Since the last few years, India has been continuously carrying out an extensive military modernization program aimed at enhancing its counterforce capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. Under this notion, one of its most important components is the enhancement of its air defence capabilities aimed at providing an extensive multi-layered air defence shield. This has been done partly by combining indigenously developed systems with some of the world’s most expensive and advanced Missile Defence Systems which India has been purchasing over the last few years. Pakistan, due to its economic constraints cannot compete with India on a tit for tat basis. Hence, to address such a threat, Pakistan, for the time being, seems to be enhancing its indigenously developed Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) capabilities. These, in turn, are aimed at accurately penetrating the Indian Air Defense network that is being currently developed, by swarming it with a plethora of smarter and precision-based warheads to devastating effect.
At present, India possesses and intends to acquire various air defence systems in its missile defence inventory. These include indigenously developed ballistic missile defence systems such as the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missiles, the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Ashwin missiles and the Barak-8 missile defence system which has been jointly developed with Israel. Furthermore, to enhance its future capabilities, India had also signed an agreement with Russia for the acquisition of the S-400 anti-missile system back in October 2018, the delivery of which is expected in October this year. In another significant development, India reportedly intends to acquire the ‘National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II), a medium-range missile system from the US. India’s acquisition of advanced missile defence systems such as these would thus likely destabilize the pre-existing deterrence framework in South Asia, as it would embolden India to consider countering Pakistan’s existing range of warhead delivery systems such as its ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, fighter jets, and unmanned aerial vehicles with greater impunity.
In order to restore stability, Pakistan has two choices; firstly, in the long term, to purchase similar, albeit expensive missile defence systems from the international market – such as from Russia and/or China. A tall prospect which already seems difficult given the country’s economic difficulties. Secondly, to counter the Indian advanced air defence shield while staying within its existing doctrinal posture, it seems that the induction of an increased number of MIRV capable ballistic missiles appears as the more plausible and immediate solution.
It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan’s Ababeel Ballistic Missile, a medium-range ballistic missile, which it had tested in January 2017, is believed to have introduced MIRV technology into Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with its reported range of 2200 kilometers. Pakistan’s rationale for achieving this milestone is widely believed to be inclined towards neutralizing a broad range of the expected outcomes of India’s military modernization drive, including the threat from its enhanced missile defence systems. This is further evident in the statements of Pakistan Military Officials, in which they have clearly stated that the development of the Ababeel weapon system is aimed at ensuring the survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles ‘keeping in view the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) environment’, hence further reinforcing nuclear deterrence.
In the same vein, there is widespread speculation that Pakistan’s recently tested short-range ballistic missile Ghaznavi – with its operational range of 290 kilometers – is also MIRV capable. No matter the validity of such speculation, there is still an ongoing debate questioning whether Pakistan needs to have such a short-range MIRV capable ballistic missile. Particularly keeping in view India’s counterforce designs which highlight an apparent shift towards nuclear counterforce and the notions of ‘splendid first strike’ and surgical strikes against Pakistan. A strategy that is, in turn, directly linked to its Air Defence modernization plans because such counterforce temptations might provoke Pakistani retaliation. Hence, the road-mobile Ghaznavi missile, based on its accuracy and, shorter range and flight times could thus be a prospective platform for being a MIRV capable delivery system aimed at penetrating the Indian Air Defence shield. Hence, for Pakistan, the provision of such short-range MIRV capable ballistic missiles like Ghaznavi would likely serve as a key deterrent against the Indian advanced air defence shield.
At the present, Pakistan by being overtly threatened by the ruling BJP government still holds a principled stance in working towards bringing about lost peace and stability in the South Asian region. However, Indian aspirations as evident in its ambitious military modernization plans have compelled Pakistan to take all possible measures to assure its security and preserve its sovereignty. As such Pakistan may need to expand its strategy of playing its cards close to its chest particularly when taking into account India’s ongoing expansion of its Air Defence shield. In this regard, the induction and perhaps even testing of a medium to short-range MIRV capable missile seems to be the only way out, at least for the time being.
China manoeuvres to protect its interests while keeping its hands clean
The question is not if, but when the long-standing American defence umbrella in the Gulf, the world’s most militarised and volatile region, will be replaced by a multilateral security arrangement that would have to include China as well as Russia.
The United States’ perceived diminishing commitment to the Gulf and the broader Middle East and mounting doubts about the deterrence value of its defence umbrella leave the Gulf stuck between a rock and a hard place. The American umbrella is shrinking, but neither China nor Russia, despite their obvious interests, are capable or willing simply to shoulder the responsibility, political risk and cost of replacing it.
On balance, China’s interests seem self-evident. It needs to secure its mushrooming political and economic interests in the Gulf, which includes ensuring the flow of oil and gas and protecting its infrastructure investment and the expanding Chinese diaspora in the region. Nonetheless, China has so far refrained from putting its might where its money is, free-riding instead (in the words of US officials) on America’s regional military presence.
Indeed, for the longest time China has been able to outsource the protection of its interests to the United States at virtually no cost. For the US, guaranteeing security in the Gulf has been anchored in an American policy which accepted that maintaining security far beyond the borders of the United States was in America’s national interest, including the protection of Chinese assets. All China needed to do, therefore, was to make minimal gestures such as contributing to the multi-national effort in the Gulf and adjacent waters to counter Somali pirates.
In the meantime, China could pursue a long-term strategy to bolster its capabilities. This included infrastructure projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with dual-purpose potential (such as the strategic ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Duqm in Oman as well as commercial investment in Dubai’s Jebel Ali), the creation of China’s first overseas military facility in Djibouti, and significant expenditure on upgrading the Chinese armed forces.
All that potentially changed with the rise of US President Donald J. Trump, who advocated an America First policy that attributed little value to past US commitments or to maintaining existing alliances. Hence Trump embarked on a trade war with China – viewed as a strategic competitor – and appeared to fuel rather than resolve regional stability by uncritically aligning American policy with that of Saudi Arabia and Israel and targeted Iran as the source of all evil.
This change has yet to translate into specific Chinese policy statements or actions. Nonetheless, the anticipated shift from a unipolar to a multilateral security architecture in the Gulf has cast a new light on the first-ever joint naval exercise involving Chinese, Russian and Iranian naval forces, as well as China’s seemingly lukewarm support for a Russian proposal for a multilateral security approach in the Gulf.
China was careful to signal that neither the joint exercise nor its closer military ties with a host of other Middle Eastern nations meant it was aspiring to a greater role in regional security any time soon. If anything, both the exercise and China’s notional support for Russia’s proposed restructuring of regional security suggest that China envisions a continued US lead in Gulf security, despite the mounting rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.
The Russian proposal in many ways fits China’s bill. Its calls for a multilateral structure involving Russia, China, the United States, Europe and India that would evolve out of a regional security conference along the lines of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While backing Russia’s proposal in general terms, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stopped short of specifically endorsing it. Geng welcomed ‘all proposals and diplomatic efforts conducive to de-escalating the situation in the Gulf region’.
China’s reluctance to endorse the Russian proposal more wholeheartedly is rooted in differing approaches towards multilateralism in general and alliances in particular. China shies away from alliances, with their emphasis on geo-economics rather than geopolitics, while Russia still operates in terms of alliances. Despite favouring a continued American lead, China sees a broadening of security arrangements that would embed rather than replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf as a way to reduce regional tensions.
China also believes that a multilateral arrangement would allow it to continue to steer clear of being sucked into conflicts and disputes in the Middle East, particularly the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. A multilateral arrangement in which the US remained the key military player would further fit the pattern of China’s gradual projection of its growing military power beyond its borders.
With the exception of the facility in Djibouti, China’s projection becomes less hardcore the further one gets from the borders of the People’s Republic. More fundamentally, China’s approach is grounded in the belief that economics rather than geopolitics is the key to solving disputes, which so far has allowed it to remain detached from the Middle East’s multiple conflicts. It remains to be seen how sustainable this approach is in the long term.
Such an approach is unlikely to shield China forever from the Middle East’s penchant for ensuring it is at the heart of the major external parties’ concerns. And as Jiang Xudong, a Middle East scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, puts it: ‘Economic investment will not solve all other problems when there are religious and ethnic conflicts at play’.
Author’s note: first published in Asian Dialogue
Indian DRDO: A Risk In Disguise
At International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition ADEX-2013 in South Korea, India displayed its tactical nuclear missile Pragati, which has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The DRDO authorities on their way back to India, did not load the missile on ship. Instead they left it unguarded and vulnerable at the Incheon port, South Korea, for an entire month. Afterwards, the missile was transported to India in a commercial cargo ship without the safeguards it needed as sensitive military hardware. This is no joke, this is real, an Indian battlefield tactical missile that has the capability to carry a low yield nuclear warhead at a short range was laying unguarded and dangerously exposed.
DRDO authorities did not display a dummy missile intentionally, instead an actual prototype was exhibited to be used for a live firing. Besides, DRDO did not take the responsibility of the logistical handling of the missile, instead it was outsourced to a local shipping company. Now the question is whether it was a major security lapse and breach of international laws, or DRDO intentionally did this to proliferate weapons technology. What happened during that period? Who so ever got access to the missile on that port was kept confidential! The possibility of official involvement in this incident cannot be ignored.
It is not a hidden secret anymore that DRDO and other Indian nuclear organizations have history of illicit nuclear trade and proliferation of missiles technology to other countries, like Libya, North Korea, and Iraq and so on. There is a long list of Indian individuals and entities available in nuclear archives, which are involved in arms race and proliferation.
It is embarrassing that India is a country, which is so poor in security and safety of its strategic weapons along with nuclear program is trying so hard to get into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Now the mainstreamed nuclear states must realize the Indian ambition behind not signing the NPT and still wanting to be recognized is simply that India will not act responsibly. Instead being a part of the solution, India wants to become a problem for not only the South Asian region but globe as well, by exerting hegemonic designs and military expansion.
India has already taken several actions with regional implications to bully its neighbors and threaten regional peace and stability. For instance, the major incidents of 2017 China-India border standoff and 2019 Balakot aerial combat with Pakistan. There is no point of having such huge military expansion, when one cannot handle it or use it for proliferation or mislead and malign other states to hide its own inabilities. Therefore, Indian DRDO is a risk in disguise, because it cannot assure the secure and safe handling of its own equipment as well as in frustration it is maligning commercial trade between Pakistan and China. This February 2020, DRDO and customs authorities at Deendayal Port, Kandla detained Hong Kong-registered commercial cargo ship Da Cui Yun, bound for Port Qasim in Karachi, Pakistan. They claimed that they obtained intelligence that the ship was carrying a suspicious equipment, which could be used for nuclear missiles.
Indian authorities compelled the ship staff to hand over the equipment stated as an ‘industrial dryer’ and took it in their custody. Eventually, to save the embarrassment India hid the truth from media. Interestingly, that equipment had nothing to do with military or weapons manufacturing. Instead it was a ‘heat treatment furnace’ used mainly in the manufacturing of rubber goods, such as, liquid rubber storage tanks and rubber pipes. Both Pakistani and Chinese Foreign Affairs have denied the Indian claims that the equipment was ‘Autoclave’, which India has alleged was ballistic missile stuff.
India is concerned that Pakistan has emerged as a more responsible nuclear country and India’s NSG membership bid is in lumber because of Chinese realistic stance of ratifying NPT condition. Frustrated, Indian authorities have fabricated this incident just to malign Pakistan and China. Indian authorities have made a miscalculated decision. They should realize that such maligning tactics won’t help India to divert international community’s attention from its illicit nuclear trade and proliferation record. The whole event appears to accuse Pakistan for the illegal trade and nuclear proliferation, while avoiding India’s own record on the proliferation of nuclear arms.
This deception shows that the hope of Indian NSG membership has been constantly refused by China and now the Indian frustration has turned to counter-blown false-flag operations in order to undermine growing China-Pakistan co-operation. The international community must stop its material support and technical assistance to India, which has exploited Indian behavior and now India is misleading international community by false flag operations. It will eventually dismantle the peace and stability.
Development of New-age Weapons Systems Becomes Key to Sustaining US Military Superiority
The technological superiority of the United States armed forces is being challenged by new and evolving threats constantly being developed by potential adversaries. To counteract these challenges, the country’s Department of Defense (DoD) is expected to spend an estimated $481 billion between 2018 and 2024 to identify and develop new technologies for advanced weapon systems, giving rise to numerous revenue opportunities in this space.
“According to the most recent Defense budget (FY2021), combined spending on research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) for over 1,100 programs by defense-wide organizations is estimated to reach $106.56 billion,” said John Hernandez, Senior Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “This wide variety of projects provides opportunities for a large number of commercial markets to collaborate with the DoD.”
Frost & Sullivan’s latest research, US Defense Science and Technology Research Market, Forecast to 2024, delivers an overview of the science and technology (S&T) research market catering to the United States armed forces and provides detailed insights into the related growth opportunities available for market participants.
The RDT&E sector is rife with market opportunities in an array of innovative technological concepts, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, robotics, cybersecurity, counter-drone technology, and hypersonics. Pursuing further developments in these areas will prove to be rewarding for companies that can successfully integrate these new capabilities into existing weapons systems.
“Most concepts being explored by the armed forces will have an impact in commercial market spaces as well,” noted Hernandez. “Companies working with the DoD on RDT&E development programs will have an advantage toward the development of parallel commercial solutions.”
Companies operating in this sector should explore the following opportunities to cultivate growth:
Commercial-off-the-shelf technologies and software are constantly being introduced into the defense S&T research market. RDT&E process stakeholders must be prepared to partner with the patent holders of those technologies and software.
Suppliers of legacy defense systems must continue to invest in their own research and development to keep those systems current and indispensable. This involves constant interaction and communication with defense clients to align development strategies.
Trending innovations such as directed energy weapons, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are in their growth stages with a substantial amount of development ongoing. Integration companies must envision how these new capabilities can be integrated into the battle management space and have solutions ready for implementation.
US Defense Science and Technology Research Market, Forecast to 2024 is a part of Frost & Sullivan’s Aerospace and Defense Growth Partnership Service program, which helps organizations identify a continuous flow of growth opportunities to succeed in an unpredictable future.
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