The expansion of the number and range of capabilities of the Indian Navy in recent decades has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan. The number of warships is increasing in the Indian Navy, and with that, their war-fighting capabilities would also get a boost. In comparison, Pakistan Navy was mostly constrained by budgetary allocations that could not enhance its war-fighting capabilities in the past. However, given the fast-paced Indian Naval modernisation plans, Pakistan Navy is now focusing on acquiring more assets and modern capabilities. Factors such as the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, operationalisation of Gwadar port, maritime and blue economy awareness have also enhanced the navy’ role in the security structure of the country. One capability that the Pakistan Navy is working on is to attain the capability to restrict the operational freedom of the Indian Navy during the war. In order to do that, it is working on the development of the P282 anti-ship/land-attack ballistic missile.
The possession of an anti-ship ballistic missile by the Pakistan Navy can become a major asset to deter India’s large naval fleet’s presence in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean during the peace and war. Pakistan has been developing capabilities that are in line with the Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) concept. Under this strategy, the defensive forces try to restrict the movement of the adversary in an area of interest and deny it the freedom to operate if limited access has been gained. Anti-ship warfare is the major component of anti-access capabilities. Anti-ship warfare includes a variety of cruise missiles, but the development of anti-ship ballistic missiles by China has received more attention.
The development of the P282 anti-ship missile in Pakistan was announced by the Ex-Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, during his farewell address in October 2020. Only the information about the development work on the missile was made public. No other details like the range and timeline were then shared. The missile, however, will be capable of anti-ship and land-attack strikes. It could also be launched from a ship. It is also said to have hypersonic or Mach 5+ speed. A typical ballistic missile with a certain range normally has hypersonic speed. In addition to other factors, the speed of the missile increases with its range. Typically, a short or medium-range missile would have less speed than an intermediate or long-range missile. So, it can be assumed that the missile will likely have at least a 1000km range.
A typical ballistic missile with a certain range normally has hypersonic speed. In addition to other factors, the speed of the missile increases with its range. Typically, a short or medium-range missile would have less speed than an intermediate or long-range missile. So, it can be assumed that the missile will likely have at least a 1000km range.
Cruise missiles are potent options against adversary’s ships. Pakistan presently operates a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles, which are an effective weapon against Indian Navy warships. However, they lack speed and targeting range. The development of an anti-ship ballistic missile will provide Pakistan with a powerful weapon against Indian aircraft carriers and heavy warships, with its faster speed and increased range. Pakistan’s anti-ship ballistic missile will be most effective against large Indian ships such as aircraft carriers, destroyers, and frigates by forcing them to remain at a safe distance or striking them in the event of war if they come close. This creates a buffer zone between the two forces at sea. The length and area of the buffer zone depend on the deployment of the anti-ship missile. A land-deployed missile will create a safe zone around the coast. However, a ship-based missile can create a larger and farther safe zone by pushing the adversary’s ships into the deep sea. However, for anti-ship ballistic missiles to work, they need intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to detect, identify, track, and target moving ships at sea using real-time data.
India currently has one operational aircraft carrier. It is developing another one that is undergoing trial and considering the development of a third carrier. It has deployed the MiG-29K multirole fighters on the carrier, giving it the ability to conduct an aerial strike against Pakistan from the Arabian Sea. The MiG-29K is likely to be replaced with the indigenously developed naval version of Tejas.
In the heavy tonnage capacity, the Indian Navy’s surface fleet mostly consists of 13 destroyers and 13 frigates of different classes and tonnage. It also operates a large number of patrol and coastal combatant ships. As for the weapons installed on these ships, these warships are equipped with anti-ship missiles such as 3M24E Uran E, 3M54TE Klub-N, P-27 Termit-R, and Brahmos anti-ship missile. The air-defence systems include the Barak-1, 9M38E M-22E Shtil, and 4K91 M-1 Volnya surface-to-air missiles (SAM). The Brahmos anti-ship/land-attack missile and Barak 1 SAMs are potent weapons possessed by the Indian Navy. In addition, it also operates the Dhanush ship-launched land-attack ballistic missile with a 250-400km range with all types of payload capacity of 500-1000kg.
Pakistan’s P282 missile would also be capable of striking land targets. It will enhance the offensive capability of the Pakistan Navy to put key Indian coastal targets at risk and act as a deterrent. The capability will neutralise the Indian advantage of the Dhanush ship-launched ballistic missile.
The defence against anti-ship ballistic missiles will be an additional task for the adversary. Cruise missile defences do not work against ballistic missiles. The defence against ballistic warheads is difficult right now as carrying anti-ballistic missiles on the ship is heavy. In the future, it may, however, force the opponent to add vessels dedicated to carrying ballistic missile defences.
The P282 missile is likely to have a conventional attack capability. But its development provides Pakistan with a technological base to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to supplement its nuclear capabilities. However, developing SLBM for nuclear deterrence has more to do with the nuclear doctrine, strategic value of such missiles, and resources. A mere technological base will not be the only factor if Pakistan goes for the development of nuclear-capable (SLBM). It is also pertinent to mention that Pakistan Navy’s modernisation is not aimed at seeking an equal status vis-à-vis the Indian Navy but maintaining a credible deterrence in the face of growing security challenges.