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PAKISTAN’S NUCLEAR POWER

PAKISTAN'S NUCLEAR POWER

Strength for a secure future!

In May 1974, India performed a nuclear test at Pokhran range in its Rajasthan state. After this test, India started creating pressure on Pakistan to make it submit to, and accept, its hegemony. Since Pakistan has some prior intelligence about India’s nuclear tests, Bhutto paid full attention to developing the nuclear programme of Pakistan. Mr Bhutto established Pakistan’s nuclear programme in order to counter Indian designs. Although it was not an easy task for Pakistan, as the country was fighting many problems including the separation of East Pakistan, yet Mr Bhutto did not stop and remained bent on making Pakistan a nuclear-armed state. He once said, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no other choice.”

Hence, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme was established in 1972 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the programme while he was the Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources – he later became President and Prime Minister of the country. Shortly after the loss of East Pakistan in the 1971 war with India, Bhutto decided to launch the programme in a meeting of physicists and engineers held in Multan in January 1972. India’s testing of a nuclear “device” at Pokhran in 1974 added an impetus to Pakistan’s efforts to build nuclear weapons. Through the late 1970s, Pakistan’s nuclear programme was equipped with sensitive uranium-enrichment technology and expertise. The arrival of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, in 1975, considerably advanced these efforts.

Dr Khan, a German-trained metallurgist, brought with him knowledge of gas centrifuge technologies that he had acquired while he was serving at the classified URENCO uranium-enrichment plant in the Netherlands. He was made in charge of building, equipping and operating Pakistan’s Kahuta facility, which was established in 1976. Under Dr Khan’s direction, Pakistan employed an extensive clandestine network in order to obtain the necessary materials and technology for developing its own uranium-enrichment capabilities. In 1985, Pakistan crossed the threshold of weapons-grade uranium production and by 1986, it is thought to have produced enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Pakistan continued advancing its uranium-enrichment programme, and the nation, reportedly, acquired the ability to carry out a nuclear explosion as early as 1987. On May 28, 1998, Pakistan successfully conducted nuclear tests. As per the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, the five nuclear tests conducted on May 28 generated a seismic signal of 5.0 on the Richter scale, with a total yield of up to 40 KT (equivalent TNT). Dr A.Q. Khan claimed that one device was a boosted fission device and that the other four were sub-kiloton nuclear devices. On May 30, 1998 Pakistan tested one more nuclear warhead with a reported yield of 12 kilotons. The tests were conducted in Chagai district of Balochistan.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme is based primarily on highly-enriched uranium (HEU), which is produced at the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories at Kahuta, a gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility. It is to be noted here that the Kahuta facility has been in operation since early 1980s. By the early 1990s, Kahuta had an estimated 3,000 centrifuges in operation, and Pakistan continued its pursuit of expanded uranium-enrichment capabilities.

At present, Pakistan is behind the US, Russia, France, UK and China, the five nuclear powers, and marginally ahead of India, according to many reports on nuclear weapons. The reports suggest that Pakistan could, at present, possesses 350 weapons in 10 years, or has the ability to make them with available fissile material. And that would make Pakistan vault over France, China and the UK, the number three, four and five nuclear powers having 300, 250 and 225 nuclear weapons, respectively. The US and Russia lead the count with an estimated 1,600 each. Pakistan, currently, possess about 120 weapons (some estimates put it in the 100-130 range), followed by India with around 100 (in the 80-100 range) and Israel with 80. Pakistan is also on course to more presuming India is sitting on a larger stockpile of fissile material. It has, therefore, fixed a target for itself to produce 20 nuclear warheads a year. Moreover, India has about 600 kilogrammes of plutonium, while Pakistan has about 170 kilogrammes of along with 3.1 metric tonnes of HEU (highly-enriched uranium, which is inferior to the lighter plutonium).

To achieve the dream of making Pakistan a formidable atomic power, our scientists did great work; they spent their days and nights and put in all humanly possible efforts to make Pakistan the first Islamic country having the atomic power. They all deserve gratitude and blessings of the nation for their commendable work. It is due to their unrelenting efforts that India cannot even think of pressurizing Pakistan, despite that it has a tacit support of the world’s only so-called superpower, the United States. Pakistan’s ability to resist Indian diktat and to disagree with America’s strategic design flows from one principal source, i.e. indigenous nuclear weapons arsenal. Without this, Pakistan could have been attacked like Iraq or sanctioned like Iran.

Babur-III SLCM: Stabiliser of Nuclear Deterrence

On March 29, 2018, Babur-III was tested from a submerged platform off Pakistan’s coast in the Arabian Sea. It uses “underwater controlled propulsion.” It struck undisclosed location on the land. Babur-III was first tested in January 2017.

The successful test of Babur-III Cruise Missile completed the last leg of Pakistan’s nuclear triad. Addition of Babur-III in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal stabilizes strategic equilibrium in South Asia. Babur-III is a submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) having a range of 450 kilometres and the ability to deliver various types of payloads including nuclear warheads. With the development of SLCM, Pakistan Navy is able to conduct the nuclear strikes with impunity. In the nuclear parleys submarine launched nuclear weapon is viewed the most “survivable” second strike capability in the event of adversary’s devastating first strike.

The alarming development for the Indian Ocean’s littoral states is the nuclearisation of the Ocean. The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France and India all have nuclear-armed submarines that are also powered by nuclear propulsion. With the successful test of Babur-III SLCM, Pakistan also entered in the elite nuclear-armed submarines club. India deployed its first nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, in August 2016. The Arihant can travel underwater, virtually undetected, for months. Moreover, India did the sea trials of its second nuclear submarine, the Arighat, in November 2017. The Indian Government announced that four more submarines would join its blue water naval fleet by 2025. India had already developed sea-based missiles K-4, K-15, Dhanush (modified version of Prithvi-III) and BrahMos (built with the cooperation of Russia). Presently, it is working another sea-based missile Nirbhay. Previously, it tested the land version of sub-sonic, stealth Nirbhay cruise missile with a range of 1000 Km. India is receiving technological assistance from both Israel and the United States.

Pakistan, despite its meagre economic resources has intelligently been investing in its armed forces. It developed technologically sophisticated ballistic and cruise missiles. The recently tested Babur-III SLCM “incorporates state-of-the-art technologies, including underwater, controlled propulsion and advanced guidance and navigation features, duly augmented by global navigation, terrain and scene matching systems.” Moreover, Babur-III features terrain-hugging and sea-skimming flight capabilities to evade hostile radars, air defences and Ballistic Missile Defense systems.

Presently, Pakistan Navy does not own nuclear-powered submarine. Pakistan Navy, however, has five French-built Agosta 90B-class submarines that are powered by diesel-electric engines. The Pakistan Navy is likely to place nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on these submarines. With the manufacturing of Babur-III SLCM, Pakistan Navy acquires the capability of nuclear-armed submarine. Moreover, Pakistan signed a deal with China to buy eight Chinese Type 039A diesel-electric attack submarines that can be equipped with nuclear weapons. These submarines will be delivered by 2028. The addition of new submarines in the naval fleet and testing of recent cruise missile confirm that Pakistan is able to arm its submarines and possibly some of its surface ships with nuclear weapons.

The comparative study of nuclear-powered and diesel-electric engine submarines reveals that the former has many advantages over the latter. The disadvantage of the diesel submarines is that they are easily detectable due to their noise. Secondly, diesel-engine submarine can stay submerged for two weeks at the most. Tom Hundley pointed out: “the modern nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine is arguably the most fearsome weapon ever conceived.” Therefore, the Pakistani defence planners need to contemplate for adding a nuclear-powered submarine in Pakistan Navy fleet to attain operational stealth capability. Indeed, nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine ensures reliability and survivability of second-strike capability, which is imperative for stabilizing nuclear deterrence.

To conclude, Pakistan completed its nuclear triad. Presently, therefore, it is capable to strike its adversary by land, air and sea. The completion of the nuclear triad enhances Pakistan’s retaliatory capability or assured second-strike proficiency. Undeniably, the assured second-strike capability stabilises and endures nuclear deterrence stability in a complex-cum-volatile strategic environment.

Courtesy: Pakistan Observer

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