Pakistani authorities confirmed last week in a media release that the recently inaugurated Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC) is the custodian of the nation’s second strike capability. The latest development is likely to tilt the nuclear equilibrium, since earlier it was believed that the Pakistan is only capable of launching a nuclear strike from land based (missiles such as Nasr, Babur, and Shaheen) or air-launched (from bomber aircraft such as Nanchang A-5C, Mirage and F-16, as well as the Ra’ad missile) platforms.
The possession of second strike capability means that Pakistan is capable of a retaliatory nuclear strike against its rivals, even if its first line nuclear weaponry (land-based nuclear capable ballistic missiles and aircraft) is taken out in case of any sudden attack. More importantly, this means that the rivals of Pakistan, especially India won’t be able to win a nuclear war between the two nations by undertaking a first strike (a pre-emptive surprise attack destroying all land based nuclear weapons of its rival).
The statement was made by Admiral Asif Sandila, the Chief of Naval Staff of the Pakistan Navy on May 19. During the inauguration of the NSFC Headquarters, he said that the Pakistani Naval Strategic Forces are now entrusted with the second strike capability by the government. Pakistani defence analyst, Mansoor Ahmed said that the statement by Adm. Sandila confirms that the Pakistan Navy (PN) is in the possession of a number of nuclear capable submarine launched variant of the Babur cruise missile.
Usman Shabbir, another Pakistani defence expert argued that the latest development does not come as a total surprise. He said that the Pakistani defence scientists have been working on the submarine-launched variant of the Babur ever since 2005, when it was inducted in to the army. He said that the missiles are likely to be deployed in PN’s French developed Agosta class submarines. PN is operating a total of five Agosta class subs: PNS Hashmat, PNS Hurmat, PNS Khalid, PNS Sa’ad, and PNS Hamza. Currently the subs are armed with the French anti-ship missile SM39 Exocet.
However, Australian defence expert Brian Cloughley criticized the Pakistani plan and said that PN must focus more on upgrading its existing submarines and expanding its fleet before arming them with nuclear weapons. Cloughley further claimed that the Pakistani Armed Forces does not need the second strike capability as of now. He urged the PN to increase its submarine fleet, from the present number of five to 14.