tahir

has done M.Phil in Regional Studies from University of Peshawar.

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