Is there a debate about Nasr/Hatf-IX within Pakistan?

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
Launcher type Two-Tube Four-Tube Four-Tube Four-Tube
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]


Image: Aamir Qureshi-AFP, Getty

Posted in , Defence, Deterrence, Doctrine, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Military, Missiles, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Policy, Security, Technology, TNWs

Arun Vishwanathan

Arun Vishwanathan

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Arun holds a doctorate in International Relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Prior to joining NIAS, he held the position of Assistant Director in the National Security Council Secretariat between 2008 and 2011. He was Associate Fellow at the Indian Pugwash Society, IDSA Campus, New Delhi between 2005-2008. Arun specializes in issues relating to nuclear deterrence and strategy, proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology, national security reform and defense industry ecosystem. He is the co-editor of the book Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics and co-author of monograph on Hatf-IX/ NASR - Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapon: Implications for Indo-Pak Deterrence. Arun's research has been published in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Strategic Analysis, USI Journal, Contemporary Review of the Middle East, International Journal of South Asian Studies, Synergy: Journal of Centre for Joint Warfare Studies in addition to opinion pieces in various national and international media houses. He is an alumnus of the Summer Workshop organised by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), Colombo and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London and the Asia Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

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3 thoughts on “Is there a debate about Nasr/Hatf-IX within Pakistan?

  1. Dear Writer: I have read this piece of writing and astonished to see the discourse you developed on the basis of ISPR press Release. I totally disagree with your view regarding change in Press Release. What I feel is that the earlier 3 similar press statements were included the introductory info of newly developed miniaturized nuclear weapon as well. After successive tests policy makers realized that NASR can be a best nuclear weapon and can be used in conventional warfare. Hence it is recognized as an addition to the full spectrum deterrence. NASR has given cold feet to cold start doctrine that’s why India has never used the doctrinal theory into practice. The only reason is NASR. So change in press release does not mean that there is conflict in decision making. It actually means that NASR is now an integral part of Credible minimum deterrence.

  2. If Pakistani claims of having developed miniaturized warheads for the Hatf-IX (Nasr) SRBM without testing are being questioned, then similar doubts regarding India’s 1998 nuclear tests have been raised by international experts and at least one Indian scientist involved in the tests (a failed thermonuclear device and two possible fizzle yield devices). Since effective deterrence is all about each other’s perceived capabilities, then should Pakistan take Indian doctrinal proclamations of massive retaliation seriously?

  3. It is a matter of concern that despite spending their resources against poverty, unemployment, diseases, both India and Pakistan spend their resources for nuclear weapons and other conventional weapons. Why they both not realizing their problems, and why they both not fight against their common problems. I am quite sure that never Indians nor Pakistanis want or like war. So please think about peace and prosperity in the sub-continent which is the key for peace and prosperity in the entire South Asian region.

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