India’s first nuclear delivery systems were likely attack aircraft—first the Jaguar, then the MiG-27 and Mirage 2000. Although capable, the aircraft were vulnerable to Pakistan’s air defense network and this vulnerability likely lead to the development of the land-based missiles. It is unknown whether nuclear weapons have been fitted to the Su-30MKI, but as a non-stealthly aircraft its ability to penetrate Pakistani defenses would not be dissimilar to a Mirage 2000.
Indian nuclear weapons are placed under the authority of the Strategic Forces Command. India’s primary delivery systems are land-based missiles. The Prithvi I and II liquid-fueled missiles have ranges from 150 to 350 kilometers and need half a day to prepare for launch. The Agni I, II, III and IV solid-fuel missiles are medium to intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 700 to 4,000 kilometers.
India is also on the verge of fielding its first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant. Based on the Akula-I attack submarine design, Arihant has been modified to carry 12 K-15 short-range missiles or 4 K-4 intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Arihant is significant in that it will be able to patrol far beyond the range of Pakistani anti-submarine warfare capabilities. This will essentially make India’s retaliatory capability untouchable by Pakistan and thus a more credible deterrent.
India has a “no first use” policy regarding its nuclear weapons, reserving them solely for retaliation in the event of nuclear attack. Indian also adheres to a “minimum self defense” doctrine, in which the fewest nuclear weapons needed to maintain effective deterrence from attack are maintained.
Since 1947, Pakistan has played second fiddle to a larger, stronger India. Despite spending 50% more as a percentage of GDP on defense than India, Pakistan is militarily much weaker than India, and would lose in any conventional war. Like North Korea, Pakistan is a weakening state that invested in nuclear weapons as an inexpensive way to assure territorial integrity. An invasion of Pakistan is now likely extremely dangerous and one of the surest ways to a nuclear war. In that respect, Pakistan’s nuclear program can be considered a success.
Pakistan practices a particularly brutal form of realpolitik that involves constantly playing one party against another, to distract all parties from Pakistan’s own weakness. In support of such a policy it has evolved a wide spectrum of destructive tools, from terrorist groups to nuclear weapons. All of these tools are arrayed against India. From terrorism to nuclear war, India has to consider a wide array of contingencies it could face from Pakistan. Here are five of the most dangerous weapons India could face in any contingency.
JF-17 Thunder Fighter Bomber:
A low-cost, single-engine multirole fighter, the JF-17 “Thunder” was jointly designed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (developers of the J-20 fighter) and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. Two hundred JF-17s may be built for the Pakistani Air Force, a significant upgrade over the existing Mirage III, Mirage V, and Chengdu F-7 fighters. The JF-17 is destined to become the backbone of the Pakistani Air Force’s fighter fleet.
Pakistan, traditionally a strong customer for American weapons, purchased several dozen F-16 Fighting Falcons in the 1980s and 1990s. The first 40 were delivered but a second batch of 28 was not, held up by American disapproval over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. This delay sparked an effort by Pakistan to diversify the sources of its weapons. The need for fighters coincided with China’s burgeoning military aviation industry, and the JF-17 Thunder was born.
The JF-17 outwardly appears similar to existing Pakistani Air Force fighters, in particular the French Mirage V and the American F-16 Fighting Falcon. This is probably not a coincidence, and hints at extensive Chinese study of both fighters. First flight for the JF-17 was in Chengdu, China in August 2003, with initial production in 2007.
JF-17 Thunder has an extensive suite of features common to modern fighters: a fly-by-wire control system, pulse-Doppler radar for detection and air to air engagement, in-flight refueling capability, a laser designator for ground attack, an advanced defensive countermeasures suite, and an ergonomic cockpit featuring a heads-up display and full-color digital displays. It continues to benefit from the breakneck pace of Chinese aerospace development, with new engines, a new electro-optical, helmet-mounted targeting system and avionics upgrades all planned for the near future.
The JF-17 has five weapons hardpoints that can carry a total of 8,000 pounds of fuel, equipment or munitions. Air-to-air weapons are supplied by China, with PL-5 and PL-9 short-range infrared missiles occupying the two wingtip hardpoints. For beyond visual-range engagements, the JF-17 would be equipped with the Chinese PL-12 active-radar homing missile. Air-to-ground weapons are less well known but would likely include various forms of unguided “dumb” bombs, laser-guided bombs, rocket pods, precision-guided missiles and anti-ship missiles.
The Pakistani Navy is heavily outmatched by the Indian Navy in nearly all respects. The Indian Navy has more people, more ships and more planes. In terms of technology, it is far outstripping Pakistan. Pakistan’s most useful naval assets against India are its three Khalid-class diesel electric attack submarines. These submarines alone could practice an “anti-access, area-denial” (A2/AD) strategy of their own against an Indian Navy attempting to impose a blockade on Karachi and ports west.
The three Khalid-class submarines are modernized versions of the French Agosta-class diesel electric submarines. Khalid, Saad and Hamza are relatively small, weighing in at 2,050 tons submerged. The Khalid class can make 12 knots surfaced and just over 20 knots submerged. All three submarines have been fitted with an air independent propulsion system, allowing them to stay submerged—where they are difficult to detect—for greater periods.
Armament for the Khalid class is in the form of four 533mm standard diameter torpedo tubes. The torpedo tubes can be used to launch French-made ECAN F17 Mod 2 wire-guided torpedoes. Capable of both active and passive homing, the F17 Mod 2 can deliver a 250kg warhead up to 20 kilometers. At longer ranges, the submarines can strike targets with the famous Exocet anti-ship missile. SM39, the submerged version of Exocet, has a range of up to 50 kilometers and a high explosive warhead of 165 kilograms.
Pakistani Nuclear Weapons:
Pakistan resolved to build a nuclear arsenal after the 1971 war with India; the 1974 test of an Indian atomic device reinforced in Pakistan’s view. Pakistan’s nuclear program proceeded under the notorious Dr. A.Q. Khan, considered the “Father of the Pakistani Bomb.” In 1998, Pakistan shocked the world by simultaneously detonating multiple nuclear devices that ranged in yield from sub-kiloton to up to a possible 36 kilotons.
The number of nuclear weapons Pakistan is thought to possess is unknown but estimated to be between 90 and 110, a number derived from the amount of fissile material Pakistan is thought to have produced. Pakistani nukes are thought to have two delivery systems: aircraft bombs and ballistic missiles. Early model Pakistani F-16 fighter-bombers were probably designated in the late 1990s to carry nuclear gravity bombs. From Pakistan’s F-16 base at Sargodha, a nuclear armed F-16A could reach as far as central India. That is, if it can get through India’s national air defense network.
Pakistan has two short-range tactical ballistic missiles, the Ghaznavi and Shaheen missiles. Pakistan is currently developing two more short range missiles, the Abdali and Nasr. For longer range strikes Pakistan has an unknown number of Ghauri-2 missiles, an intermediate range ballistic missile based on the North Korean Nodong missile. Not much is known about the Ghauri-2, which was first deployed in the 1990s. A liquid fueled, road mobile, single stage missile with a range of approximately 2,000 kilometers, it theoretically has the ability to hit eighty percent of India. A newer intermediate range ballistic missile, Shaheen-2, is solid-fueled and reportedly has a range of 2,000 kilometers.
Despite the proliferation of Pakistani nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles this does not particularly mean Pakistan has a secure or reliable nuclear arsenal. The physical security of Pakistani nuclear weapons—particularly against a military coup or terrorist attack—has been a source of concern for the West and the United States in particular. The proliferation of Pakistani nuclear missile designs suggests early designs have been less than successful.
Non-State Actor Terrorist Groups:
Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in Pakistan’s arsenal are terrorist groups.
The danger to India is that these groups—particularly those plotting and conducting attacks against civilians—could pressure the Indian government to retaliate militarily against Pakistan.
The larger danger of such groups is that they could prompt the Indian government to take measures that would lead to all-out war between the two countries. The activation of India’s “Cold Start” conventional military doctrine, in which the Indian Army would defeat the Pakistani Army and then rapidly move into Pakistan, could trigger a nuclear response from Pakistan, leading to a nuclear exchange between the two countries.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs):
Given Pakistan’s history of provocations against its neighbor India, the revelation that the Pakistani military is getting into drones is not exactly good news. Since 2008, Pakistan has fielded two small unmanned aerial vehicles for tactical reconnaissance, the Shahpar and Uqab. Although drones have legitimate battlefield uses, the thought of Pakistan possessing drones spurs thoughts of more nefarious purposes than providing reconnaissance and security for Pakistani troops.