While the world continues to focus on the U.S. presidential election, a massive hurricane off the coast of America, the showdown in Syria and tensions in the South China Sea, another crisis is fast developing between India and Pakistan. And if bullets start flying, considering the stakes on both sides, and the atomic arsenals involved, it could very well eclipse what is going on in the news cycle at a moments notice.
Both sides are heavily armed with some of the world's most deadly weapons of war, from submarines and aircraft carriers to the ultimate weapon of war that could instantly kill millions and spread radioactive terror around the globe: nuclear weapons.
But what nation has the advantage? Who has the stronger military? Which nation has the best equipment?
In 2014, Kyle Mizokami, a regular contributor to this publication, analyzed the 5 most lethal weapons India and Pakistan held in their arsenals and which systems each side should consider closely in any military contest. For your reading pleasure, we have packed both pieces into this one post. Let the debate begin.
Recently India alleged a series of ceasefire violations—in the form of automatic weapons fire—by Pakistan on the border between the two countries. According to India, it was the sixth attack in just five days. Such events are a reminder that tension remains high on the Indian subcontinent.
The nuclear arsenals of both sides—and the red lines that would trigger their use—have made conventional war much more risky to conduct. The 1999 Kargil War is considered the closest the world has come to a nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis. If India were to use its superiority in ground forces to seize a sizable amount of Pakistani territory, Pakistan could respond with nuclear weapons.
It’s distinctly possible that any future war between India and Pakistan would involve limited action on the ground and full-scale fighting at sea and in the air. India has the upper hand in both, particularly at sea where it would have the ability to blockade Pakistani ports. Pakistan imports 83% of its gasoline consumption, and without sizable reserves the economy would feel the effects of war very quickly. An economic victory, not a purely military one might be the best way to decisively end a war without the use of nuclear weapons.
With that scenario in mind, let’s look at the five Indian weapons Pakistan would fear most in a war.
INS Vikramaditya Aircraft Carrier:
Commissioned in November 2013, INS Vikramaditya is the newer and more modern of India’s two aircraft carriers. In the event of war, Vikramaditya would lead an offensive at sea designed to sweep the Pakistani Navy from the field. The nightmare scenario for Pakistan would be Vikramaditya parked off the coast of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest port, enforcing a naval blockade.
Originally built for the Soviet Navy as the anti-submarine aviation cruiser Baku, Vikramaditya was mothballed in 1996 after it became clear post-Cold War Russia could not afford to operate her. The ship was purchased by India in 2004, to be upgraded by Russian shipbuilders to a true aircraft carrier complete with angled flight deck. The updated design deleted all cruiser armament, including two 100mm deck guns, 192 SA-N-9 surface to air missiles and 12 SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship missiles.
Vikramaditya is 282 meters long and displaces 44,000 tons, making it less than half the displacement of American supercarriers. Nevertheless Vikramaditya’s powerful air wing is capable of executing air superiority, anti-surface, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare. The carrier air wing is expected to consist of 24 MiG-29K or Tejas multi-role fighters and 10 anti-submarine warfare helicopters. India has ordered 45 MiG-29Ks, with the first squadron, 303 “Black Panthers” Squadron, stood up in May 2013.
INS Chakra Nuclear Attack Submarine:
While INS Vikramaditya would be the visible symbol of a naval blockade, perhaps the real enforcers would be India’s force of 14 attack submarines. The most powerful of India’s submarines is INS Chakra, an Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine.
INS Chakra would be able to fulfill a variety of wartime tasks. It would be a real threat to Pakistan’s Navy, particularly her 11 frigates and eight submarines, only three of which are reasonably modern. Chakra is also capable of covertly laying mines in Pakistani waters and conduct surveillance in support of a blockade.
Construction of the submarine that would become Chakra began in 1993, but stalled due to lack of funding. In 2004 the Indian Navy agreed to fund the sub to completion—at a cost of $900 million—in exchange for a future 10 year lease with an option to buy. Delivery to the Indian Navy was supposed to take place in 2010, but transfer was delayed after a 2008 accident that killed 20 Russian Navy personnel and wounded another 21.
At 8,000 tons displacement, Chakra is as large as U.S. Virginia-class nuclear submarines. It has a maximum speed of 30 knots with a maximum operating depth of reportedly 520 meters. The sub not only has a customary large sonar hydrophone array on the bow, but also active and passive arrays scattered over the rest of the hull. Chakra also features a pod-mounted towed hydrophone array.
October 7, 2016
INS Chakra is armed with not only four standard diameter 533 torpedo tubes but also another four 650mm torpedo tubes. Armament includes the VA-111 Shkval supercavitating torpedo, a high speed torpedo capable of traveling at 220 knots to ranges of up 15 kilometers. Missile armament is in the form of 3M54 Klub anti-ship missiles. Chakra can carry up to 40 torpedo tube launched weapons, including mines. (Five merchant ships were struck by mines during the 1971 India-Pakistan War.) For defensive purposes, Chakra has six external tubes, each carrying two torpedo decoys.
According to the terms of the lease with Russia, Chakra cannot be equipped with nuclear weapons.
AH-64D Apache Longbow Block III Attack Helicopter:
India’s recent agreement to purchase the AH-64D Apache helicopter represents a quantum leap in land firepower for the Indian Army. The Apache’s versatility means that it will be able to do everything from engage armored formations in a conventional war scenario to hunt guerrillas and infiltrators in a counterinsurgency campaign.
The Apache is one of the most battle proven attack helicopters fielded. Apache is capable of speeds of up to 171 miles an hour in high altitude environments, an important consideration in India’s mountainous terrain. The rotor blades are resistant to 12.7mm machine gun fire and the cockpit is protected from shrapnel by Kevlar shielding.
The Apache Longbow is optimized to attack and destroy armor—the mast-mounted millimeter-wave radar is capable of detecting and prioritizing up to 128 vehicle targets in a matter of seconds, then attacking up to sixteen targets in quick succession. For counterinsurgency operations, the thermal imaging sensor allows crew members to pick out individuals in ground cover and concealment.
The helicopter has four external hard points, each of which can mount four Hellfire missiles. A 30mm cannon capable of engaging light armor, soft targets or personnel is mounted underneath the helicopter chin and slaved to an optical sight worn by the pilot and gunner.
In a contract worth $1.4 billion dollars, in 2012 India agreed to purchase 22 Apache helicopters. Also included in the 2012 deal was a request for 812 Hellfire Longbow millimeter-wave radar guided missiles for use against tanks and armored vehicles and 542 Hellfires optimized for use against hard, soft and enclosed targets. Also included in the deal were 245 Stinger Block I missiles to provide an air-to-air capability.
In August, India offered to buy a further 39 Apaches, in an attempt to drive the overall unit cost down.
The Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI air superiority fighter is meant to secure air superiority over Pakistan. The IAF has 200 Su-30MKIs in service with another 72 on order. A long-ranged, twin engine fighter with a powerful radar and formidable armament, the Su-30MKI will form the mainstay of the Indian Air Force.
The Su-30MKI is an evolution of the 1980s-era Su-27 Flanker. Thrust vectoring control and canards make the plane highly maneuverable, while the Zhuk active electronically scanned array radar makes it capable of engaging several targets at once. Complementing the Zhuk will be the Novator long-range air to air missile, capable of engaging targets at up to 300 to 400 kilometers.
The Su-30MKI has an impressive twelve hardpoints for mounting weapons, sensors and fuel tanks. The Su-30MKI is arguably superior to any fighter in the Pakistani Air Force, with the possible exception of the F-16 Block 50/52, of which Pakistan has only 18.
A portion of the Su-30MKI force has been modified for the strategic reconnaissance role. Israeli-made sensor pods reportedly give the Indian Air Force the ability to look up to 300 kilometers into Pakistan (or China) simply by flying along the border.
The Su-30MKI will grow even more lethal with the addition of the air-launched version of the BrahMos supersonic missile, currently under development. Each Su-30MKI will be capable of carrying a single BrahMos. BrahMos will give the Su-30MKI stand-off capability against ships and ground targets to ranges of 295 kilometers.
Indian Nuclear Weapons:
India first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, with the detonation of a 12 kiloton explosive device. The Indian government has been consistently tight-lipped on the status of their nuclear arsenal, and as a result a considerable amount of mystery surrounds India’s nuclear weapons.
The exact size of the arsenal is unknown but estimated to be between 90 and 110 nuclear devices. Statements by officials have lead outsiders to believe the maximum yield of Indian weapons to be around 200 kilotons, or approximately ten times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.
India’s first nuclear delivery systems were likely attack aircraft—first the Jaguar, then the MiG-27 and Mirage 2000. Although capable, the aircraft were vulnerable to Pakistan’s air defense network and this vulnerability likely lead to the development of the land-based missiles. It is unknown whether nuclear weapons have been fitted to the Su-30MKI, but as a non-stealthly aircraft its ability to penetrate Pakistani defenses would not be dissimilar to a Mirage 2000.
Indian nuclear weapons are placed under the authority of the Strategic Forces Command. India’s primary delivery systems are land-based missiles. The Prithvi I and II liquid-fueled missiles have ranges from 150 to 350 kilometers and need half a day to prepare for launch. The Agni I, II, III and IV solid-fuel missiles are medium to intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 700 to 4,000 kilometers.
India is also on the verge of fielding its first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant. Based on the Akula-I attack submarine design, Arihant has been modified to carry 12 K-15 short-range missiles or 4 K-4 intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Arihant is significant in that it will be able to patrol far beyond the range of Pakistani anti-submarine warfare capabilities. This will essentially make India’s retaliatory capability untouchable by Pakistan and thus a more credible deterrent.
India has a “no first use” policy regarding its nuclear weapons, reserving them solely for retaliation in the event of nuclear attack. Indian also adheres to a “minimum self defense” doctrine, in which the fewest nuclear weapons needed to maintain effective deterrence from attack are maintained.
Since 1947, Pakistan has played second fiddle to a larger, stronger India. Despite spending 50% more as a percentage of GDP on defense than India, Pakistan is militarily much weaker than India, and would lose in any conventional war. Like North Korea, Pakistan is a weakening state that invested in nuclear weapons as an inexpensive way to assure territorial integrity. An invasion of Pakistan is now likely extremely dangerous and one of the surest ways to a nuclear war. In that respect, Pakistan’s nuclear program can be considered a success.
Pakistan practices a particularly brutal form of realpolitik that involves constantly playing one party against another, to distract all parties from Pakistan’s own weakness. In support of such a policy it has evolved a wide spectrum of destructive tools, from terrorist groups to nuclear weapons. All of these tools are arrayed against India. From terrorism to nuclear war, India has to consider a wide array of contingencies it could face from Pakistan. Here are five of the most dangerous weapons India could face in any contingency.
JF-17 Thunder Fighter Bomber:
A low-cost, single-engine multirole fighter, the JF-17 “Thunder” was jointly designed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (developers of the J-20 fighter) and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. Two hundred JF-17s may be built for the Pakistani Air Force, a significant upgrade over the existing Mirage III, Mirage V, and Chengdu F-7 fighters. The JF-17 is destined to become the backbone of the Pakistani Air Force’s fighter fleet.
Pakistan, traditionally a strong customer for American weapons, purchased several dozen F-16 Fighting Falcons in the 1980s and 1990s. The first 40 were delivered but a second batch of 28 was not, held up by American disapproval over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. This delay sparked an effort by Pakistan to diversify the sources of its weapons. The need for fighters coincided with China’s burgeoning military aviation industry, and the JF-17 Thunder was born.
The JF-17 outwardly appears similar to existing Pakistani Air Force fighters, in particular the French Mirage V and the American F-16 Fighting Falcon. This is probably not a coincidence, and hints at extensive Chinese study of both fighters. First flight for the JF-17 was in Chengdu, China in August 2003, with initial production in 2007.
JF-17 Thunder has an extensive suite of features common to modern fighters: a fly-by-wire control system, pulse-Doppler radar for detection and air to air engagement, in-flight refueling capability, a laser designator for ground attack, an advanced defensive countermeasures suite, and an ergonomic cockpit featuring a heads-up display and full-color digital displays. It continues to benefit from the breakneck pace of Chinese aerospace development, with new engines, a new electro-optical, helmet-mounted targeting system and avionics upgrades all planned for the near future.
The JF-17 has five weapons hardpoints that can carry a total of 8,000 pounds of fuel, equipment or munitions. Air-to-air weapons are supplied by China, with PL-5 and PL-9 short-range infrared missiles occupying the two wingtip hardpoints. For beyond visual-range engagements, the JF-17 would be equipped with the Chinese PL-12 active-radar homing missile. Air-to-ground weapons are less well known but would likely include various forms of unguided “dumb” bombs, laser-guided bombs, rocket pods, precision-guided missiles and anti-ship missiles.
The Pakistani Navy is heavily outmatched by the Indian Navy in nearly all respects. The Indian Navy has more people, more ships and more planes. In terms of technology, it is far outstripping Pakistan. Pakistan’s most useful naval assets against India are its three Khalid-class diesel electric attack submarines. These submarines alone could practice an “anti-access, area-denial” (A2/AD) strategy of their own against an Indian Navy attempting to impose a blockade on Karachi and ports west.
The three Khalid-class submarines are modernized versions of the French Agosta-class diesel electric submarines. Khalid, Saad and Hamza are relatively small, weighing in at 2,050 tons submerged. The Khalid class can make 12 knots surfaced and just over 20 knots submerged. All three submarines have been fitted with an air independent propulsion system, allowing them to stay submerged—where they are difficult to detect—for greater periods.
Armament for the Khalid class is in the form of four 533mm standard diameter torpedo tubes. The torpedo tubes can be used to launch French-made ECAN F17 Mod 2 wire-guided torpedoes. Capable of both active and passive homing, the F17 Mod 2 can deliver a 250kg warhead up to 20 kilometers. At longer ranges, the submarines can strike targets with the famous Exocet anti-ship missile. SM39, the submerged version of Exocet, has a range of up to 50 kilometers and a high explosive warhead of 165 kilograms.
Pakistani Nuclear Weapons:
Pakistan resolved to build a nuclear arsenal after the 1971 war with India; the 1974 test of an Indian atomic device reinforced in Pakistan’s view. Pakistan’s nuclear program proceeded under the notorious Dr. A.Q. Khan, considered the “Father of the Pakistani Bomb.” In 1998, Pakistan shocked the world by simultaneously detonating multiple nuclear devices that ranged in yield from sub-kiloton to up to a possible 36 kilotons.
The number of nuclear weapons Pakistan is thought to possess is unknown but estimated to be between 90 and 110, a number derived from the amount of fissile material Pakistan is thought to have produced. Pakistani nukes are thought to have two delivery systems: aircraft bombs and ballistic missiles. Early model Pakistani F-16 fighter-bombers were probably designated in the late 1990s to carry nuclear gravity bombs. From Pakistan’s F-16 base at Sargodha, a nuclear armed F-16A could reach as far as central India. That is, if it can get through India’s national air defense network.
Pakistan has two short-range tactical ballistic missiles, the Ghaznavi and Shaheen missiles. Pakistan is currently developing two more short range missiles, the Abdali and Nasr. For longer range strikes Pakistan has an unknown number of Ghauri-2 missiles, an intermediate range ballistic missile based on the North Korean Nodong missile. Not much is known about the Ghauri-2, which was first deployed in the 1990s. A liquid fueled, road mobile, single stage missile with a range of approximately 2,000 kilometers, it theoretically has the ability to hit eighty percent of India. A newer intermediate range ballistic missile, Shaheen-2, is solid-fueled and reportedly has a range of 2,000 kilometers.
Despite the proliferation of Pakistani nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles this does not particularly mean Pakistan has a secure or reliable nuclear arsenal. The physical security of Pakistani nuclear weapons—particularly against a military coup or terrorist attack—has been a source of concern for the West and the United States in particular. The proliferation of Pakistani nuclear missile designs suggests early designs have been less than successful.
Non-State Actor Terrorist Groups:
Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in Pakistan’s arsenal are terrorist groups.
The danger to India is that these groups—particularly those plotting and conducting attacks against civilians—could pressure the Indian government to retaliate militarily against Pakistan.
The larger danger of such groups is that they could prompt the Indian government to take measures that would lead to all-out war between the two countries. The activation of India’s “Cold Start” conventional military doctrine, in which the Indian Army would defeat the Pakistani Army and then rapidly move into Pakistan, could trigger a nuclear response from Pakistan, leading to a nuclear exchange between the two countries.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs):
Given Pakistan’s history of provocations against its neighbor India, the revelation that the Pakistani military is getting into drones is not exactly good news. Since 2008, Pakistan has fielded two small unmanned aerial vehicles for tactical reconnaissance, the Shahpar and Uqab. Although drones have legitimate battlefield uses, the thought of Pakistan possessing drones spurs thoughts of more nefarious purposes than providing reconnaissance and security for Pakistani troops.
The smaller of the two drones, Uqab, is described by Pakistani defense contractor Global Industrial Defence Solution (GIDS) as a “tactical UAV system which can be used for battlefield damage assessment, aerial reconnaissance, artillery fire correction, search and rescue, route monitoring, flood relief operations” and so on. Uqab has a range of 150 kilometers and an endurance of six hours. A twin-tailed design with a single push turboprop engine, Uqab is capable of speeds of up to 120 to 150 kilometers an hour. Navigating by GPS, Uqab has both a full color real-time camera and a thermal imager camera.
The Shahpar drone, also made by GIDS, is slightly larger and faster, about 15% bigger and capable of speeds up to 150 kilometers per hour. Some effort has been put into reducing the Shahpar’s radar signature, although with a large push propeller attached to the rear of the drone that may be a forlorn hope. Endurance is increased to 7 hours, and the data link can transmit real-time video up to 250 kilometers. Shahpar is capable of autonomous takeoff, flying and landing, utilizing GPS.
India would fear the Shahpar and Uqab drones because they are the ideal complement to small armed groups—whether Pakistani Rangers or Laskhar-e-Taiba—sent to stir up trouble at a border outpost or in a large city. Drone surveillance could be used to reconnoiter objectives, screen flanks and provide security, and provide real-time intelligence. The Shahpar, capable of carrying payloads of up to 50 kilograms, could likely even be used to covertly deliver cargo.