Indian BMD Program: Strategic Response of Pakistan


The South Asian region has remained fragile due to the hostile relations of India and Pakistan. The history of conflicts and wars generated a mistrust between the two countries. Owing to their strategic needs, India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices in May 1998. Soon after the induction of nuclear weapons, India initiated the ballistic missile defence program in 1999. India’s indigenous program was divided into two phases; the first phase included Prithvi Air Defense (PAD)exo-atmospheric interceptor missile to cater the aerial threats outside the atmosphere between the altitudes of 50 to 80 km with the speed of Mach 5. Moreover, Advanced Air Defense (AAD) is to counter threats between the altitudes of 15 to 30 km along ‘Swordfish’ Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR) developed jointly by India and Israel based on the Israeli Green Pine early warning and fire control radar, this radar was imported by India from Israel in 2001-2002. This two-tiered air defense system is aimed at neutralizing aerial threats at two stages; exo-atmospheric interception or mid-course and endo-atmospheric interception.

The Phase 2 missile defense system will be based on the AD-1 and AD-2 interceptor missile that are currently under development. These interceptor missiles will be hypersonic-having the speed of ballistic missiles with the maneuvering capability of cruise missiles- with the speed of Mach 6-7. Phases 2 missile systems are claimed to match the capability of “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense” commonly known as THAAD, developed by United States. In parallel, the radar to support Phase 2 interception will have 80% indigenous component, DRDO chief VK Saraswat told the press on May 15, 2011.
“Only some of the equipment’s and consultancy would be provided by Israel”.

In addition, India successfully tested Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) indigenously developed by Defence Research and Development Organization in September 2018, designed to engage targets in exo-atmospheric region at the altitude of 50 km PDV is intended to replace Prithvi and Advanced Air defence systems of India.

In parallel, India has shown keen interest and has invested in cruise missile defence as well. One such development is Barak-8. Barak-8 is an Indo-Israeli surface-to-air missile (SAM), designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UAVs as well as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and combat jets. Both maritime and land-based variants of the system exist in Indian Navy and Indian Army respectively. Moreover, India’s indigenously built Akash missile defence system also has the capability to “neutralize aerial targets like fighter jets, cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles”. The Akash surface-to-air missile was designed to intercept enemy’s aircraft and missiles at a distance of 18 to 30 km.

In missile defence, Israel is an important ally of India. The Indian PM approved 2.5 billion dollars for purchasing medium-range surface-to-air missile system from Israel on February 22, 2017. Moreover, the Indian armed forces are already armed with Israel’s Green Pine radars. Israel to supply advanced medium-range surface-to-air missile systems to India. The contract is worth $1.6 billion. Israel’s joint venture with Indian companies is in consonance with “Make in India”. In this regard, Russia has also helped India, New Delhi had concluded a deal with Moscow to purchase the four (some sources say five) regiments of S-400 advanced Air Defense Systems, which is a robust anti-access & area denial (A2/AD) asset. It is a fourth generation advanced air and missile defense system, designed to protect high-value military, political, and economic targets from ballistic and cruise missiles, and air strikes. According to the Russian defense sources the S-400 deliveries to India are likely to start by 2020.In parallel, New Delhi has been asking Washington for “the cooperation in the area of BMD as part of an emerging strategic partnership with the United States. These discussions subsequently even included the possible sale of the US Patriot-3 BMD system to India. However, both countries have no official stance on this.

The above mentioned advancements significantly increased the security dilemma for Pakistan. The question was what to do now? Shall Pakistan go for purchasing a BMD system? Can Pakistan afford this expensive system with a narrow economy? To address these concerns, Pakistan opted for a dynamic and cost effective approach and conducted successfully the test of a mediumrange, surface-to-surface, ballistic missile Ababeel, which uses the MIRV to deliver multiple conventional and nuclear warheads on January 24, 2017. The Ababeel range is 2,200 kilometers – three times the distance between Islamabad and New Delhi-having the capacity to engage multiple targets and thereby it would be very lethal for the Indian BMD shield. According to the official statement by ISPR “Development of Ababeel weapon system is aimed at ensuring survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles in the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) environment.”

In operational terms, ballistic missile defence systems are considered to be defensive as their purpose is to detect and intercept the incoming missiles. However, in South Asian context, induction by India has further increased the security dilemma for Pakistan. This can give a false sense of security to the Indian military and political leaders; motivate them to launch an offensive against Pakistan or intentionally initiate a conflict which will destabilize the strategic stability. The response of Pakistan is not only cost effective but credible as well. Since no BMD system can intercept multiple targets at once, the Ababeel can dodge and penetrate through the Indian BMD systems. Also, India has a huge country, defending whole of the country with a BMD is not feasible and affordable. Similar thinking prevails in India as well. Secondly, geography poses significant handicaps for Indian BMD, given the short flight times between the two countries which is around 4-6 minutes. Pakistan’s MIRVs would make Indian investments in BMD even more indefensible as the process of detecting, deciding and launching an interceptor takes time.

The indigenous developments of India depicts their technological edge over Pakistan which is alarming. India prospering in military technology is a direct threat to Pakistan’s security. Moreover, India’s bilateral cooperation with countries like Israel, Russia and US conversely impacts Pakistan’s interests. Lastly, the South Asian region is indulged in an arms race. India in pursuit of ambitious goals is constantly enhancing military capabilities, which not only conversely impacts Pakistan’s security but also places South Asia on the verge of a major conflict. This may exceed beyond controllable situation and in worst case scenario may result in nuclear exchange. South Asia is in need of an arms control agreement which limits these development. It can be bilateral or may have a third party as on over-looking authority and to ensure the smooth implementation of the agreement.