According to a report in the US-based 'Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists' dated 9 September, Pakistan continues to expand its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, more delivery systems, and a growing fissile materials production industry. According to the publication, if the country continues in the same manner, it will have 200 warheads by 2025. "We estimate that the country's stockpile could more realistically grow to around 200 warheads by 2025 if the current trend continues," read the report prepared by Hans M Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, research associate for the NIP.
It added that Pakistan as of date has a nuclear weapons stockpile of approximately 165 warheads. However, the Pakistani government has never publicly disclosed the size of its arsenal and media sources frequently embellish news stories about nuclear weapons. But Pakistani officials have always rejected concerns with regard to nuclear stockpile. In 2021, for instance, Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that he was “not sure whether we’re growing [the nuclear arsenal] or not because as far as I know…the only one purpose [of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons] it’s not an offensive thing.” He added that “Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is simply as a deterrent, to protect ourselves”.
Pakistan’s nuclear energy programme dates back to the 1950s, but it was the loss of East Pakistan
(now Bangladesh) in a war with India that probably triggered a January 1972 political decision to begin a secret nuclear weapons program. Observers point to India’s 1974 'peaceful' nuclear explosion as the pivotal moment that gave additional urgency to the programme.
It conducted nuclear tests in May 1998, shortly after India's nuclear tests, declaring itself a nuclear weapon state. Pakistan has chosen to not be a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). It also is the sole country blocking negotiations of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).
Pakistan has several types of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons including aircraft, missiles, sea-based nuclear weapons and non-strategic nuclear weapons. In this article we will focus on the nuclear missiles.
Pakistan’s arsenal consists primarily of mobile short and medium-range ballistic missiles, but it is also making significant strides in its cruise missile capability.
Built with Chinese assistance, the Ababeel is Pakistan’s first surface-to-surface medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), reportedly capable of carrying Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). The three-stage, solid-fuel missile was unveiled in a test on January 24, 2017. Reports indicate the missile can be outfitted with both nuclear and conventional warheads.
- Abdali (Hatf 2)
The Abdali (Hatf 2) is a short-range, road-mobile, solid propellant missile that entered service in 2005. Its relatively small warhead limits its destructive capability, but its accuracy is sufficient to target military bases and airfields, or critical infrastructure such as power plants and industrial facilities. It can range 180-200 km while carrying a variable 250-450 kg warhead.
- Babur (Hatf 7)
The Babur (Hatf 7) is a Pakistani ground-launched cruise missile. In upgraded forms, it has a range of up to 700 km and can deliver nuclear and conventional payloads. The Babur missile comes in several disclosed variants, including a 500 km range, Babur Weapon System Version 2, “Babur Weapon System-1(B),” a “high precision” variant of the Babur, the Babur-1A. It can be equipped with either a single 10 or 35 kT nuclear warhead, or up to 450 kg worth of conventional explosives.
Acquired from France, these short-range anti-ship cruise missiles comes in six variants, which differ by their launch platforms and levels of modernisation. These are the MM38 (which has been discontinued), MM40, MM40 Block 2, and MM40 Block 3 sea- and ground-launched models, the AM39 air-launched model, and the SM39 sub-launched variant. These missiles comes equipped with 165 kg high explosive fragmentation warhead.
- Ghauri (Hatf 5)
The Ghauri 2 is a medium-range, road-mobile, liquid propellant ballistic missile. The warhead can carry 700 kg, 12 to 35 kT yield nuclear weapon, chemical, HE, or submunitions. It is nearly identical in appearance to North Korea’s Nodong 1 MRBM. Pakistan received between 12-25 No Dong missiles from North Korea between 1980s and 1990s. It also appears that the Hatf 5 was developed in conjunction with Iran, as the Iranian Shahab-3 missile appears very similar both in appearance and capabilities, and there is evidence all three countries have cooperated on these missile programs together since the 1980s. China may have provided additional support in the Hatf 5 development process, as it is believed that the Hatf 5’s guidance system is of Chinese origin.
- Ghaznavi (Hatf 3)
The Ghaznavi (Hatf 3) is a Pakistani short-range ballistic missile. It has a range of 300 km and is directly derived from China’s DF-11 short-range ballistic missile. Pakistan originally began developing the Ghaznavi in 1987, but terminated the programme after its purchases of Chinese M-11 (DF-11) missiles in the early 1990s. It can carry a single warhead of up to 700 kg to a range of 290 – 300 km.
- Hatf 1
The Hatf 1 is a short-range, road-mobile, solid-fueled ballistic missile. The missile and its variants were likely developed with French and Chinese assistance. The missile body is directly derived from France’s Eridan sounding rocket, with several French companies thought to have cooperated with the Pakistani government. These units were reportedly assembled with substantial Chinese assistance. The Hatf 1 is probably deployed with high explosive or chemical weapons, and although it could theoretically carry a tactical nuclear weapon, Pakistan has declared it to be non-nuclear.
- NASR (Hatf 9)
The Nasr (Hatf 9) is a Pakistani short-range ballistic missile with a range of 60-70 km. Pakistan reportedly began developing the Nasr system in the mid-2000s, eventually selecting a design derived from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) WS-2 guided rocket.
- Ra’ad (Hatf 8)
The Ra’ad (Hatf 8) is an air-launched cruise missile developed by Pakistan. The Hatf 8’s appearance suggests a similar design concept to the French Scalp EG/Storm Shadow (Black Shaheen)/Apache and Swedish-German Taurus KEPD 350 air-launched cruise missiles. It has been designed to carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
- Shaheen 1 (Hatf 4)
The Shaheen 1 (Hatf 4) is a Pakistani-Chinese short-range ballistic missile. The missile was developed with Chinese technical assistance, and analysts suggest its design may derive from China’s DF-15 system. It can range 750 km while carrying a single high-explosive, chemical, or 35 kt nuclear warhead payload weighing up to 1,000 kg.
- Shaheen 2 (Hatf 6)
The Shaheen 2 (Hatf 6) is a Pakistani medium-range ballistic missile. The missile is designed to carry a single warhead payload weighing 700 kg, and reports suggest that nuclear and conventional payloads weighing up to 1,230 kg were developed.
- Shaheen 3
The Shaheen 3 missile is a two-stage, solid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile in development by Pakistan. The missile is reportedly capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional payloads to a range of 2,750 km, which would make it the longest range missile in Pakistan’s strategic arsenal.
Aircraft most likely to have nuclear delivery role
The F-16 combat aircraft, along with some Mirage III and V aircraft, are believed to be dual-capable (capable of both conventional and nuclear strikes) and constitute the air component of Pakistan’s nuclear force. Pakistan has approximately 36 warheads for the nuclear air branch. The F-16 A/B has about 24 launchers and a range of 1,600 kilomters (km) while the Mirage III/V has approximately 12 launchers and a range of 2,100 km.
Pakistan has been working toward a sea-based deterrent, and has successfully tested a nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile from a submerged platform twice, once in January 2017, and again in March 2018. Once this missile is fully developed and tested on-board a submarine, Pakistan will have a nuclear triad, with air, sea and land capabilities.
As per “Yearbook 2021”, released by Swedish think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Pakistan and India appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals. However, interestingly a United States study on worldwide nuclear materials security conducted in 2020 had said Pakistan is the "most improved country" after increasing its overall score by seven points. On the whole, Pakistan had ranked 19 with 47 points, while India ranked one place below at 20th spot with 41 points.
With inputs from agencies