Back in 2012, Pakistan announced the creation of a Naval Strategic Force Command and hinted that the country now possessed a sea-based second nuclear strike capability.
Today, almost three years later, Pakistan’s alleged maritime deterrent continues to puzzle analysts. The overall consensus of opinion is that the country has not acquired a sea-based second nuclear strike capability just yet. Another thing that most experts agree is that the delivery vehicle of an ocean-launched Pakistani nuclear warhead would be a submarine-launched variant of the Hatf-7 (Babur) cruise missile.
According to a 2013 policy brief on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Pakistan already indicated in 2005, when the missile was first tested, that the system was designed to deploy in submarines. The Hatf-7 is a medium-range subsonic cruise missile with a reported range of 700km (430mi).
Yet, the Washington Post notes, that Western experts, “are divided over whether Pakistan has the ability to shrink warheads enough for use with tactical or sea-launched weapons.” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear and nonproliferation scholar is a skeptical: “They may have done so, but I can’t imagine it’s very reliable,” he states.
Shireen M. Mazari, a nuclear expert and the former director of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a Pakistani-government-funded think tank, acknowledged that the 2012 announcement may have been too premature: ”We are on our way, and my own hunch is within a year or so, we should be developing our second-strike capability,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post in September 2014.
One expert notes that in order to achieve a sea-based second-strike capability, “Pakistan will require a significant expansion of its submarine fleet [surface vessels would be too easy to detect], which will impose an enormous burden on the struggling Pakistan economy.” In 2013, the Pakistani government had to agree to a $ 6.6 million IMF bailout with various strings attached to what the country is allowed to spend money on.
According to a December 2014 article in India Today, a Sino-Pak strategic submarine project launched in 2010 – and suffering from various setbacks according to other sources – will “transform the Pakistan Navy into a strategic force capable of launching a sea-based nuclear weapons strike.”
The article furthermore notes that,
“Pakistan will build two types of submarines with Chinese assistance: the Project S-26 and Project S-30. The vessels are to be built at the Submarine Rebuild Complex (SRC) facility being developed at Ormara, west of Karachi. Intelligence sources believe the S-30 submarines are based on the Chinese Qing class submarines-3,000-tonne conventional submarines which can launch three 1,500-km range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from its conning tower. A Very Low Frequency (VLF) station at Turbat, in southern Balochistan, will communicate with these submerged strategic submarines.”
According to globalsecurity.org, the Wuhan-based China State Shipbuilding Industrial Corp (CSIC) signed a contract in April 2011 to deliver six Type 032 Qing-class conventional attack submarines by 2016/2017. “Each can carry three CJ-10K submarine-launched, 1,500km-range land attack cruise missiles (LACM) capable of being armed with unitary tactical nuclear warheads,” the article notes. Yet, globalsecurity.org emphasizes that the reports on this Sino-PAK contract “must be taken with a grain of salt.”
To make matters more complicated, most reports note that the submarines purchased will be six Type 041 Yuan-class vessels. Pakistan’s current submarine fleet consists of two upgraded French DCNS Agosta-70 and three Agosta 90Bs (equipped with air independent propulsion).