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India Should Worry About The Nasr Ballistic Missile

April 4, 2019

Via ISPR / Pakistan media.

Despite extensive publicity, not enough attention was given to this year’s Pakistan Day parade where an awesome display of ballistic missiles rolled by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s pavilion. A genuine surprise at the March 23 event were two 8×8 trucks that serve as the launch vehicles for the Nasr. After years of laborious testing it now appears the army have added to their growing arsenal of precision weapons. When these are shown in high profile national events it’s taken as a sure sign of entering service. But the Nasr, also referred to as the Hatf-9, is atypical.

Unlike the enormous Shaheens carried on trailers, the Nasrs can be mistaken for rocket artillery, which they are.

The Nasr is a rebranded Chinese long-range rocket meant for export and it appears Pakistan’s engineers modified it for precision strike. An important detail are canards near its nose cone. This indicates a guidance system that gives it a low circular error of probability (CEP) when it reaches its target. The CEP is best understood as the radius around a target where a munition may possibly land; the smaller the CEP, the more accurate a munition is. This could explain why the Nasr is a “ballistic missile” rather than long-range rocket artillery like the army’s PHL-03. The PHL-03, by the way, is a Chinese analog of the Russian BM-30 Smerch.

So unlike Belarus’ fearsome Polonez whose range exceeds a Soviet Frog rocket or the Turkish T-300, the Nasr is an evolution of Chinese rocket technology and a red flag for experts in the missile and nuclear proliferation community. Pakistan now joins Iran (Fajr-5) and Israel (Extra) in a small antagonistic club whose military industries have converted large diameter rockets into missiles. China is also recognized as a forerunner in this niche and seems to have no scruples exporting the lethal technology to whoever can pay for it.

Judging by similar missiles from Iran and Israel, the Nasr looks like it has a range exceeding 100 kilometers, perhaps travelling as far as 150 km. In a war scenario where India sends armored formations across the border, the Nasr along with the PHL-03 make a fearsome combination. When used to hit tank columns, supply convoys, and even command centers, a single road mobile Nasr can launch at will and rapidly evade any airstrike sent to neutralize it. An ominous detail about the Nasr is its role as a tactical nuclear weapon; this means Pakistan has mastered miniaturized nukes and are ready to use them.

But as the air battles in late February between India and Pakistan showed, even tit-for-tat skirmishing is difficult and the possibilities of a ground war at this point are remote. Still, if both countries fight a “limited” war over their borders the artillery duels and dogfights can escalate to missile barrages targeting cities and towns. As a retaliatory measure, the Nasr presents a strong argument against broad military operations over New Delhi’s preferred media friendly “surgical strikes.” Two decades ago Pakistan’s conventional options for striking deep within India were limited. Today, with the arrival of the Nasr those same options are now varied and troubling.

In a shocking contrast with Iran, burdened as it is with economic sanctions, Pakistan’s fondness for road mobile ballistic missiles is continuous and unrestricted. The Nasr joins a growing selection of road mobile and nuclear capable missiles with varying ranges, the most worrisome being the Shaheen 1A and the Shaheen 2 that are able to reach India’s cities.

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