Missile match

Published : Jun 08, 2002 00:00 IST

India's threat perceptions are to be evaluated on the basis of increased evidence that Pakistan's indigenous missile efforts are now on an even keel and its missile strength is evenly matched with that of India.

ASSESSING the ballistic missile threat to the United States, the Rumsfeld Commission said in its report of July 1998: "Pakistan's ballistic missile infrastructure is now more advanced than that of North Korea. It will support development of a missile of 2,500-km range, which we believe Pakistan will seek in order to put all of India within range of Pakistani missiles. The development of a 2,500-km missile will give Pakistan the technical base for developing a much longer-range missile system. Through foreign acquisition, and beginning without an extensive domestic science and technology base, Pakistan has acquired these missile capabilities quite rapidly. China and North Korea are Pakistan's major sources of ballistic missiles, production facilities and technology."

Three different missiles - the intermediate-range Ghauri and the short-range Ghaznavi and Abdali, in that order - were tested by Pakistan clearly to demonstrate to India that Pakistan's broad-based missile development programme is well on course. Technical details of the tests and missile specifications are, however, not available, except the officially stated ranges of Ghaznavi (180 km) and Abdali (280 km).

The missiles' names can, however, cause confusion. The names Ghaznavi and Abdali were both earlier associated with the long-range missile systems under development - longer than Ghauri-I and II. Missile analysts as well as Pakistani media reports had earlier given these names to Shaheen-II (with a range of 2,000 km) and Ghauri-III (with a range of 3,500 km) respectively. These new short-range missiles have also been officially described as Hatf-II and Hatf-III respectively under the original nomenclature for the family of missiles under Pakistan's missile programme. (In earlier descriptions the long-range Abdali had been described as Hatf-VI as well. Ghauri, however, continues to retain the name Hatf-V.)

Hatf-I and Hatf-II were the first missiles to be developed and deployed by Pakistan during 1989-93. These were based on solid fuel, derived as they were from the French-assisted sounding rocket programme. According to missile analyst S. Chandrashekar, a former scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation and now with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, these were of French Duphin or Dragon-III lineage. The former was a single-stage vehicle while the latter was a two-stage vehicle with Hatf-I as the upper stage. These were stated to have ranges of 60 km and 280 km respectively. The indigenous development of the original Hatf-III, with an envisaged longer range, however, ran into problems in the design of a larger diameter solid motor required for its greater range. Its first reported test in 1997 was a failure. It was then that Pakistan, spurred by India's progress with the Prithvi missile, began to shop around for missiles. It is now believed that the original Hatf-III is nothing but the Chinese M-9 missile with a range of 600 km and was tested for the first time on April 15, 1998, and was christened as Shaheen-I. There is also an opinion that it is actually a variant of the two-stage M-11 (of a design range of 300 km) with reduced payload capability.

The latest tests and the associated nomenclatures suggest that a missile with a range between those of the earlier Hatf-I and Hatf-II has been developed and now designated as Hatf-II with the earlier Hatf-II (range 260 km) now assuming the name of Hatf-III. Since there was never any Hatf-IV before, Shaheen-I will perhaps now be called Hatf-IV, followed by Ghauri (Hatf-V). In the absence of further details, it is difficult to comment on the strategic thinking behind the 180-km Hatf-II.

It is widely believed - and confirmed by U.S. intelligence reports - that China has transferred the systems and technology of M-9 and M-11 missiles to Pakistan. Since M-11 is based on liquid fuel and Pakistan does not have a well-developed civilian space programme to have capability in liquid fuels, China has helped Pakistan set up an M-11 fabrication plant. According to reports, China has transferred 34 M-11s with 12-20 mobile launchers costing $185 million and technology costing another $516 million.

The U.S. had imposed sanctions relating to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on Pakistan and China for these transfers but these have always been of Category-II transfers. However, Gordon Oehler, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Non-proliferation Centre, told a Senate hearing on June 11, 1998, that the Clinton administration did not act upon the evidence indicating the sale of 34 M-11 missiles by China to Pakistan in order to avoid the imposition of Category-I sanctions (more stringent ones, relating to complete missile transfers) against China so that U.S.-China relations were not spoilt. Category-II sanctions are in place against China and Pakistan for missile transfers. These were imposed on September 1, 2001, and were apparently for a fresh round of transfers during 2001. As many as 12 transfers of systems pertaining to Shaheen-I and the planned 2,000-km Shaheen-II had taken place then in spite of China's assurances to the U.S. in their bilateral agreement that it would abide by MTCR guidelines. These sets of sanctions (on China's Metallurgical Equipment Corporation and Pakistan's National Development Complex) are for two years and would run till August 31, 2003. According to the Rumsfeld Commission, based on the technology transferred, Pakistan is developing an indigenous Tamruk missile based on M-11 with an improved range and performance.

In this round of tests, when Ghauri was tested for the third time, the range achieved has not been stated. Ghauri is based on No Dong, North Korea's intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM). So it is not clear whether it was single-stage, liquid-fuelled Ghauri-1 with a range of 1,000 km - which was tested on April 6, 1998 - or Ghauri-II, tested on April 14, 1999 and claimed to be a two-stage missile with a range of 2,300 km. The two stages of Ghauri-II could not be discerned in the picture released soon after its first launch on April 14, 1999. It had looked identical to Ghauri-I.

In any case, according to the analyses by missile experts such as Chandrashekar and David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Research Fellow, Security Studies Programmme, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S., Ghauri-I is nothing but the North Korean No Dong-1 missile. North Korea is supposed to have supplied Pakistan 12 No Dong-1 missiles and equipped it with the means to manufacture more. According to analysts, the bought-off missiles may already have been deployed and the current tests may be missiles being now fabricated indigenously on the basis of North Korean know-how. Analysts also believe that China has helped Pakistan with guidance systems for its Ghauri missiles, a technology area in which North Korea may be weak and the Chinese know-how now may have got transferred to North Korea.

While experts say that the single-stage Ghauri-1, like its heritage No Dong-1, has a cluster of four short-range Scud B missile engines (with four separate propellant tanks), Ghauri-II may well be based on No Dong-2, an improvement on No Dong-1 with a weight-reducing aluminium structure. But that alone is unlikely to increase the range by over 1,000 km. So if the claimed range of Ghauri-II is correct, its parameters and characteristics seem to match those of the North Korean multi-stage Taepo Dong-1 missile, the first stage of which is No Dong-1 and the second stage is just Scud B.

However, some experts argue that it is unlikely that this would have been transferred to Pakistan considering that North Korea had not tested it when the Ghauri-II launch took place. There is an opinion that North Korea may well have used Pakistan to get it validated in the face of its inability to do so because of its commitment to the U.S. under the bilateral agreement of 1994. Taepo Dong-1's maiden launch by Korea itself actually took place in the form of a three-stage satellite launch vehicle on August 31, 1998, though it was a failed launch. From a strategic standpoint, it would be prudent for Pakistan to buy Taepo Dong-1 as well, analysts say. Or else, Pakistan may itself have put together a Taepo Dong-1-like missile based on technology and assistance provided by North Korea and China. So in all likelihood, Ghauri-II is just the improved single-stage No Dong, namely No Dong-2, and its claimed range is not to be trusted, especially when Ghauri-I and II are identical in appearance.

Indeed, the assistance provided by China and North Korea in building up Pakistan's missile infrastructure has been extensive. The Rumsfeld Commission observed that this assistance had enabled Pakistan's missile infrastructure to be more advanced than North Korea itself. As a result, Pakistan has an advanced missile development programme in place now. In fact, there were reports in 1999 that Pakistan had successfully tested an engine for Ghauri-III, which was stated to have a range of over 3,000 km.

This kind of range increase can be achieved only by a different engine configuration altogether. According to experts, a possible route is to develop a single improved engine instead of a cluster of four and a corresponding different rocket stage. According to Wright, a view of Taepo Dong-1, which uses No Dong as its first stage, does suggest that the Koreans have developed the single engine and stage for No Dong. Also, the Iranian Shahab-3, which is based on No Dong-1, also apparently has only one engine. Experts believe that this is a route that countries with borrowed technology would take - using a cluster, which is relatively straightforward, to quickly demonstrate their long-range capability but developing a dedicated engine alongside.

This single-engine and single-stage technology may have been transferred by North Korea to Pakistan. While the 12 No Dong-1s sold are based on the Scud cluster, Pakistan may be developing the improved Ghauri-III indigenously using the new single engine. The way to achieve a vastly greater range is now to cluster the new engines. It is possible that the reported engine test refers to the test of this new cluster.

Ghauri-III will certainly have a range that can target entire India while Ghauri-I could go only up to Hyderabad. However, this Ghauri-III may be some years away still.

THE only significant Indian development has been the single solid-stage short-range variant of Agni. However, its strategic purpose is not clear. Ostensibly, it is to plug the missile gap between Prithvi's range of 250 km and IRBM Agni's 1,500 km. If this indeed is the case, it is not clear why the development of Agni did not begin with this, considering that this Agni-variant is just the first stage of the solid-liquid Agni-1 or the new solid-solid Agni-2. The first stage is nothing but the first stage of the satellite launch vehicle SLV-3. ISRO successfully launched the SLV-3 - an all-solid four-stage rocket - in 1980. Since then India has had the capability to build fully solid ballistic missiles such as Agni-II and the short-range Agni. Therefore, it is not clear why the liquid-fuel route was followed for Prithvi and then why it was used as the second stage for Agni only to go back finally to all-solid missiles.

Agni-2, which was first tested in April 1999 and later in January 2000, carries what is called a "velocity-trimming package". This package corrects the performance dispersion inherent in solid motors. The package consists of liquid-fuelled thrusters, which are small rocket engines. The new short-range Agni is also likely to have the same velocity trimming package. It is argued that since this velocity package concept to increase the accuracy did not exist in the 1980s, the short-range Agni-variant could not have been conceived then.

But this argument is hardly convincing. It is a case of poor conceptualisation of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, which began in 1983, in terms of the missiles' strategic purposes, Agni in particular.

With the SLV-3 first stage readily available, it would have been sensible to develop and deploy quickly the short-range Agni and then progressively move on to longer-range versions incorporating technologies such as flex nozzle for course correction in solid motors over long ranges.

However, since the only difference between Agni-2 and the short-range Agni is the absence of the second stage in the latter, many subsystems would be in common. This would greatly simplify production, maintenance, and ground handling.

From the Indian perspective, it is sometimes argued that the Indian missile programme is vastly superior because it is entirely indigenous whereas the Pakistani programme is not. This should hardly be an argument because, whether the programmes are indigenous or borrowed, Pakistan now has the requisite missile counterforce capability from short-range to intermediate-range, and soon, intercontinental ballistic missile as well with the development of Ghauri-III. Further, there is evidence that Pakistan's indigenous missile efforts are now on an even keel and its missile strength is evenly matched with that of India. The threat perceptions are to be evaluated from that perspective and strategies planned accordingly.

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