Pakistan’s Nasr Test – Analysing the Messaging | Security Risks Asia Made with Humane Club

Pakistan’s Nasr Test – Analysing the Messaging

Published Jan 25, 2019
Updated May 26, 2020

The loaded press release on the launch of the Nasr by Pak ISPR has a number of signals which the Indian strategic as well as the nuclear non proliferation community will have to mull over.

Pakistan’s Director General Inter Services Public Relations (DGISPR) in an official press release [No PR-32/2019-ISPR] and a Tweet accompanied by a video on 24 June announced that Pakistan had, “successfully conducted training launch of short range surface to surface ballistic missile “Nasr”[1] to enhance the operational efficiency of Army Strategic Forces Command besides re-validating the desired technical parameters”.

The accompanied video showed a ripple fire of four missiles in serial followed by the impact on the target which was marked by flags.

The nuanced press release carried a number of strategic messages thus needs some deliberation in the context of the overall debate on strategic or what Pakistan likes to call as, “full spectrum deterrence”.

Read Pakistan Nuclear Posturre Review 2018

Firstly the timing is ominous as it comes after India has launched a series of Long Range Ballistic Missile tests of the Agni series. India is likely to induct the Agni IV and V missiles in the Army as these seen to have completed the final tests by the tri services Strategic Forces Command (SFC) in 2019 at least the latter. Importantly Pakistan has separate strategic commands for the three services and the Nasr test on 24 January was carried out by the Army Strategic Forces Command (ASFC).

The Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has announced an ambitious restructuring plan which will lead to reorganisation of large sized infantry and mechanised divisions to Integrated Battle Groups (IBG). IBGs are seen as a frontline force for shallow penetration of the Western front of Pakistan under the Cold Start strategy.

The salvo test of the Nasr also comes two days before India’s Republic Day and in anticipation of display of strategic missiles during the parade held on the occasion in the national capital Delhi.

Secondly the Press Release indicated that this was a, “training launch,” thus the missile has been inducted in the Pak ASFC. The Release also clarifies that Nasr is a “short range surface to surface ballistic missile,” as it was been seen as a battlefield rocket by some analysts.

Thirdly the “quad salvo,” was demonstrated in the video accompanying the tweet indicating capability for rapid fire and neutralisation in a larger zone which may have a wider impact on any Indian armoured thrust.

While the Indian Army envisages possible impact of a Nasr strike on the forward tank elements up to a troop or more a salvo may have a large neutralisation effect.

The Shoot and Scoot capability was evident as the launch was from mobile launchers but, “the ability of in-flight maneuverability”, may have to be taken with a pinch of salt to say the least.

Fourthly the ISPR announced the purpose of the Nasr is “Full Spectrum Deterrence posture remaining within the precincts of policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence”, implying that Pakistan has the capability to defeat conventional thrusts envisaged in Indian Cold Start Doctrine.  

Read Pakistan General Kidwai’s Strategic Messaging on induction of S 400 by India

Importantly the nuclear tipped Nasr also poses a decision dilemma to the Indian Nuclear Command Authority headed by the Prime Minister as India’s nuclear doctrine calls for massive retaliation in the wake of atomic attack by an adversary. Will the destruction of a troop of armour in a nuclear attack also invite massive retaliation and will India now review the nuclear doctrine are questions that are likely to be debated over a period?

Reference is also made to the “enemy’s ballistic missile defence and other Air Defence Systems” implying the induction of the S 400 by India a contract for which has been inked with Russia in October last year and is to be available by 2022.

Finally the Press Release states that General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee amongst other issues, “congratulated the scientists and engineers on developing this sophisticated Weapon System to enhance Pakistan’s deterrence capability,” and also, “expressed his complete confidence in effective command, control and security of all strategic assets and measures being taken to augment these aspects”.

The last comes amidst apprehensions that deployment of nuclear tipped Nasr in the field may lead to the warhead falling in the hands of terrorist groups who have been attempting to gain control of the same while command and control has also been a concern given that these will have to be forward deployed and the orders for launch conveyed in a fool proof manner without any ambiguity.

Thus through a loaded press release on the launch of the Nasr, Pak ISPR may have outlined a number of signals which the Indian strategic as well as the nuclear non proliferation community will have to mull over.

[1] As per CSIS Missile Defence Project  named Missile Threat, Nasr or Hatf 9 is a modified Norico AR-series Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) procured by Pakistan from the People’s Republic of China with a Range of 60 kms and 400 kg payload warhead with Nuclear, HE, submunitions. Hatf 9 was first successfully tested in April 2011, with further tests in May 2012, February 2013, November 2013, September 2014, and July 2017 as per the Missile Threat project. Employment of Nasr is said to be as a deterrence to the Indian Cold Start strategy.