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Pakistan Launched A Shaheen II Ballistic Missile Because It Can

May 26, 2019


An entire swathe of Asia is a hotbed for advanced missile technology and there’s little that can be done to curb this worrisome trend. While rogue states like Iran and North Korea grab headlines, often from their very own official propaganda, whenever they publicize missile activities, Pakistan remains beyond reproach even as it keeps building a potential nuclear deterrent against India. This week, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced a “training launch” for the Shaheen II ballistic missile that some interpreted as a jab at India.

But the context of the Shaheen II’s latest outing was never explained in full and Pakistan is known to flex its missile arsenal several times each year.

Without going into specifics, the ISPR revealed the missile had an “impact point in the Arabian Sea” but how far it managed to fly remained undisclosed. The Shaheen II is a road mobile intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) carried by a 12×12 launch vehicle. Its origins date to the turn of the century after Pakistan established that it possessed nuclear weapons meant for discouraging a full-blown war with India. The original Shaheen I was a mere short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) comparable to the Chinese DF-11 that’s considered its immediate ancestor.

With the two-stage Shaheen II having a range of 1,500 kilometers, India’s major cities are within striking distance should a cataclysmic nuclear exchange between the two countries occur. Of course, the ISPR always mention it’s possible to arm the Shaheen II with conventional and nuclear warheads. The massive Shaheen III covers almost twice the distance of its predecessor and completes the Shaheen “family” as an effective multilayered deterrent. Having built a formidable missile arsenal in just 30 years, Pakistan has done its part to uphold a tense peace over South Asia.

In February this year, as Delhi sent fighter aircraft to bombard militant camps inside Pakistan, the resulting aerial skirmishes never spiraled out of control and triggered an actual war. If precision weapons helped influence this better outcome, they’re also leading some countries to push the envelope. For example, with Iran reeling from tough US sanctions, it used a commemorative date to unveil a long-range cruise missile and another road mobile ballistic missile, with the latter assembled in a clandestine production facility.

Iran’s Hoveizeh cruise missile is patterned after a Soviet design but features an improved booster giving it an impressive range of 1,350 km. At least this was the distance claimed by an IRGC officer. The Dezful SRBM, on the other hand, is based on the Fateh-series of missiles known for their elongated nose cones and distinctive canards. According to the IRGC, the Dezful is able to hit targets as far as 1,000 km away. If Iran’s brazen advertisement of its lethal missiles were provocative–the country is now locked in a high stakes showdown with the US–Israel’s recent actions are more extreme.

This April, on the same week North Korea tested an SRBM in a coastal firing range, Israeli fighter jets struck targets in Syria with precision weapons. It was then claimed an air-launched cruise missile called “Rampage” was used for the first time. The mystery weapon is a repurposed battlefield rocket equipped with an engine and guidance system allowing it to travel at least a few hundred kilometers. Israeli media claimed the Rampage was released in Lebanese airspace and traveled inside Syria.

It’s apparent countries with overarching military goals, no matter their economic status, have few hindrances to assembling precision weapons. Two days after the May 23 test launch of the Shaheen II the Indian Air Force (IAF) hailed its own success with the air-launched BrahMos supersonic cruise missile after it was deployed from an Su-30MKI multirole fighter.

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