The declaration of the recent induction of a new headquarters for the Pakistani Naval Strategic Force Command has been interpreted as tacit acknowledgement that the nation possesses nuclear-capable missiles that could be launched from submarines, Defense News reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Oct. 16, 2008).
An announcement last week by the Pakistani armed forces' Inter Services Public Relations office said the Naval Strategic Force Command "will perform a pivotal role in the development and employment of the naval strategic force" and serves as "the custodian of the nation's second-strike capability." Such a resource would enable Islamabad to fire back at an enemy following elimination of its land-based nuclear arms.
The press release essentially confirms long-held suspicions that Pakistan wields a sea-based deterrent in the form of modified Hatf 7 nuclear-capable cruise missiles, according to Quaid-e- Azam University nuclear weapons analyst Mansoor Ahmed.
"When the [Hatf 7] was first revealed in 2005, it was claimed that it is mainly designed to be deployed from submarines. There was at least that speculation," Pakistan Military Consortium researcher Usman Shabbir said.
Pakistani maritime forces have "pretty good experience in using similar systems, for example, both submarine-launched Harpoon and Exocet use a similar system, and (the navy) has operated both for a long time," Shabbir said.
The Hatf 7 might be launched via the submarine's torpedo chutes, Shabbir said.
Still, other researchers were not convinced the navy had the resources to wield a submarine-based nuclear deterrent.
Pakistan does not have enough submarines for the job, said ex-Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley. "Pakistan's current submarine fleet is not adequate in numbers (although well-trained) to be able to undertake detection and effective interdiction of the Indian fleet," he said.
At present, the Pakistani navy includes three Agosta-90B submarines that were built in the 1990s and two even older reconditioned Agosta-70 submarines
Maritime interception of India's naval forces "must remain [Pakistan's] first priority," Cloughley said. Any effort to convert and deploy the Haft 7 missile on submarines would be "not only costly but a most regrettable diversion of budget allocation," he said.
"I would go so far as to say that, in present circumstances, it would be a grave error if such a program were to go ahead," Cloughley said.
Pakistan is known to have authorized a future submarine fleet of 12 to 14 vessels. Such a fleet would allow for a minimum of one nuclear-armed submarine to be on standby at all times, Defense News reported.
Pakistan "has plenty of nuclear-capable SSMs and strike aircraft, and does not need a Navy-oriented second-strike capability," according to Cloughley.
The declaration of the recent induction of a new headquarters for the Pakistani Naval Strategic Force Command has been interpreted as tacit acknowledgement that the nation possesses nuclear-capable missiles that could be launched from submarines, Defense News reported on Wednesday.