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).Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
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).