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Missile capability -- India vs Pakistan: Who is superior?

Upendra Choudhury

AT A time when the armed forces of India and Pakistan stand eyeball to eyeball on the border, the latter has test-fired three ballistic missiles — Ghauri, Ghaznavi and Abdali — in the last few days. An analysis indicates that its motive could be three-fold.

One, the event is aimed at its domestic audience: To silence the ruling General's critics (political, religious and others) who have been accusing him of having brought their country to the edge of a precipice endangering its very existence.

Two, to tell the world, particularly the US, to do everything possible to restrain India from launching a military strike on Pakistan, even if it is a limited one, and forcing an international intervention on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

And, finally, to demonstrate its non-conventional (nuclear, to be precise) strike power and send a message to India that Pakistan is ready to use weapons of mass destruction if a war breaks out.

Pakistan is perceived to have acquired missile capability in the late 1980s. Three major factors — the easy availability of Chinese missiles and missile-related technologies, its inability to obtain the delivery of all its F-16 fighters from the US and the success of India's missile development programme — were to be the main reasons for Pakistan's missile acquisitions.

Following the latest tests, Pakistan's missile arsenal now consists of the Hatf — I, II ,III, IV, V,VI, and so on.

The Hatf-I is a single-stage solid propellant missile with a range of 60-80 km and a payload capacity of 500 kg. It was first flight-tested in 1989 and a larger 100 km range variant was most recently test-fired in early 2000.

It is believed to be in service in limited numbers.

The Haft-II, also known as Abdali, is a solid-propellant ballistic missile with a range of 180 km and a payload capacity of 500 kg. Abdali was first test-fired in February 1989 and, more recently, on May 28.

The Hatf-III, also known as the Ghaznavi, is a solid fuel short-range ballistic missile with a range of 290 km and a payload capacity of 500 kg. This missile, which closely resembles the Chinese M-11 missile, was for the first time test-fired on May 26. The Hatf-IV, also called Shaheen-I, has a range of 750 km and a payload capacity of 700 kg. This solid fuel missile, which is based on the Chinese M-9 missile design, was first flight-tested in April 1999. Shaheen-I is reportedly to have entered serial production in mid 1998.

Hatf-V, also named Ghauri, is a single-stage liquid fuel IRBM with a range of 1,500 km and a payload capacity of 700 kg. This missile was first test-fired in April 1998. There is another version, Ghauri-II, a liquid fuel, two- stage IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) with a claimed range of 2,300 km.

It was first flight-tested in April 1999. The Ghauris are believed to be derived from the North Korean Nodong missile.

A longer range, two-stage solid fuel missile Hatf-VI, also called Shaheen-II, was unveiled during the Pakitan Day Parade on March 23, 2000.

This missile, which is yet to be test-fired, is likely to have a range of 2,500 km with a 1,000 kg payload. Beside the Hatf series, longer range missiles — Tipu and Haider — have also been reported.

India began a comprehensive missile development programme, the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), in 1983. With an initial budget of Rs 380 crore, the programme envisaged "to take up simultaneously the design and development of five missiles which would provide the nation a comprehensive missile-based Defence umbrella within ten years''.

The five missiles include the short-range surface-to-air missile Trishul; the surface-to-air missile, Akash; the smokeless high-energy anti-tank guided missile Nag; the surface-to-surface missile Prithvi, and the intermediate range missile Agni. Of these, only Prithvi and Agni are ballistic missiles.

Prithvi is a single stage, road mobile, liquid fuel battle-field support missile.

This 8.5 m short-range missile, costing Rs 5 crore a piece, was first test-fired in February 1988. Several variants of the missile have been developed.

Prithvi-I, or the Army version, has the maximum range of 150 km and a payload capacity of 1,000 kg. This missile has been produced and inducted into the Army.

Prithvi-II, or the Air-force version, has a range of 250 km with a warhead weight of 500-700 kg. The development work on this missile is complete. The Prithvi-III, for the Navy, and also called Dhanush, has a range of 350 km and a warhead weight of 1,000 kg. This missile is under development.

The intermediate range Agni is India's second ballistic missile. It is a two-stage IRBM 18.4 m long and 1.3 body diameter.

It has a range of 1,000 km and a payload capacity of 1,000 kg. It is based on first stage solid and second stage liquid fuel configuration.

As an IRBM, Agni provides many battle-field advantages such as better interception rate, speed, night operation capability, pre-launch survival ratio, etc.

It has a remarkable circular error probability (CEP) figures (which determine a missile's strike accuracy). It excels in crucial operational areas such as re-entry, long-range manoeuvring and two-staged propulsion and stage separation. This missile has been thrice test-fired from the ITR, Orissa, in May 1989, May 1992, and February 1994.

Agni has two versions — Agni-I and the Agni-II. The former has a range of 7,00 km and a payload capacity of 1,000 kg. This surface-to- surface 15-metre, 12-tonne, single-stage solid propellant missile was first test-fired on January 25. The latter was first flight-tested on April 11, 1999 and has a range "in excess of 2,000 km", which it can cover in 11 minutes. Other features of the 20-meters long and 16-tonne weight Agni-II include: Mobile launch capability, solid-solid propulsion system, features designed to carry special payload of over 1,000 kg, state-of-the-art navigation, guidance and control systems and sophisticated on-board packages including advanced communication interface. This missile was last test-fired in January 2001.

Whose missile capability is superior, India's or Pakistan's? To repeat a cliché, both have strong and weak points.

For instance, India's Pakistan-specific Prithvi missile suffers from two serious battle-field limitations. First, given its short-range, its movement from storage depots to launch points could be tracked by Pakistan's intelligence. Second, its dependence on liquid fuel means that the weapon has to be loaded before use — a procedure that is both hazardous and time-consuming. Thus, the missile will have the disadvantage of slow reaction time till a solid fuel version gets developed.

On the contrary, Pakistan has certain advantages in this field. Pakistani's Hatf-III, which is comparable to the Prithvi, is a solid fuel missile. The use of solid fuel is of crucial significance because of its operational advantages. Solid fuel is non-corrosive and easy to handle.

Its user-friendly characteristics cut the down pre-launch preparation time and enable faster sequential firings. Besides, solid fuel is compact and easy to store, the resulting storing advantages can help in beefing up the size of the ready-for-battle missile stocks and thus increase the overall missile punch.

However, some of the limitations of Prithvi were only recently overcome by India with the successful flight-test of the Agni-I. This nuclear capable 700-km range missile is solid-propellant.

Moreover, it can be launched sufficiently far away from the western border. Finally, it confers operational advantages (for example, survivability) in movement, deployment and launch.

Second, although Pakistan possesses the missile capability to hit deep inside India, its IRBM launchers are more vulnerable to an Indian attack because Islamabad lacks a territorial depth. Indian IRBM launch pads, on the contrary, can be kept out of the range of Pakistani missiles. Third, one decisive factor in an Indo-Pakistani war could be who uses these deadly missiles first.

Since India had declared a no-first-use policy and Pakistan had already made it open its first-use policy to countervail the Indian conventional military superiority, surely, the later would use these weapons first in the battle to turn the tide in its favour and also to invite outside intervention. Indian policy-makers also need to be extra-cautious about this reality. Anyway, hopefully, it will not come to this eventually.

(The author teaches India's Foreign Policy in the Post-Graduate Department of Political Science, Dyal Singh College, Karnal.)

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