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Pak tests submarine-launched Babur-3 missile. How will this impact India?

Vivek Katju | Updated on: 10 January 2017, 10:53 IST

Pakistan announced on Monday, 9 January, that it had successfully test fired a nuclear capable, 450-km range Babur-3 submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

It boasted that the missile will 'provide' a credible second strike capability, and thus 'augment deterrence'.

With Babur-3, Pakistan is on the road to complete the triad of land-based, airborne and sea-based nuclear weapons capable delivery systems.

Pakistan openly states that its nuclear programme is India-specific. Hence, while announcing the Babur-3 test, it could not resist bringing in India. It stressed that this development was a "manifestation of the strategy of measured response to strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan's neighbourhood".

While India's strategic posture and assets have to provide security against threats that emanate from China, it can never overlook Pakistan, which considers India as an eternal enemy.

Impact on no-first-use policy?

Babur-3 will obviously have an impact on India's security. Will its security planners just shrug off the development because India's triad development is moving ahead? Or will Babur-3 lead them to give serious thought to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's personal desire to reconsider India's no-first-use (NFU) nuclear doctrine?

Parrikar was roundly criticised for being un-ministerial, even flippant, when he had, last November, suggested that instead of binding itself to NFU, India should emphasise that as a responsible nuclear power, it would not use its nuclear weapons irresponsibly.

In any event, in Track II forums, Pakistani representatives place little trust in India's NFU doctrine.

The China-Pakistan nexus

The Pakistani leadership has congratulated its defence scientists for the display of "technical progress and self-reliance" in developing an indigenous SLCM. The facts are otherwise.

China has nurtured Pakistan's nuclear and missile programmes at critical stages. North Korea, too, has helped in Pakistan's missile development.

Besides theft of designs, smuggling, and illicit sales of sensitive technologies have contributed more to the growth of Pakistan's nukes and missiles than purely indigenously-developed scientific and technological skills.

What is important for India is that the hostile China-Pakistan nexus extends to the nuclear and missile fields too. By ensuring that Pakistan develops an acknowledged and reliable second strike capability, China wishes to hobble India further.

In the wake of the successful Agni-IV missile test, the Global Times,which is used by the Chinese authorities to send messages, warned India openly not to think of competing strategically against China.

It also made it explicit that if the West supported India on nuclear issues, "China will not stand out for Pakistan and stick rigidly to those nuclear rules as necessary." It stressed Pakistan should have the same privileges as India. It has thus clearly confirmed that its support for Pakistan on strategic issues will continue.

India's current arsenal

India is developing three submarine-launched missiles, one of which is ballistic, while two are cruise.

In the 750-km range Sagarika ballistic missiles, India has developed a submarine-launched system. Its testing process has been successful, and it will now be inducted into the navy.

Along with Russia in a joint venture, India has developed the Brahmos series of land and air-based cruise missiles. A submarine-launched version was successfully tested in March 2013. It has a range of 290 km and is supersonic.

With India's membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the missile range will be increased to 600 km.

India has so far been unsuccessful with the indigenous Nirbhay submarine-launched 1000-km cruise missile. Its five tests have not been successful so far. After Babur-3, there is the need to undertake work in what the Prime Minister calls 'mission mode' to succeed with the Nirbhay missiles.

Will India's policy still work?

The development of Babur-3 has to be placed in the context of Pakistan's feverish moves to develop its nuclear arsenal. It is widely accepted that Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear weapons stockpile in the world. It has decided to introduce theatre nuclear weapons (TNWs), which are inherently destabilising.

For this purpose, it has developed Hatf-9 (Nasr) short-range ballistic missiles, which can be mounted with a miniaturised nuclear warhead.

Pakistan claims that the rationale of the TNWs is India's conventional military superiority and the evolution of aggressive doctrines to use conventional forces. However, this is merely an excuse, for India has shown exemplary restraint in the face of almost three decades of use of terror by Pakistan as an instrument of state policy.

India has, for the present, has stuck to its doctrine of massive retaliation in response to any use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, irrespective of their size or impact against Indian troops anywhere in the world. The nuclear doctrine was announced in 2003.

With continuing Chinese help to Pakistan in the nuclear and missile development, and these new developments, the time has come to examine it so that the nation is assured of the country's deterrence.

One last point: Pakistan routinely suggests that the two countries should enter into a strategic restraint regime, covering both conventional and nuclear areas. This is only a ruse, because while its strategic programme is India-specific, India faces threats from China too.

Besides, Pakistan's concept of restraint never extends to proxy war.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 10 January 2017, 10:53 IST