On November 5, 2013 Pakistan flight tested its short range battlefield missile Nasr/Hatf-IX. The test involved successive firing of four missiles (Salvo) from a multi-tube launcher. As compared to the first (April 19, 2011) flight test which was carried out from a two-tube launcher, the remaining flight tests (May 29, 2012, February 11, 2013 and November 5, 2013) were carried from a four tube launcher.
However, this was not the only – or even the most significant – difference between the four flight tests. The most significant departure was the language used in the Inter Services Press Release (ISPR) press release following the fourth Nasr flight test. The ISPR press releases following the earlier tests here, here and here had unambiguously claimed that the Nasr “carried nuclear warheads (sic) of appropriate yield.” Though the remaining text of the statement is largely similar to the earlier press releases, the statement following the fourth flight-test is different in one aspect. The statement claims that the missile, “contributes to the full spectrum deterrence against threats in view of the evolving scenarios.”
Comparison of the statements following the four Nasr flight tests
|First Flight TestApril 19, 2011||Second Flight TestMay 29, 2012||Third Flight TestFeb. 11, 2013||Fourth Flight TestNov. 5, 2013|
|Number of missiles fired||Not mentioned, possibly single missile was fired||Not mentioned, possibly single missile was fired||Two missiles in quick succession||Successive launches of four missiles (Salvo) (4x)|
|Statement regarding Nasr’s nuclear capability||Nasr carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield||Nasr carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield||Nasr carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield||Nasr contributes to the full spectrum deterrence against threats in view of the evolving scenarios|
Though a few months have passed, the question of the change in the wording of the statement following the fourth Nasr flight test has strangely not received much attention.
In discussions with this writer, several officials and scholars have shared an interesting bit of information. It seems there is a debate currently underway among Pakistan’s decision-makers about the Nasr. One camp seems to suggest that the Nasr is useful while the opposing camp is of the view that Nasr in some ways weakens the robustness of the Pakistani nuclear deterrent.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are targeted at India. Therefore, the Indian response – or the lack of it – to the Nasr seems to have triggered off this internal debate. Indian decision makers are of the opinion that the nuclear warhead which can be accommodated into the Nasr/Hatf-IX missile is unlikely to be a HEU device. Given the small dimensions of the Nasr (diameter: 361mm; length: 940mm) the warhead would be a plutonium based linear implosion type warhead. Given that Pakistan has not tested plutonium nuclear weapons, India does not perceive Pakistan’s claim that the Nasr can carry nuclear warhead as being credible.
Also, India’s nuclear doctrine does not make any distinction between different types (tactical, strategic) of nuclear weapons or such use. The same has been reiterated by the Chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board, Ambassador Shyam Saran has stated, “… the label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”
In light of the above, some questions come to mind. Is the change in the wording of the statement released by the ISPR following the November 5, 2013 test indicative of a change in heart in Rawalpindi? Are Pakistani generals coming round to the view that the Nasr is more a nuisance rather than an asset due to the questions being raised about Pakistan’s claims that the Nasr can carry nuclear weapons? Do Pakistani decision makers view such doubts, in the minds of their main adversary, as weakening Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent? Deterrence at the end of the day is a matter of perception.
Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He tweets @ArunVish_ and can be reached by email at arun_summerhill[at]yahoo.com
Image: Aamir Qureshi-AFP, Getty