South Asian Tactical Missiles Risk Dangerous Miscalculation, U.S. Intel Officer Says

A truck carrying Brahmos missiles rolls by in January during a Indian Army Day parade in New Delhi. Both India and Pakistan are placing new highly capable cruise missiles at the center of their deterrence strategies (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal).
A truck carrying Brahmos missiles rolls by in January during a Indian Army Day parade in New Delhi. Both India and Pakistan are placing new highly capable cruise missiles at the center of their deterrence strategies (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal).

WASHINGTON -- India and Pakistan see their pursuit of better precision-strike tactical missiles as protecting them from coercion by the other side, but in reality they are creating more possibilities for dangerous strategic miscalculation, a U.S. intelligence official said on Wednesday.

“A strategic stability that attempts to close off options is really not all that stable,” said Rob Williams, national intelligence officer for South Asia with the National Intelligence Director’s Office. “It appears more to be seeking advantage and possibly pursuit of compellence" -- the effort to force an opponent to undertake a certain action through the application of punishment.

Pakistan says its 37-mile-range Hatf 9 ballistic missile is capable of carrying out low-yield nuclear strikes and evading enemy defense systems. The weapon is aimed at deterring New Delhi from carrying out a fast-moving, limited conventional invasion of Pakistani territory -- the so-called “Cold Start” doctrine.

Meanwhile, India is increasingly focused on its supersonic 180-mile-range Brahmos cruise missile as the key new weapon that will give it a strategic advantage over its neighbor and longtime rival. The nuclear-capable missile’s superfast speeds mean it potentially could be used to carry out prompt strikes on extremist camps inside Pakistan.

“While Pakistan may feel confident that it has checked Cold Start … proliferation of more accurate systems opens the door to precision strike scenarios below the nuclear threshold,” Williams told an audience at a Stimson Center event. “Pakistan arguably may be able to now deter a major conventional (assault) but the increased accuracy of these systems opens the door for precision strikes (by India) on the assessed sources of terrorism.”

The development of such weapons as the Hatf 9 and Brahmos show that Pakistani and Indian military planners are trying to carve out arenas in which tactical missiles could be used in limited ways without inviting retaliatory escalation. However, Williams argued that “these weapons regardless of size, delivery system or yield carry strategic implications no matter the concept of employment."

Islamabad is understood to believe it can use the Hatf 9 to compel India to call off a land invasion without causing a broader nuclear exchange because of the relatively low yield of the missile’s warhead. India signaled in late April that it would not allow itself to be held to such “nuclear blackmail.”

"India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary,” said former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, now head of the National Security Advisory Board. “The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”

Last month, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said if Saran’s statement did in fact represent the posture of the Indian government, it would have “serious implications.”

A ministry spokesman said Pakistan's development of short-range missiles “address three major concerns emanating from India: One, the rising conventional asymmetry in view of ever escalating defense budgets by India; Two, offensive doctrines postulated by India in the nuclear overhang; and Three, development of ballistic missile defense. Pakistan's Nasr (Hatf 9) missile as well as pursuit of cruise missiles should be seen in this context.”

Stimson Center co-founder Michael Krepon suggested that were the United States to sell India missile defense technology, it would only speed up the arms race in South Asia.

Though there is not yet any formal U.S.-Indian agreement authorizing antimissile collaboration, senior Pentagon officials last year spoke favorably about the possibility and the “Indian technical establishment is on the case,” according to Krepon.

June 6, 2013
About

WASHINGTON -- India and Pakistan see their pursuit of better precision-strike tactical missiles as protecting them from coercion by the other side, but in reality they are creating more possibilities for dangerous strategic miscalculation, a U.S. intelligence official said on Wednesday.