Pakistan's nuclear forces: a gradual consolidation

Unlike India's nuclear weapons and missile development programme that was completely indigenous, Pakistan received considerable external help and, in turn, has itself been a proliferator. Pakistan's nuclear weapons - warheads and delivery systems - are India-centric and have been acquired with Chinese and North Korean help. While India follows a "credible minimum deterrence" doctrine and has declared a "no first use" policy, Pakistan follows a "first use" nuclear doctrine and seeks to convince India that it has a low nuclear threshold. India's nuclear weapons are political weapons whose sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against India. Pakistan's nuclear weapons are its first line of defence and it aims to use them to negate India's conventional military superiority.

Pakistan has been testing its ballistic and nuclear-capable cruise missiles at the rate of one every two months on average. It is apparently engaged in improving the accuracy of its North Korean origin No Dong and Taepo Dong missiles and of the Chinese missiles M-9 and M-11. The Table below shows Pakistan's nuclear delivery systems, their approximate ranges and the status of development. In addition, the air-launched cruise missile Raad (Hatf-VIII) was successfully tested in May 2008. This ALCM is claimed to be nuclear capable and has a range of 350 km.
Aircraft / Missile Range Source Status
 F-16 A/B 925 km United States 35 planes in inventory
 Mirage 5 PA 1,300 km France 50 planes in inventory
 Hatf 1 80—100 km Indigenous In service since mid-1990s
 Hatf 2 (Abdali) 180 km Indigenous/China Tested in May 2002, in service
 Hatf 3 (Ghaznavi) 300 km Indigenous/China M-11, tested May 2002, in service
 Hatf 4 (Shaheen 1) 600—800 km Indigenous /China First tested October 2002, in service
 Hatf 5 (Ghauri 1) 1,300—1,500 km Indigenous/DPRK No Dong, tested May 2002, in service
 Hatf 5 (Ghauri 2) 2,000 km Indigenous/DPRK No Dong, tested April 2002, in development
 Hatf 6 (Shaheen 2) 2,000—2,500 km Indigenous/China First tested March 2004, in development
 Hatf 7 (Babur) 500 km GLCM Indigenous/China? First tested August 2005, in development


Though Pakistan's nuclear warheads are based on a Chinese design that uses highly enriched uranium as the fissionable core, it is known to be gradually switching over to Plutonium 239 for future nuclear warheads. Dr. Peter Lavoy has written, "According to public estimates of Pakistan's fissile material stockpile at the end of 2006, Islamabad probably had amassed between 30 and 85 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium from its Khushab research reactor and between 1300 and 1700 kilograms of weapon-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Kahuta gas centrifuge facility. The Khushab reactor can probably produce between 10 and 15 kilograms of plutonium per year. Kahuta may be able to produce 100 kilograms of HEU each year. 

Assuming that Pakistani scientists require 5 to 7 kilogrammes of plutonium to make one warhead, and 20 to 25 kilogrammes of HEU to produce a bomb, then Pakistan would have accumulated enough fissile material to be able to manufacture between 70 and 115 nuclear weapons by the end of 2006." It can be deduced that Pakistan is moving quickly to close the nuclear warhead quantity gap with India and may even overtake it.

Estimates of Pakistan's nuclear warheads stockpile vary according to the source. However, Pakistan is generally credited with the capability of having stockpiled 50 to 60 nuclear warheads by the end of 2007 and 80 warheads by about 2010-12. Like India, Pakistan does not have any tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons in its arsenal. However, low yield fission bombs can be employed against tactical targets by means of aerial delivery or ballistic missiles. It has been reported that Pakistan is working towards miniaturizing its nuclear warheads for use on the Babur cruise missile. As and when this capability is acquired, Pakistan will be able to develop tactical nuclear warheads for its short-range missiles as well.

Pakistan's nuclear command and control is firmly in army hands. Its National Command Authority has an Employment Control Committee and a Development Control Committee. Most of the posts are held by senior members of the armed forces. Staff support for day to day functioning is provided by the Strategic Plans Division (SPD). While on paper the President is Chairman of the NCA and the Prime Minister is Vice Chairman, it was constituted during the Musharraf regime and it is quite unlikely that the army will hand over control of nuclear weapons to the civilian leadership. The strategic missile forces are placed under the Army Strategic Command (see chart below).

With the spectre of terrorism having taken hold of Pakistan's polity, there are serious doubts whether Pakistan's nuclear warheads are safe from falling into Jihadi hands. Western commentators have expressed grave reservations about their safety and have called for contingency plans to "take out" Oak's nuclear warheads in the eventuality of their imminent loss to the Jihadis. According to US-based columnist Seymour Hersh, US and Israeli Special Forces have even rehearsed such plans in the Negev Desert. 

As long as the warheads are under the custody of the Pakistan army, such reservations are misplaced. However, in case there is ever a successful coup led by radical extremists with the support of disgruntled elements in the Pakistan army, nuclear warheads storage sites will need to be bombed so as to render the warheads ineffective. For this contingency, India must consider providing military and logistics support to the US and it allies.

Pakistan’s Strategic Missile Groups

 


NOTES

  Dr. Peter R. Lavoy, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Posture: Implications of Indo-US Cooperation”, Paper presented at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi in August 2007. (At present Dr Lavoy is the US National Intelligence Officer for South Asia.)

  Ibid. Dr. Lavoy has cited: Institute for Science and International Security, “Global Stocks of Nuclear Explosive Materials,” 12 July 2005, revised 7 September 2005, http://www.isis-online.org/global_stocks/end2003/tableofcontents.html. He also says that, “A separate study by a team of Indian and Pakistani analysts puts Pakistan’s plutonium inventory slightly higher (90 kilograms) and its HEU holding slightly lower (1300 kilograms).” Zia Mian, A. H. Nayyar, R. Rajaraman, and M. V. Ramana, “Fissile Materials in South Asia: The Implications of the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” International Panel on Fissile Materials Research Report No. 1 (September 2006), p. 3.