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Pakistan Is An Emerging Leader In Ballistic Missiles Too

January 26, 2020


Pakistan’s military announced its Strategic Forces Command carried out a “surface-to-surface” missile test on January 23, a Thursday, involving the Ghaznavi. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) described the missile as “capable of delivering multiple type warheads up to a range of 290 kilometers.” No other details about the daytime launch were published. Having a range of just 290 km puts the Ghaznavi in compliance with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which serves as an informal treaty for regulating nuclear-capable weapons. Pakistan does boast several short-range ballistic missiles, including the Nasr large diameter rocket artillery system, the original Hatf-1 battlefield rocket, and the Shaheen I. All of these weapons are road mobile and locally made.

While the test of the Ghaznavi was far from controversial it’s worth pointing out it took place on the same day when the Indian Navy launched a ballistic missile from a submarine. Both India and Pakistan revealed their nuclear arsenals the year before the Kargil War in 1999 and a low level arms race in missile technology has been going on since. The Ghaznavi looks like a new generation of road mobile SRBMs to replace the aging models developed in the 1990s. The presence of winglets or canards below the Ghaznavi’s warhead should be taken as undeniable proof that Pakistan’s state-owned military industries have mastered precision targeting. Having canards near the tip of surface-to-surface missiles indicates their ballistic flight is adjusted in mid-air even when on a downward trajectory.

The 2010s saw the unchecked proliferation of tactical missiles throughout Eurasia. The war in Yemen (2015-present) and Iran’s sudden retaliatory attacks on US targets in Iraq earlier this month showed how conventional SRBMs are ideal for wrecking enemy infrastructure and other sensitive locations. The risk they pose to ground forces is severe and can influence the outcome of any operational timetable. This was proven in Yemen on January 18 when a missile struck a Saudi/Emirati Coalition base in Marib, leaving at least 114 killed and hundreds more wounded. The effectiveness of SRBMs in localized conflicts no doubt influenced North Korea’s push for long-range tactical weapons that were tested in the last two years; these span new types of large diameter rocket artillery and a road mobile SRBM resembling the Russian Iskander.

If the Ghaznavi represents the direction for Pakistan’s tactical missiles it shows how committed its military is to deterring India. The Ghaznavi’s immediate rival is the Prithvi I/II/III that are all road mobile and even have naval variants. But the Ghaznavi, whose range can be extended in the near future, isn’t suited for just conventional war. There are many instances in the last four decades when battlefield rockets and SRBMs were launched against irregular or insurgent forces. In fact, Iran’s IRGC have decades of experience using their ballistic missiles to strike back at anti-government groups rather than deploy airpower. Neighboring Afghanistan, when it was still a Soviet proxy, used Scud missiles against the Mujahideen during the late 1980s.

Regardless of how much it spends on its military, Islamabad has managed to fund multiple next-generation weapon programs without censure or sanction. Aside from road mobile weapons, state-owned military industries have developed an advanced drone program as well as air-launched and ground-launched cruise missiles. Barring a shift in the military’s doctrine by the next decade Pakistan is on track to leap ahead in precision strike weapons, giving Islamabad an enviable arsenal that should attract other countries willing to pay for the same.

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