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The Babur Cruise Missile Is Cheap And Deadly

February 3, 2022
The Babur 1A in flight during a test in February 2021. Via ISPR.

The past six months have seen an uptick in missile flight tests across Asia on top of a year when China established its leading edge when it came to developing hypersonic glide vehicles. But the efforts of other countries with active tactical missile programs aren’t deemed as alarming even when they pose a long-term threat to world peace. This is what transpired in South Asia at the end of 2021 when India and Pakistan carried out tit-for-tat missile tests. But the weapons themselves, such as the Babur 1B cruise missile that flew in December, are inarguable proof how advanced military technology is no longer monopolized by the West.

On December 21 the news desk of Pakistan’s armed forces, the ISPR, only bothered with a short notification about the Babur 1B launch that emphasized its “strategic deterrence.” However, further reporting noted a crucial detail–the Babur 1B was capable of reaching targets as far as 900 kilometers. This makes it the most effective subsonic cruise missile in South Asia and more capable than India’s Nirbhay cruise missile that’s still undergoing tests arranged by the DRDO. The Babur 1A and 1B are in service with Pakistan’s ground forces as road mobile land attack cruise missiles. Naval variants of the Babur-series have been developed and launched on surface and subsurface vessels.

To this day the origins of the Babur-series is shrouded in unfounded claims. Citing the US-made BGM-109 Tomahawk as its origin is simply untrue. Its development was likely a multinational effort carried out by Pakistan’s state-owned aerospace laboratory NESCOM with help from the army. A clue to the Babur’s lineage emerged in 2018 when Ukraine’s state-owned aerospace manufacturer Yuzhnoye Design Office began promoting a cruise missile it branded the Korshun whose estimated range was set between 500 and 700 km fit with the Babur 1B variant tested that same year. At the time the Babur 1A was proven to fly 450 km while the Babur 1B could reach 700 km. The missile fuselage, folded wings, the location of the inlet, and stabilizer fins around the booster of the Korshun all matched the Babur-series.

The Babur also shares a resemblance to the Chinese CJ-10/DH-10 cruise missile that’s primarily meant for an anti-ship role. As with the Ukrainian Korshun the CJ-10/DH-10’s fuselage, wings, inlet, and stabilizer fins around the booster have the same layout as the Babur-series. The CJ-10/DH-10 is far more adaptable for air and naval delivery systems. Its range is also superior being estimated at 2,500 km. So it’s probable that as early as the 1990s the cruise missile development that led to the Babur-series enjoyed active consultations with Chinese partners but assembly involved importing the needed parts from Ukraine. The real danger of Pakistan’s emerging cruise missile “family” goes far beyond claims that it serves “deterrence.” With the Babur 1B alone Pakistan’s army and its strategic missile unit have a retaliatory tool for widespread targeting of an adversary’s command, communications, and transport infrastructure. All this can be done with inexpensive missiles based on a common airframe.

It’s not far-fetched anticipating a Babur 1B or perhaps another variant exceeding 1,000 km in range soon and eventually matching the road mobile cruise missile of North Korea that flies to 1,500 km. Pakistan’s aerospace and military-industrial sector is just a year or two away from a cruise missile with such flight characteristics. This hastens the arrival of nuclear-capable supersonic cruise missiles; the outcome is exciting for Pakistan’s ambitious military but dangerous to the idea of setting limits on nuclear weapons technology. This is the same direction Iran and Turkey are heading as their state-owned aerospace firms assemble better and better cruise missiles. Iran boasts three generations of land attack cruise missiles and the best among them is the Soumar, whose extreme range is estimated at 2,500 km, and then there’s Turkey’s own KARA ATMACA able to reach 280 km for now.

Other Asian countries will refuse to be left behind in the race for road mobile cruise missiles and it looks like–in the Middle East alone–Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE plan on joining in.

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