Does Pakistan pose a bigger threat to India after Babur-III launch?

Published: January 12, 2017


Pakistan’s recent launch of Babur-III missile signifies a massive change in strategic calculus vis-a-vis India. The country’s strategic community has long been hoping that Pakistan completes its nuclear triad sooner, which in simple English means possessing capability to launch nuclear weapons from land, air and sea.

The Babur-III test proved that Pakistan not only possess the ability to modify its existing land-based Babur-II cruise missile with unwater-controlled propulsion and terrain hugging and sea skimming flight characteristics but also to upgrade its existing diesel-electric Agosta submarines to deliver the vital capability discreetly and effectively.

Pakistan fires ‘first submarine-launched nuclear-capable missile’

The news was anything but amusing for Pakistan’s eastern neighbour and arch rival. Typically, Indian ‘experts’ and “Pakistan watchers” congratulated China for the successful test in North Arabian Sea. But the frustration and anger over Islamabad achieving nuclear second-strike capability is natural and was expected. The second-strike capability refers to a nuclear power’s ability to attack the enemy after its existing land and air-based nuclear delivery systems are destroyed. This can only be ensured through arming its submarines with ability to launch the nuclear-tipped missiles while sitting in depths of the sea away from the enemy’s preying eyes.

The data gathered after the first test will lead to further improvements and more tests of the Babur III cruise missile in the future. Pakistan declared that the sophisticated projectile has a range of 450 kilometres with precise targeting characteristics of a cruise missile. Of course, Pakistan will work on extending its range and payload significantly for it’s the missile for the day after.

Since setting set up its Naval Strategic Force Command in 2012, Pakistan actively worked on acquiring quieter air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines while modifying its existing cruise missile arsenal to serve its second-strike requisites. Submarines are more vulnerable to detection when they surface to recharge their air supply and refuel. The Agosta class submarines of French origin, which were co-produced in Pakistan Navy’s Karachi dockyard in the 1990s, are being supplemented with eight “Hangor Class SSK” equipped with advanced AIP systems, which will enable them to stay underwater for longer durations.

Pakistan test-fires Babur cruise missile

India’s naval prowess

India has already leased a second nuclear-powered Russian submarine while simultaneously carrying on its joint venture programs with Moscow. The state-of-the-art, with built-in reactors, modern nuclear submarines never have to surface to refuel and replenish air supply. They enter service with the required nuclear fuel for its projected lifetime of up to three decades. The miniaturised reactor results in an underwater entity that is self-sufficient while being stealthy and lethal.

Alongside India’s Russia-supplied nuclear submarines and Russian conventional-yet-upgraded underwater vessels, it has also demonstrated the capability to use them to launch naval version of the Agni III in March 2014. It later tested it from leased Russian submarine Arihant in 2016. India is working with Russia to develop a naval version of their BrahMos cruise missile besides extending its range.

Last year, India deferred its plan to go ahead with a proposed order for three new French submarines alongside the six it is already building in the country after leak of crucial secret data on the Internet. It may slow down India’s own capability enhancing program but without compromising its edge over Pakistan and compatibility against China.

Submarine advances

New level of deterrence

With both the countries capable of second-strike capability, deterrence has reached another level of parity. Like India, Pakistan too reportedly is in negotiations to lease a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine. Does Beijing have the flexibility to lend one of its vital strategic assets to a closer ally? Either side may not answer the question. Given the significance of Gwadar port for Chinese maritime interests, the possibility can’t be ruled out. That’s another matter as to which of the two rival submarine fairs better in qualitative terms.

For now, India has superior submarines. Pakistan, for that matter, has an edge in anti-submarine detection systems. The navy has remained neglected in terms of weapon system upgrade. However, it can’t be deferred any further anymore. Though Pakistan’s engagement with Russia is slow but steady; both may open a chapter of naval cooperation for leasing submarines. Moscow has become increasingly more liberal than it used to be in selling military hardware to any country able and willing to purchase. Thus, the India factor may not hamper Pakistan’s deal if it can financially afford any weapon system available. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Navy must be working on fine-tuning operational protocols at the recently created strategic command on which effective use of submarine-based deterrents depends largely.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul and tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Shah(Berlin)
    Jan 12, 2017 - 4:22PM

    Pakistan doesnt really require a Nuclear Power submarine considering the length of our coast line and enemy distance. Although one has alway more advantage in having one. Therefore the edge which India has here can be neglected. Recommend

    Jan 12, 2017 - 4:35PM

    “It later tested it from leased Russian submarine Arihant in 2016”

    leased?? when did INS Arihant became a leased one?? Btw India’s Akash SAM missile system which Vietnam has shown interest into and China trying to thwart the sale showing Chinese nervousness with the system can deal will BABUR-3 let alone posing an existential threats to India but nevertheless any weapon systems are obviously a threat including a minor pistol.Recommend

  • viv
    Jan 12, 2017 - 5:25PM

    First of all this so called second strike capability is dubious given sub sonic nature of this missile. Sub sonic missiles are vulnerable to anti missile defense system like S-400 and Barak. In real world second strike capabilities are measured with nuclear submarines tipped with long range ballistic missiles (SSBN).The range of these missiles should be as long as enemy territory size while remaining at farthest distance. So until Pakistan makes SLBMs with at least 3500 km range and get them fitted in its submarines, it cannot be labeled as second strike capability. Recommend

  • Zafar
    Jan 12, 2017 - 5:36PM

    @Karan Raj Sharma
    Why Indians are always whining. When you consider yourself as a big country, big economy, why bother about a small missile, doesn’t suit you. Such behavior is expected from India, remember the surgical strike drama. Better feed your hungry soldiers and stop stealing their food.Recommend

  • Junii
    Jan 12, 2017 - 6:31PM

    Pakistan should develop its nuclear powers further. In future it has to fight for the freedom of Kashmir’s. You’ve to free us from Indian occupation. So be prepared for itRecommend

  • Karachi lover
    Jan 12, 2017 - 6:45PM

    We don’t need a missile system. We need education, roads etcRecommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:21PM

    We already have nuclear capability therefore India or any other country won’t attack us. We need more roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and factories. Recommend

  • Lakhkar Khan
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:53PM


    Very well said.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Jan 12, 2017 - 8:35PM

    Before you keel over and faint, let me bring you even better news that Pakistan will soon have nuclear quadriad capability as it is working on a prototype geo-static satellite to be armed with mininukes for a fixed position ‘rainy day’.Recommend

  • Ts
    Jan 12, 2017 - 9:17PM

    Pakistan is compeled to develop different weaponary systems to protect its sovereignity.All depends on the attitude of indiaRecommend

  • Desidimag
    Jan 12, 2017 - 9:59PM

    It’s such an irony that the nation with 99℅ Hindu ancestory, name it’s defence missiles with the conquerors who looted their forefathers , raped , force converted them ..
    Wow what a fcuked up mentality. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 13, 2017 - 6:29AM

    It is about time that Pakistan has a new Prime Minister who launches a Peace initiative among its citizens and with its neighours! Why waste resources for fireworks and not for education and economic development.

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Jan 13, 2017 - 3:13PM

    People who says that we need road and bridges and food and shelter should look into Syria, yaman, Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries. This is a world of interest. Countries with power can destroy you and occupy you for their interest. Even with a false and minor excuse. We need to ensure for our safety first. Remember you can live without a food for a few days but you can not survive missiles and bullets and bombs.
    And geologically Pakistan is very important country. We have everything from land to sea.. Your enemies won’t give you time if they start to think that there is any little gap in your defense.
    Yes ofcourse we want maximum safety of our motherland, maximum defense modernization to protect it.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Jan 13, 2017 - 5:16PM

    “Geologically”….we need to adequately protect our mineral and fossil fuel resources ?Recommend

  • Naeem Khan
    Jan 13, 2017 - 8:11PM

    I am glad that Indians always think and underestimated abilities of Pakistanis. I hope to God that we never have to use nuclear weapons to annihilate each others but surprise could be an asset for Pakistanis. When enemies think and underestimate that a rival country could be wiped out or coerced into submission, the surprise could make them realize the mistakes of their belligerency. I say to Pakistanis, just keep on doing what ever is in your interest and capabilities.Recommend

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