The successful test of Babur-III Cruise Missile completed the last leg of Pakistan’s nuclear triad. Developing nuclear triad capability is essential for stabilizing nuclear deterrence between the belligerent nuclear capable states. Therefore, addition of Babur-III in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal stabilizes strategic equilibrium in South Asia.
Babur-III is a submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) having a range of 450 kilometers and the ability to deliver various types of payloads including nuclear warheads. On March 29, 2018, Babur-III was tested from a submerged platform off Pakistan’s coast in the Arabian Sea. It uses “underwater controlled propulsion.” It struck undisclosed location on the land. Babur-III was first tested in January 2017.
With the development of SLCM, Pakistan Navy is able to conduct the nuclear strikes with impunity. In the nuclear parleys submarine launched nuclear weapon is viewed the most “survivable” second strike capability in the event of adversary’s devastating first strike.
The alarming development for the Indian Ocean’s littoral states is the nuclearisation of the Ocean. The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, France and India all have nuclear-armed submarines that are also powered by nuclear propulsion.
With the successful test of Babur-III SLCM, Pakistan also entered in the elite nuclear-armed submarines club. India deployed its first nuclear-powered submarine, the Arihant, in August 2016. The Arihant can travel underwater, virtually undetected, for months. Moreover, India did the sea trials of its second nuclear submarine, the Arighat, in November 2017. The Indian Government announced that four more submarines would join its blue water naval fleet by 2025.
India had already developed sea-based missiles K-4, K-15, Dhanush (modified version of Prithvi-III) and Brahmos (built with the cooperation of Russia). Presently, it is working another sea-based missile Nirbhay. Previously, it tested the land version of sub-sonic, stealth Nirbhay cruise missile with a range of 1000 Km. India is receiving technological assistance from both Israel and the United States.
Pakistan, despite its meagre economic resources has intelligently been investing in its armed forces. It developed technologically sophisticated ballistic and cruise missiles. The recent tested Babur-III SLCM “incorporates state-of-the-art technologies, including underwater controlled propulsion and advanced guidance and navigation features, duly augmented by global navigation, terrain and scene matching systems.” Moreover, Babur-III features terrain hugging and sea skimming flight capabilities to evade hostile radars, air defences and Ballistic Missile Defense systems.
Presently, Pakistan Navy does not own nuclear-powered submarine. Pakistan Navy, however, has five French-built Agosta 90B-class submarines that are powered by diesel-electric engines. The Pakistan Navy is likely to place nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on these submarines. With the manufacturing of Babur-III SLCM, Pakistan Navy acquires the capability of nuclear-armed submarine. Moreover, Pakistan signed a deal with China to buy eight Chinese Type 039A diesel-electric attack submarines that can be equipped with nuclear weapons. These submarines will be delivered by 2028.
The addition of new submarines in the naval fleet and testing of recent cruise missile confirm that Pakistan is able to arm its submarines and possibly some of its surface ships with nuclear weapons. The comparative study of nuclear-powered and diesel-electric engine submarines reveals that the former has many advantages over the latter. The disadvantage of the diesel submarines is that they are easily detectable due to their noise. Secondly, diesel-engine submarine can stay submerged for two weeks at the most.
Tom Hundley pointed out: “the modern nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine is arguably the most fearsome weapon ever conceived.” Therefore, the Pakistani defence planners need to contemplate for adding a nuclear-powered submarine in its fleet to attain operational stealth capability. Indeed, nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine ensures reliability and survivability of second-strike capability, which is imperative for stabilizing nuclear deterrence.
Pakistan’s ability to resist Indian diktat and to disagree with America’s strategic design flows from one principal source, i.e. indigenous nuclear weapons arsenal. Without this, Pakistan could have been attacked like Iraq or sanctioned like Iran. The Indian BMD program necessitates Pakistan to invest substantially in advanced nuclear capable delivery vehicles including MIRVs, stealth cruise missiles and sea-based assets. The deployment of BMD – even having poor effectiveness — increases the demand of offensive missiles. Perhaps, the development and deployment of Babur-III invalidate the effectiveness of the Indian defensive shield.
To conclude, Pakistan completed its nuclear triad. Presently, therefore, it is capable to strike its adversary by land, air and sea. The completion of the nuclear triad enhances Pakistan’s retaliatory capability or assured second-strike proficiency. Undeniably, the assured second-strike capability stabilizes and endures nuclear deterrence stability in a complex cum volatile strategic environment.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.