Army Strategic Force Command successfully conducted a training launch of Short Range Ballistic Missile Hatf III (Ghaznavi) on Thursday. This successful test adds another powerful weapon to our national arsenal and demonstrates that our scientists and engineers have the expertise to produce the most advanced weapons. In continuing to produce ballistic missiles, however, we are producing the wrong weapons for the wrong war.
Nuclear weapons have long been considered a military deterrent because actually using them would by M.A.D. – Mutually Assured Destruction. In other words, in a nuclear conflict both sides lose and nobody wins. This has prevented a nuclear war between great powers such as the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and Pakistan and India also.
Today, ballistic missiles are quickly becoming a weapon of the past not only because their use would result in an immediate response from the rest of the world, but because modern interceptor technology makes them obsolete. While Pakistan was successfully testing the Hatf III ballistic missile, the US was successfully testing the SM-3 anti-missile interceptor. Now, even countries with advanced missile technology cannot be certain that their weapons will hit the targets without being stopped by interceptors.
Ballistic missiles are not only becoming obsolete in modern war because of advances in interceptor technology, though. They are also becoming obsolete because they are designed for a type of warfare that is less likely to occur – conventional inter-state warfare. Most conflicts today do not take place in conventional war theaters like World War I and World War II. Fighting today mostly occurs in heavily populated areas between combinations of traditional security forces and irregular fighters.
In modern wars, the weapons too have changed. Today’s wars are fought with small arms. Large conventional bombers have been replaced by small unmanned arial vehicles (UAV) also known as “drones”. A ballistic missile is a deterrent against large scale threats like other ballistic missiles or troop invasions, but is no use in modern war. As such, it too has been replaced by the small improvised explosive device (IED).
The US has responded to this new era of war fighting by shifting its focus away from developing new large scale conventional weapons to the production of targeted small scale weapons like drones and defensive technology that can neutralise the IED threat. According to reports, the US military is spending over $5 billion each year to study IEDs and develop new technologies to neutralise these weapons.
Defence analyst S.M. Hali has noted that IEDs ‘are wreaking double havoc in Pakistan’. He explains that “IEDs attacks alone in Pakistan has taken lives of 2707 soldiers whereas 1188 NATO soldiers became prey of IEDs in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2012”. Just last week, five people including three security officials were killed when two IEDs exploded in Bajaur Agency. One week later, a policeman was killed and three others injured by a remote-controlled IED in Quetta that was planted by terrorists for targeting Pakistan security forces.
Pakistan’s conventional deterrence is modern and effective. That it provides a sufficient deterrent to any unwise ideas of aggression from traditional adversaries has been demonstrated by the restraint showed in the outcome of historical conflicts. Pakistan now needs to shift its focus from the production of outdated weapons systems to address the threats we are facing in today’s conflicts – small arms and the proliferation of IEDs being used by terrorists to target Pakistan security forces. We have successfully neutralised the traditional threat, now it is time to turn our attention to today’s enemy and today’s weapons. It is the security of the nation that is at stake.
The author is a Ravian with expertise in political science and defence studies.