Reports coming from India suggest that on May 15 it successfully tested a locally-designed supersonic anti-ballistic missile. Considering the no-first use nuclear doctrine that India follows and Pakistan does not, the lack of an anti-ballistic missile technology was a gap in Indian security. But has that gap been filled now by the test-firing of the missile? If not, how long will it take for India to build up an anti-missile defence shield? What are the implications and strategic effects of this renewed Indian interest in the development, induction and expansion of missile systems in its armed forces? And how is Pakistan likely to respond to this Indian development?
All indicators suggest that India is in the process of developing a nuclear missile shield. This won’t be a defensive arrangement as the name might suggest but an offensive deployment of radars and ballistic missiles designed and deployed to take down incoming missiles at a far-off distance. Reportedly, India has already placed two long-range missile tracking radars (supplied by Israel) in New Delhi. This is the beginning of an accelerated process that will see India deploying radars and missiles to provide a nuclear missile shield to its major cities and join the list of countries that already have such shields for their cities, including Paris, London, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Beijing and Washington. Building this nuclear missile shield will require the deployment of hundreds of ballistic missiles. For this, India is simultaneously working on both indigenous development as well as imports. The current five-year import figures of heavy weapons by India, according to a report, are 140 per cent higher than the spending in this regard in the previous five years.
Forecast to spend $250 billion to upgrade its military in the next decade, the Modi government approved the setting up of a $1 billion facility to manufacture seeker systems — used to direct missiles in the final phase of targeting — by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation at Hyderabad with Israel’s help. This cutting-edge technology will enable India to manufacture smart weapons indigenously in the long run. India’s Reliance Defence, owned by Anil Ambani, has also signed a manufacturing and maintenance deal worth $6 billion with Russia’s Almaz-Antey, a manufacturer of radars and air defence missile systems. India is also in the process of purchasing S-300 and S-400 long range surface-to-air missiles (LRSAM) from Russia. According to the Indian defence minister, a deal worth $4.5 billion has already been finalised between the two countries and Russia may supply five units of the S-400 LRSAM for induction into the Indian Air Force by 2017.
The induction of the S-300 and S-400 can prove to be a big game changer. These missiles are renowned for making entire regions inaccessible to non-stealth combat aircraft and their deployment will definitely create a strategic imbalance and shift the existing balance of power in India’s favour. It is said that only the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, F-35 and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bombers can operate inside areas protected by these weapon systems. The Pakistan Air Force currently does not possess these flying machines and thus it will become difficult for it to penetrate an area where these weapons are employed as part of an integrated defence network — something India is planning to create. This layer would certainly include the indigenously produced Prithvi line of short, medium and long range SAMs.
Seen in this context, where India seems to be ‘going ballistic’ literally, the serious concern shown in a statement on May 19 by a senior foreign ministry official and by the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, during his speech in the Senate is not uncalled for. However, showing serious concern is one thing; doing something to counter this likely strategic imbalance is another. What then are the options for Pakistan?
We could rely on our own indigenously built SAMs such as the Shaheens or acquire more long-range SAMs such as the Chinese HQ-9. But the main worry of the security establishment at this stage would not be to look for ways to increase the deployment of SAMs in Pakistan to match those on the other side of the border, but in fact, to look for counter-measures that could help stress, defeat and deter Indian air defence capabilities, which in the next few years will pose a real challenge to Pakistan. Whether this can be done by buying stealth aircraft, long-range anti-radiation ships or by acquiring submarine-launched cruise missiles or air-to-surface missiles — all will cost money and considering that in the previous year we have spent $16 billion on debt servicing, $ 1.8 billion on Operation Zarb-e-Azb and with Americans now creating hurdles to extending military aid to Pakistan, it is going to be a tough task to cough up enough money to counter Indian conventional capabilities. The real question remains: should we take steps to create a balance vis-a-vis growing Indian military capabilities, and if so, how?
We must always be prepared to defend ourselves. We cannot afford to lower our shield in a disturbed balance of power environment. We must always be prepared to defend our independence and sovereignty. Today, India is aligned with American foreign policy — specifically the ‘pivot Asia policy’ — and is seemingly working with the Americans in implementing a part of that strategy by checking the growing Chinese influence in the region. This anti-China tilt, as a US-sponsored Indian policy, will over the years definitely become offensive, provocative as well as exploitative. Under such a regional environment, our growing ties with China will continue to send a strong message to not only the Indians but also the security establishment in Washington with whom we have currently fallen out of favour.
We must seek Chinese help in enhancing our nuclear deterrence by diversifying our nuclear strike capabilities and means of delivery by developing or acquiring the submarine-launched ballistic missile capability. India is likely to continue to enhance its military power to seek strategic military parity with China but this will only elevate the rivalry between the two nuclear-armed archrivals — India and Pakistan. I am sure our security establishment is well aware of the necessity of retaining a matching hard power capability against India and it must be doing everything to guarantee this, but it’s the poor state of our soft power, which is the other dimension of power politics, in which we lag behind. For this, our politicians will have to improve their performance and deliver in the areas of economy, diplomacy and peace-building.
P.S. One burning question the political leaderships of both India and Pakistan need to ask: with such high scales of poverty and corresponding military expenditures, aren’t the two countries not being exploited? And if so, by whom?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2016.