Pakistan’s Nasr Tactical Nuclear Missile and its Critical Role in Deterring India’s Conventional Forces
The primary role of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is to deter aggression from what is perceive
d to be the greatest threat the state’s sovereignty – the military of neighboring India – and deny it any nuclear advantage in a potential war. Because of this focus on its neighbor, unlike most nuclear states, Pakistan has made no attempts to develop intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.
For delivery of its nuclear weapons against Indian targets, short and intermediate ranged delivery capabilities are sufficient. With a vastly superior conventional force, fielding approximately 4 million soldiers including reservists compared to Pakistan’s army of under one million, the use of nuclear weapons are an essential means for Pakistan to wage asymmetric warfare to counter India’s conventional advantage. To this end Pakistan has recently developed a short ranged tactical nuclear missile, the Hatf IX Nasr, to deliver low yield nuclear strikes. The purpose is specifically to target Indian troops concentrations and armored divisions – and thus deny the country the advantage of its superior conventional capabilities.
The existence of the Nasr missile program was only revealed after a test launch in 2011 – and the missile itself is speculated to have entered service in large numbers from 2013. The system is capable of delivering a warhead with a payload of under five kilotons at a distance of 60km, and is intended for battlefield use against Indian troop concentrations. According to the Pakistani military the Nasr was designed to “add deterrence value at shorter ranges… with high accuracy shoot and scoot attributes.” As it uses a solid fuel propellant, the missiles can be kept constantly on standby near the Indian border and used at any time to respond to border incursions into Pakistani territory. The Nasr is designed to be maneuverable in flight, allowing it to penetrate Indian missile defenses. The missiles are launched from A-100E 300mm Multiple Launch Rocket System, each of which carries four missiles. Though it is a nuclear missile, its low payload allows the Nasr to be launched at short range in salvos – something highly unusual for nuclear weapons.
The Nasr’s low yield, short range and accuracy makes it an ideal response to India’s ‘Cold Start’ strategy for a war with Pakistan – under which India would use its conventional forces to launch multiple incursions across the Pakistani border and attempt to avoid nuclear escalation by deterring any Pakistani retaliation with its strategic weapons. Deployment of Nasr missiles not only serves as a signal that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons in response to any attacks on its territory, conventional or otherwise, but it would also grant it the capability of launching precise nuclear strikes on Indian ground forces should they cross the border without causing excessive damage or putting the country’s own forces at risk. Ultimately Pakistan’s military remains too small to launch a successful attack against India, and its nuclear doctrine reflects this by prioritizing deterring an Indian offensive. The Nasr tactical nuclear missile is key to providing a lower level form of deterrence below that provided by the country’s far more destructive high yield strategic weapons. While India’s military may well believe that Pakistan would not escalate to use of its strategic nuclear arsenal in response to border incursions – something which is likely true considering that this would guarantee the devastation of both countries and the loss of hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives – the Nasr missile gives Pakistan a way of countering India’s superiority in conventional capabilities without escalating to a destructive nuclear war. The strategic value of the Nasr missile to Pakistan’s defense therefore cannot be understated.
Shown below: Nasr Missile Battery; Nasr Missile Test Firing; Pakistan’s Formidable Al Khalid Main Battle Tank; Indian Army Soldiers (2) – while numerous and well equipped these troop concentrations present vulnerable targets to strikes from tactical nuclear missiles; Indian T-90 Main Battle Tank.