By Mehtab Ali Bhatti
Strategic stability in South Asia has stayed delicate due to plethora of variables. Three fundamental threats to strategic stability in South Asia have been discerned as arms race, crisis instability and escalation risk between two nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan.[i] Security pandits have articulated that the increasing security dilemmas among India and Pakistan show a sterling test to South Asia’s strategic stability and to the deterrence symmetry. Induction of advanced conventional and non-conventional weapons with modern capabilities for instance, precision guided missiles with high level of readiness, sophisticated hypersonic and supersonic missiles, and ballistic missile defense system which can wreak havoc on rival’s countervalue and counterforce targets, is an eternal destabilizing threat for the region. India is struggling to acquire adequate Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system since 1990s. The Nuclear Agreement in 2005 between India and the US, was eager achievement for New Delhi to obtain its augmented desires of nuclear arrangement. The United States permitted New Delhi to use nuclear related material for the sake of peaceful purposes, India did defy not only to use material for nuclear triad (missiles, aircrafts, submarines) but also gradually operationalized the defense missile system to ameliorate its strategic position in the region. The India’s Ministry of Defense stated that New Delhi has excessively achieved its supreme milestone in building strategic capabilities to intensify security against incoming missiles of rival state.[ii]
However, Pakistan has worked on the development of dual-use of missiles, soothing offensive and defensive moods, which inadvertantly exposed Indian vulnerabilities to pre-emption and retaliation of Islamabad. Therefore, suitable convergence of nuclearization conjoined with ballistic and cruise missiles have favored Pakistan’s deterrence potential and credibility, which has compelled its rival state India to ensure the consideration of balance of terror in the region and distend its strategy in the purview of environment.[iii]
Meanwhile, New Delhi’s continuous arms struggles, in particular, advancements of its defense capabilities are deliberately making uneasiness for Pakistan. Therefore, the South Asian nuclear states are moving towards an unending arms race, which will categorically undermine the deterrence and stability of the region.
India’s Ballistic Missile Defense System
Since 2006, India has conducted ten tests of ballistic missile defense (BMD), it was successful in seven tests. In 2017, it conducted the test of high altitude interceptor missile with ambition to enhance ‘kill’ capacity in protect with endo and exo atmosphere against enemy’s incoming ballistic missile.[iv] New Delhi officials have stated that this intercepting system would safeguard major cities i.e. Delhi and Mumbai. On contrary, Islamabad officials have declared that development and acquisition of BMD system may give false sense of security to India and this would put the region into abyss of arms race and instability in the region is inevitable.
India’s development of defense shield forces is an effort to acquire more avid BMD system but unfortunately this offensive posture and inductance of sophisticated weapons are threatening strategic stability of South Asia. This adapted posture of India is in contention with Pakistan’s credibility of deterrence scale. Besides this, New Delhi has acquired two-tiered missile defense shield to protect its metropolitan cities. First tier is Prithvi Air Defense (PAD), this can intercept the enemy’s missile at high altitude of 80 km with the range of up to 2000 km. Second tier is Advanced Air Defense (AAD), this can hit enemy’s missile at lower altitude of 30 km. [v]In October 2016, India and Russia had signed an inter-governmental agreement over the supply of S-400 missile system, during the BRICS Summit. After two years, a formal agreement of $5.47 billion deal signed on October 5, 2018. The Asian News International reported on September 9, 2019 that Russia would deliver five S-400 Triumph missile systems to India within 18 to 19 months. The like, Indian news agency reported that delivery of S-400 might not be possible before the end 2021 due to the COVID-19 engagement.[vi]
New Delhi is trying to acquire multi-layered BMD system and enormous shield against China and Pakistan’s incoming missiles to shield its cities,[vii] and hinder foreign forces against pre-empted. India gives alienated arguments to justify its BMD program. One, it would curtail and impact the speedy Chinese military influence, and the other is, in distint sequence of events i.e. peace time, war time, post-incursion, defense program would formidably impact Pakistan’s counter and retaliatory measures. Instead other contentious factors are, for instance, power projection, prestige, geo-strategic, and geo-political ambitions to enlarge its approach in the region. Implausibly, India is going to be one of the five nations with operationalized BMD program.
The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO)’s insufficiency in engineering BMD high technology, New Delhi is working together with states like Russia, the US, France and Israel to get support in technology sector related effective missile defense system, according to Indian Politician Ashok Sharma.[viii] Moreover, increasing strategic cooperation and excessive partnership between India and the US gave deceitful opportunity to India to get membership of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)[ix] and Wessenaar Arrangement (WA).[x] Besides this, kind contract to acquire dual use material like space technology, missile related high-tech, and augmented BMD system. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report of 2017, Indian imports of defense sector was ascent by 43% from 2007-2016.[xi] The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 20, 2017, declared that the government of India would spend $250 billion in the next ten years on its military modernization.[xii]
What India Believes?
According to Indian security scholars, BMD program is an appropriate option to protect itself from Pakistan’s retaliatory action and has an efficacy to protect from Pakistan’s ambiguous nuclear posture or the last resort option to use nuclear weapons against India. In other words, belligerent development of BMD program is the ability to attack Islamabad’s counterforce targets with cognition that there would be no risk from Pakistan to retaliate against India—in war time there would be no option of retaliation with Pakistan because Indian BMD will completely obliterate incoming ballistic missiles of the opponent.
Why else Might India’s BMD Program exist? What other purposes might it Serve?
Indian mannerism regarding its contentious perception is that its BMD program could destine to protect countervalue and counterforce targets from any hostile nuclear terrorist attack, there are greater chances of attack from either Pakistan or China.[xiii] Likewise, a research associate at University of Oxford and expert in South Asian nuclear studies, Rajesh Basrur asserted that India’s development and acquisition of defense missile system could reduce aforementioned vulnerabilities with certainity, if not completely banish it.[xiv] On the contrary, Pakistan takes on Indian silly argument with the assertion that its nuclear warheads are in safe hands, its national command and control program is meticulous, powerful and satisfied in standard with international community obligations. It is less confident to ruminate over Pakistan’s nuclear program and its use against New Delhi because warheads are confidential and unsought discovery for terrorists.
Indian strategic pandits argue that development of defense shield forces could help India to lower its offensive warheads and capabilities, the process will lead to encourage arms control mechanism among two nuclear states. As President Reagon estimated that development of American BMD program “could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves.”[xv]
The proponents of New Delhi’s installing of BMD system emphasize that its deployment would motivate the strategic stability in South Asia and would lead to unequivocal non-proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles from South Asia.[xvi] Theoretically, Indian BMD deployment would slow the production of missiles in the region.
Insofar, Pakistan gives paramount argument that Indian BMD system would boost India’s trust in its ability to strike first with the cognition that it would protect itself during war situation.
India’s BMD and Strategic Implications
Hypothetically, Indian BMD program has a defensive inclination, however it is a basic proportion of offensive intending to direct pre-emptive or preventive nuclear strikes without risk of Pakistan’s retaliatory nuclear strikes. It is an endeavor to mark the balance of terror, which is causing deterrence stability among New Delhi and Islamabad. Without a doubt, deterrence stability between the opponent neighbors is essential for enduring the strategic stability in South Asia.
India’s BMD program is to guard against missile strikes from Pakistan, the BMD programs likewise fortify the Indian air defense system. After fruitful development and organization of PAD and AAD, India managed dealt with Russia over S-400 missile system.[xvii] Henceforth, the BMD installing subverts the balance of strategic nuclear deterrence between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. The ramification is that BMD program may give the Indians a false sense of security;[xviii] encouraging the Indian hawks to overlook the Pakistani ballistic and cruise missile defiances and effectively oppose confidence-building measures or endeavors to persevere through strategic stability in South Asia. India’s BMD program could have the following destabilizing results:
The defensive weapons, especially BMD, could sabotage the feasibility and efficacy of ballistic missiles. The trade off of the offensive strikes dents the validity of the retaliatory strikes, which deter the enemy from hostility. The likelihood of retaining a rival’s retaliatory strike in a crisis situation, which subverts the deterrence ability of a state wanting to dissuade the enemy with its ballistic missile capacity. Nonetheless, the BMD destabilizes the deterrence stability.[xix] The deterrence instability sabotages the strategic stability between the strategic rivals.
Second, the defense missiles deployment is a risk to nuclear deterrent stability involving strategic instability. It is destabilizing in light of the fact that it escalates a nuclear weapons contest among India and Pakistan. Many security scholars persuaded that BMD changes the nuclear order and reshape strategic stability, and can urge Indian leadership to take part in offensive activities or first strike, on the reason that they are safe to Pakistani strategic forces retaliation. That is the reason; the Indian ruling elite threatened to direct surgical strikes to demolish Pakistan’s nuclear weapons ability. On October 5, 2017, the Indian Air Force Chief Marshal, B. S. Dhanoa, had guaranteed that the Indian Air Force (IAF) could focus on Pakistan’s nuclear sites and could extend the surgical operations.[xx] The gravest risk presently is that India and Pakistan will jump into a stand-off that is neither in light of a legitimate concern for New Delhi nor Islamabad.
Third, India’s 2003 ‘nuclear draft depends on a counterforce strategy in India.’[xxi] The BMD arrangement expands the Indian hawkish leadership enticement for counterforce surgical conventional attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities to end the nuclear threat. Advocates of this course accept the Indian missile shield and threat of further heightening by India would dissuade Pakistan from reacting militarily to a limited first strike.[xxii]Perhaps, expanding confidence in the operational steadfast of the Indian BMD system can urge Indian hawks to execute enunciated strategy “jaw for a tooth” to bow-down Pakistani armed forces. Curiously, Islamabad will respond with its supposed tit for tat strategy, if there is a surgical strike on Pakistani soil.
Fourth and final, there are greater chances of pre-emption from both nuclear weapon states, if India deployed the BMD system. Chances of uncertainty will obviously be increased and commanders from both sides will perceive imminent threat from each other, in such case they will opt the option of launching nuclear missiles.[xxiii] That’s the situation where Thomas Shelling has called it “the reciprocal fear of surprise attack.”[xxiv] This puzzling situation rambles Pakistan to enhance the credibility and efficacy of its ballistic and cruise missiles to fix tit-for-tat against Indian BMD program before India attacks first. Curiously, Islamabad’s advancements of modernization of offensive forces makes Indian defense shield ineffective. Hence, many securitists and analysts have debated vis-à-vis concluded that America has spent billions of dollars to ornate missile sites with modern technology weapons but it still has not shoot down North Korean missiles. On the whole, Indian so-called defense shield encouraging the risks of war anda larger portion of GDP spendings are proposed to spend on defense sector.
Pakistan`s Response to India’s BMD System
The acquisition of Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) by New Delhi in South Asian strategic architecture, clearly, intensifies Islamabad’s security dilemma clueless. Pakistan should act as intentional charlatan and must counter Indian BMD with intelligence. For this reason, Pakistan refurbishes its military posture, particularly nuclear posture, if India crosses the defined threshold of Islamabad, it would not hesitate to wipe out Delhi’s military threat.[xxv] Definitely, it is the time for Pakistan’s current policy makers that they neither avoid the economic circumstances nor compromise deterrence credibility. Whereas, the arms race with Delhi is not in favor of Islamabad. Pakistan can only win this race with viable option of ‘refusing’ to run in the race, even so, it cannot disdain the factor of India’s BMD program, but it can modernize its offensive weapons, do dual-use of these missiles, increase the size and speed of weapons, and increase its efficacy to penetrate Indian BMD program.[xxvi]
Although, Islamabad’s ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence’ nuclear posture has evidently deterred the state from Delhi’s coercive blackmailing of conventional and non-conventional threats.[xxvii]As Jeffrey Lewis has pointed out, “An enemy who can be deterred will be deterred by the prospect of a counterattack, even if it consists of only a few nuclear weapons. Beyond that minimum threshold, nuclear weapons provide little additional deterrent benefit.”[xxviii]Thus, Pakistan burnishes its offensive missiles with relative engineering to increase its efficacy in penetrating to defy enemy’s BMD system.
Hypothetically, there are three viables options to baffle and penetrate enemy’s BMD program:
First, the Indian BMD shield can be overpowered by a storm of ballistic missiles using the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) technology to convey multiple conventional and non-conventional warheads. With MIRV the weapons can be propelled to various targets, can likewise be directed to one target to penetrate a missile defense system of the enemy. MIRV capability empowers Pakistan’s strategic forces to take on multiple targets with complacent of precision by a couple of missiles. It can also upset and destroys the radars of Delhi defense system. Military commanders have believed that MIRV is exceptionally viable against the enemy’s ballistic missile defense system.[xxix] On January 24, 2017, Islamabad successfully tested the medium-range, ballistic missile Ababeel, which has the capability to deliver multiple decoys and warheads. The range of Ababeel is almost 2,200 km — it can easily reach to major cities of India — it can storm multiple targets and it would be exceptionally lethal for the India’s defense shield. Michael Krepon and Travis Wheeler appropriately brought up that If New Delhi chooses to retain the expenses of ballistic missile defenses for high-value targets, alongside the radars to track and detect the enemy missiles, these costs will be futile.[xxx]Briefly, Ababeel is a ballistic missile to ‘kill’ India’s BMD shield.
Second, while using fighting aircraft with high speed to strike deeply and launch nuclear attack on enemy country, in that case, enemy’s defense system technologically will not resist the attack.[xxxi] Finally, attacking the enemy state and penetrating its BMD system with supersonic cruise missiles flying at low-altitude is possibly a vibrant option to defy enemy’s BMD system.[xxxii]The like,in December, 2016, Islamabad conducted the successful test of medium-range missile called Babur-2.
Pakistan can additionally improve the adequacy of its missiles by advancing and commissioning decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, warheads with exceptionally low infrared induction and Multiple Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) to storm multiple warheads over incoming targets. Subsequently, Pakistan’s qualitative and quantitative improvement in its nuclearized cruise and ballistic forces have posed a daunting challenge to the Indian BMD program.
Notwithstanding, Pakistan would need to build up a BMD system to ensure its significant cities’ protection, even so, it is not advisable option for Islamabad due to high cost. Altogether, India hopes to go for MIRV advancement and extending the ranges of Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) and land-based missiles for counterforce targets against enemy. Pakistan have various choices of changing its ballistic missiles into MIRV high-tech when it felt necessary. The prime applicants with Pakistan are the Shaheen-II and Shaheen-III missiles, with the range of 2,000 km and 2,750 km, respectively, these offensive forces can approach any city of India within few minutes. Intensifying tactical and strategic weapons (i.e. Nasr, Ababeel)with upgraded version and validity would credibly enough to penetrate and destroy adversary’s deployed BMD program, no worries, how the devastating BMD system might be.[xxxiii]
To sum up, today indigenous BMD program for Islamabad is neither advisable option nor executable because it will lead to unending arms race – a destabilizing factor for South Asian strategic stability. In this manner, Pakistan’s missile program reveals that its ballistic and cruise missiles are becoming more flexible, mobile, survivable, reliable, and accurate. Pakistan is solely dependent upon offensive ballistic and cruise missiles rather than moving towards defense program, yet the proceeding of nuclear deterrence among Pakistan and India guarantees the strategic stability in the region.
Indian induction of defense programs like AAD, PAD and the S-400 missile system to its ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, would be an effort to acquire more avid system but unfortunately this would put the region into abyss of arms race and instability. Admittedly, it is known to the world that New Delhi is trying to acquire multi layered BMD program which is intensifying arms race inevitable in the region. The development and acquisition of defense system may give false sense of security to India. In the exchange of fighting with enemy, Pakistan has dedicated faith that it will take care of incoming missiles of India. Therefore, in a conflict it would be impossible for India to have such a system that can intercept short range missiles flying with low-altitude like Ghaznavi, Nasr, and Babur, insofar, it is a leverage for Pakistan to ensure efficacy over Indian BMD system. It has been the Indian attitude which compelled Islamabad to enter into vertical arms race, and develop cruise and ballistic missiles like Raad and Ababeel equipped with MIRV capability. To counter India’s vulnerability to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the main path is to quantitative and qualitative advancement in Pakistan’s tactical and strategic weapons. It is critical to note that Pakistan isn’t looking for parity with India yet just keeping up the balance of terror to keep up peace and stability in region. This is the Indian offensive posture and inductance of sophisticated weapons which is threatening strategic stability of South Asia.
By Mehtab Ali Bhatti