Pakistan yesterday conducted the first official test firing of what it described as a short-range surface-to-surface multitube ballistic missile.
An Inter-Services Press Release statement said the Nasr (Victory) missile could be tipped with "nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy," therefore confirming Pakistan's long-assumed tactical nuclear weapons program.
The statement also described it as a "quick response system [which] addresses the need to deter evolving threats."
Nasr is the ninth in the Pakistani Hatf (Vengeance) series of missile systems. Images, and film released by ISPR and Associated Press of Pakistan show it to be a two-round system carried on the Chinese-origin 8x8 high-mobility truck chassis used by the Army's AR1A/A100-E 300mm Multiple Launch Rocket System.
Haris Khan, of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, said Nasr answers India's Cold Start doctrine.
"Hatf-IX is a perfect answer to the Indian concept of Cold Start," Khan said. "It establishes that tactical nuclear weapons will be deployed very close to its border with minimum reaction time to counter any armor or mechanized thrust by an enemy into its Pakistani territory."
The Nasr test shows Pakistan can build small nuclear warheads for all kinds of delivery platforms, said Mansoor Ahmed, a lecturer at Quaid-e-Azam University here who specializes in nonconventional weapons and missiles.
"Theoretically, 1 kilogram of weapons-grade plutonium boosted with 4-5 grams of tritium gives a 10-20KT yield, provided the trigger is sophisticated," Ahmed said. "However, the diameter size of Nasr suggests that the warhead would be less than 1 kilogram, and would be of sub-kiloton range, suitable for battlefield use and could be a fission boosted sub-kiloton fission device."Pakistan will now "not accept any cap in plutonium production in the foreseeable future," he said.
Similar in concept to the Russian Iskander, the Nasr has a much shorter range: 60 kilometers, which Ahmed said could be extended.
Welcoming the test, security analyst Shireen Mazari said in a statement that Pakistan had now acquired tactical nuclear capability with a low yield that could be used in the battlefield. “It will act as a deterrent against use of mechanised conventional land forces. This was essential in the wake of India's adventurist war-fighting doctrine formulations, which envisaged the use of rapid deployment of armed brigades and divisions in surprise and rapid attacks.''
Referring to India's Cold Start Doctrine, Ms. Mazari said, “India has always felt that Pakistan had a loophole in terms of lacking short range battlefield nuclear weapons, which it could exploit on the assumption that it made little sense for Pakistan to respond to such conventional attacks with strategic nuclear weapons. With NASR, Pakistan has plugged that loophole. Indian dreams of a limited war against Pakistan through its Cold Start strategy have been laid to rest. This will allow for a reassertion of a stable nuclear deterrence in the region.''
The Hatf-9 or Nasr, described as a missile with a range of 60 km and designed to carry "nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy", was tested for the first time at an undisclosed location yesterday.
The missile will be deployed with a mobile multi-barrel launch system that has "shoot and scoot attributes", or the ability to fire at a target and immediately relocate to another position to avoid enemy counter-fire.
The new system is primarily aimed at deterring India's purported Cold Start doctrine, under which the Indian army has allegedly created integrated battle groups comprising infantry and mechanised elements that could be quickly mobilised and used for launching rapid thrusts into Pakistani territory in the event of hostilities, according to an analyst who did not want to be named.
The Indian army has always denied existence of any such doctrine.
The Hatf-9 missile system is a tactical nuclear weapons and "low-yield battlefield deterrent" capable of inflicting damage on mechanised forces such as armed brigades and divisions,military sources told The Express Tribune newspaper.
With the development of the Hatf-9's shoot and scoot capability, "Indian planners will now be deterred from considering options of limited war", the military sources said.
The Pakistani military had formulated its "new war fighting concept" in response to India's purported Cold Start doctrine, the Dawn newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying.
The development of the Hatf-9 is also being seen as a major achievement in terms of miniaturisation of nuclear warheads, the daily reported.
Another analyst, who did not want to be named, told PTI that weapons like the Hatf-9 missile will limit the space for "limited war under a nuclear umbrella".
However, the analyst noted that the military may have to use such a system within Pakistani territory in the event of an Indian thrust and this could have adverse consequences, such as nuclear fallout or the radiation hazard from an atomic blast.