Last week, Pakistan announced the second successful flight test of its Babur-3 nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM). The missile was tested from a submerged platform off Pakistan’s coast in the Arabian Sea and flew to strike a target at an undisclosed location.
According to a statement released by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the test met “all the flight parameters.” The release described the launch platform as an “underwater dynamic platform.” The SLCM has a range of 450 kilomters, according to ISPR. It was first tested in January 2017.
The ISPR release acknowledged that the Babur-3 is capable of “delivering various types of payloads” and uses “underwater controlled propulsion.” Notably, ISPR released footage of the test launch, confirming that the Babur SLCM is designed to eject horizontally through submarine torpedo tubes instead of vertically from a canisterized vertical launch system.
This was always likely the case as the Babur is likely to first deploy with Pakistan’s French Agosta 90B-class submarines. Pakistan is also procuring Chinese Type 039A submarines, which may also serve as a launch platform for the Babur SLCM.
The ability of the Babur-3 SLCM to launch from torpedo tubes might allow for demating the delivery system and the warheads dissembled onboard a submarine—an option that is more difficult and usually impossible with vertically loaded cruise missile launchers.
Pakistan has not confirmed what sorts of use controls it will use on board its submarines to prevent unauthorized or accidental launches. For its land and air-based forces, Pakistan uses a range of procedural and physical constraints to prevent unauthorized nuclear launches.
With its second test, development of the Babur-3 SLCM continues apace, taking Pakistan closer to a deployable sea-based nuclear deterrent. While the yield of the Babur’s warhead is not known, the system will likely serve as retaliatory role and is not designed for first use.
Indeed, ISPR’s release notes that Babur provides Pakistan with a “credible second strike capability, augmenting the existing deterrence regime.”
Moreover, should India choose to adopt a different nuclear strategy — one potentially leaving open space for conventional counterforce strikes against Pakistani launchers — Babur could serve an important role.
Pakistani Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the head of ISPR, remarked that the Babur-3 SLCM was developed as a response to “provocative nuclear strategies and posture being pursued in the neighborhood.”
Even as Indian doctrine remains unchanged, Pakistan sees a need to develop a more survivable second strike weapon.
For more on Babur-3 see analysis published last year in The Diplomat and a longer analysis in the fall 2017 issue of The Washington Quarterly.