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Deterrence and Doctrine


Apr 24, 2007
Deterrence and Doctrine

Posted on 01 December 2014

Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella has given the country breathing space to modernise her military, with a sea-based deterrent on the cards. Islamabad is pursuing a policy of self-reliance and export promotion in the defence sector, based on an emerging strategic relationship with Beijing.

by Alex Calvo

The October 2014 centenary anniversary of the arrival of the first British Indian troops on the European Western Front during the First World War is a good moment to examine the current military modernisation plans of one of the successor states of British India: Pakistan. This is a country where the armed forces are widely seen by both experts and the population as the backbone of a still-ongoing process of nation-building. At the international level, Pakistan remains a state which is strategically essential to both Beijing and Washington DC. The existence of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent has provided some breathing space to confront India without the need for a conventional parity in terms of materiel and personnel, allowing Islamabad to focus on military modernisation and internal security. Her nuclear force also widens the scope to wage or at least tolerate sub-conventional and limited conventional warfare against India, including the use of proxy actors such as armed militants in the disputed region of Kashmir without fear of escalation.

In addition to infiltration in Kashmir, incidents blamed on proxy Pakistan actors in recent years include the 26 November 2008 seaborne attack against Mumbai and the 23 May 2014 strike against the Indian Consulate in Herat, western Afghanistan. Domestically, the Pakistan military has managed to develop a strong esprit de corps, seeing itself as more advanced and modern than the country’s surrounding society and its politicians. It has also become a meritocratic avenue for social advancement. While fears of Islamist infiltration into Pakistan’s armed forces persist, most officers are considered to be Pakistani nationalists; loyal to Pakistan as nation-state rather than the Ummah, Islam’s universal community of believers.

Pakistan has to contend with three strategic imperatives: bringing together a diverse population in terms of language, ethnicity and economic interests, confronting India, and preventing the emergence of a unified, hostile Afghanistan. Reza Fazli, a Kabul-based researcher at the United Nations Non-Governmental Organisation Liaison Office, active in research and peace-building, who follows regional dynamics, believes that Pakistan is “an expansionist state bent on destroying, occupying or at least weakening Afghanistan”, while pointing out that “it is the Pakistani military that sets the tone of Pakistani foreign policy, particularly with regards to Afghanistan (and India)”. Islamabad’s motivations to try to weaken Afghanistan include avoiding encirclement and the emergence of a unified Pashtunistan, an area of land encompassing parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan inhabited by the Pashtun ethnic group. In addition to these concerns, a fourth preoccupation of Pakistan is maritime security while the country remains one of the largest contributors to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

In defence industrial terms, Islamabad can be expected to continue her drive for self-reliance partly prompted by past United States sanctions against her nuclear weapons programme, diversification, and a push for exports, with China as the Pakistan government’s preferred partner. Saudi Arabia is one of Pakistan’s most significant clients, with some observers concerned that Islamabad may enable Riyadh to acquire a nuclear deterrent through the export of know-how to this end.

Conventional Land Forces

Traditionally the senior service, Pakistan’s Army has a strength of more than 600,000 (1,400,000 adding reserves and paramilitary forces), it fields more than 2500 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and 4000 armoured personnel carriers and other armoured vehicles, and its artillery is believed to comprise more than 3000 towed guns and almost 500 self-propelled pieces, as well as different types of anti-tank guided missiles, including the AQ Khan Research Laboratories Bakhtar-Shikan, and 92 multiple launch rocket systems. The MBT inventory include more than 300 (600 planned) Heavy Industries Taxila Al-Khalid MBTs which is closely based upon the Russian/Soviet Kharkiv Morozov T-54, plus 320 Kharkiv Morozov T-80 MBTs, 320 Heavy Industries Taxila Al-Zarrar T-59s along with Norinco Type 85-II and Type 69-II MBTs, as well as 345-450 General Dynamics Land Systems M48A5 and 50 Kharkiv Morozov T-54/55 MBTs. The armoured vehicle inventory includes 2000 domestic-developed amphibious Heavy Industries Taxila Talha and Saad armoured personnel carriers, 300 BAE Systems M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and more than 1600 Food Machinery Corporation/BAE Systems M113 armoured personnel carriers.

Auxiliary Forces

A significant portion of Pakistan has never been fully brought under the control of the central government, including the FATA (Federally-Administered Tribal Areas), located in the north west of the country. Rather than civilian police and conventional army units, a number of militia and constabulary-type forces constitute Islamabad’s most visible face in those regions, leaving the army free to face India. To this end, the Frontier Corps are recruited from the Pashtun population near the Afghan border. Created by the British, it is separate from the army and sometimes works with irregular village forces. The Frontier Corps are joined by the Laskhars, a part-time tribal militia made up of civilians available to take up weapons. Lightly armed, they on the other hand know the physical and human terrain in the areas where they operate. Paramilitary police forces in the FATA include the Levies, armed with weapons provided by the authorities (the Laskhars use their own) and more formal training compared to the Lashkars.


A junior service in comparison to the army, it is nevertheless tasked with key roles such as coastal protection and the defence of Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOCs). It operates eleven frigates and destroyers (including six ‘Amazon’ class frigates and one ‘Leander’ class frigate in a training role), three ‘Eridan’ class Mine Countermeasures (MCM) vessels, four ‘Jalalat’ class fast attack craft, and eight auxiliary ships, plus oilers and Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). The subsurface fleet includes five French-made ‘Khalid’ class conventional hunter-killer (SSKs) boats purchased in the 1990s and two ‘Hashmat’ class SSKs which were bought in the 1970s, plus three midget submarines.

Pakistan’s naval aviation comprises four Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), eight Fokker F27-200 MPA, and three Dassault Breguet Atlantique ATL-I MPA. The naval support helicopter fleet includes six AgustaWestland Sea King Mk.45 rotorcraft and twelve Hafei Z-9EC aircraft, among others. Weapons used by the Pakistan Navy include China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) C-602 anti-ship cruise missiles, purchased from China and with an estimated speed of 529 knots (980 kilometres-per-hour) and range of 151 nautical miles (280 kilometres). In addition, the Pakistan Air Force operates a specialised anti-ship squadron equipped with Dassault Mirage V strike aircraft. The personnel strength of the navy includes more than 22000 active and 5000 reserve officers and sailors.

Traditionally, the port of Karachi has been the home of the Pakistani Navy. A crowded harbour, in a city sometimes described as ‘feral’, it experienced an attack on the Mehran Naval Air Base there in 2011, when Pakistani Taliban cadres destroyed two Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion patrol aircraft. John P. Sullivan, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST), explains that “a feral city has lost the ability to moderate gangs, crime and violence. The rule of law is replaced by impunity for criminal conflict and a lack of state solvency (legitimacy plus capacity). The absence of the state is reinforced by the primacy of the illicit economy”. Mr. Sullivan adds that “Karachi fits this model”. Gradually, the Navy is diversifying into other bases, such as PNS Siddique in Turbat, in the south-west, near the strategic deepwater port of Gwadar and border with Iran, designed to host some naval air assets. Another base is Pasni, where the P-3Cs are located. In April 2014 Pakistan shifted the bulk of her operational fleet (submarines included) from Karachi to Jinnah Naval Base, also located in the south-west of the country.

Pakistan’s navy is planning to expand and modernise. Current procurement initiatives include four more ‘Zulfiqar’ class frigates. The first three were built in China and the fourth in Pakistan. The ‘Zulfiquar’ class displaces 3000 tons and carries CASIC C-802A long-range anti-ship and China Academy of Defence Technology FM-90 surface-to-air missiles, depth charges, torpedoes, a 76mm gun and a close-in-weapons system, while embarking a Hafei Z-9EC naval support helicopter. Also four modern corvettes are to be built at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works, at an unspecified date, and Pakistan has requested the purchase of six ‘Oliver Hazard Perry’ class frigates from the US, however US Congressional hostility which may prevent the deal. Candidate corvettes to meet Pakistan’s requirements include DCNS’ ‘Gowind’ class, ThyssenKruppMarineSystems ‘MEKO A-100/D’ class or Istanbul Naval Shipyard’s ‘Ada’ class. Naval procurement plans also cover additional oilers, MCMs and OPVs.

In order to replace her ‘Daphne’ class SSKs, decommissioned in 2006, there are reports that the Pakistani Navy is negotiating the purchase of DCNS ‘Marlin’ or Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH ‘Type-214’ class submarines. Other reports point out that China may have offered to sell six ‘Yuan’ class SSKs. Sino-Pakistani cooperation in naval construction is not only further proof of the strong bilateral relationship and move away from US procurement by Pakistan, but is also geared towards exports to third countries and shows that Islamabad, like Beijing, is enhancing its maritime power.

Air Force

Pakistan’s air force operates some 800 aircraft from seven air bases, and its personnel numbers 65000 (with around 3000 pilots). Its front line strength remains focused on the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16A/B/C/D Block-10/15/50/52 multi-role combat aircraft, with Islamabad buying a further 13 from Jordan in 2014, bringing her total to 76. In September 2014 the last of 41 F-16A/Bs to be modernised by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) were delivered back to the air force following both structural and avionics upgrades (see ‘Pakistan receives upgraded F-16s from Turkey’ news story in this issue). However the Chenghu/Päkistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 Thunder MRCA, co-produced with China, is currently the air force’s first priority and is one of the best examples of Pakistan’s gradual shift towards Beijing. In December 2013 production of 50 JF-17 Block-II MRCA began, with improved avionics and weapons load, as well as an in-flight refuelling capability. Plans call for the purchase up to 250 planes, replacing the Chengdu F-7 and Dassault Mirage-III/V MRCA. Beijing and Islamabad are working on a two-seater variant of the JF-17 for use as a trainer or for night strike missions expected to be designated as the JF-17 Block-III. Furthermore, there has been much speculation about the possible purchase of Chengdhu J-10 MRCA, considered to be roughly equivalent to the US F-16C/D Block-50/52 MRCA.

Pakistan’s main aircraft manufacturing and maintenance centre is the state-owned Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra (Punjab). Considered to be the world’s third largest assembly plant, it was originally built to service Chinese-made aircraft. Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) manufacturers include the privately-owned Karachi-based Integrated Dynamics (ID) and government-owned PAC, the latter producing the Uqaab UAV. While observers point out that current UAVs have not been weaponised, some have pointed out that the Uqaab may be weaponised with Chinese assistance in the future.

Nuclear Forces

Given Pakistan’s smaller population and economy, compared to India’s, her nuclear arsenal (estimated at 100-120 warheads) remains a cornerstone of her defence posture. The programme owes much to Chinese assistance and is widely considered to have resulted in proliferation assistance to third parties, through the same networks set up to procure key materials, and benefiting Libya, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). It enjoys popular and military support and seems to have made it easier for Pakistan to engage in asymmetrical war against India involving proxies (see above). In addition, Islamabad has never ruled out a first strike in any future nuclear confrontation.

Pakistan nuclear delivery systems include the F-16A/B (see above) carrying nuclear gravity bombs. Other delivery systems include the 173 nautical mile (320 kilometre) range National Defence Complex (NDC) Ghaznavi and 486nm (900km) range Shaheen short-range tactical ballistic missiles, with two more in development: the NDC Abdali and Nasr, the latter with an estimated range of 32nm (60km), plus the intermediate-range Khan Research Laboratories Ghauri-2 and 1349nm (2500km) range Shaheen-2. The Ghauri-2 is based on the DPRK’s Nodong intermediate-range ballistic missile which is believed to be road-mobile and liquid-fuelled, with a single stage and a range of some 1079nm (2000km). The Shaheen-2 is solid-fuelled with a similar range. To this we must add two cruise missiles in development, the air-launched Air Weapons Complex Ra’ad with a 189nm (350km) range and the ground-launched NDC Babur, the latter of which has a range of some 348nm (644km). It is rumoured that a naval version of the latter is also under development. Meanwhile, Pakistan is working on the Taimur intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 3777nm (7000km).

Some observers consider Pakistan to have the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world, which the country is modernising. This may be connected to doctrinal developments giving nuclear weapons a wider role. Islamabad may be working to develop a sea-based deterrent, giving her a second-strike capability. Mandeep Singh, associate editor at specialised defence website Orbat believes that this would “change the strategic balance completely” and “significantly enhance the chances of nuclear war”. Mr. Singh says that “Pakistan now has extremely competent security in place for its nuclear weapons”, although the possibility of the weapons (falling under the unauthorised possession of violent Islamist organisations) can’t be ruled out given recent experience”. He deems it credible that Saudi Arabia, “in an extremely difficult strategic position”, may purchase nuclear technology or hardware from Pakistan.


Pakistan is modernising key weapons systems, often in partnership with China, and gearing them also towards exports. In terms of nuclear weapons the two big questions are whether Islamabad may deploy a sea-based deterrent, thus completing its triad, and whether Saudi Arabia may obtain a nuclear deterrent with technological support from Pakistan. In the conventional arena, the continued development and possible export of the JF-17 MRCA, co-produced with China, merits careful attention, as does the progress in domestic-made UAVs. The renewal of Pakistan’s submarine fleet could also significantly contribute to the country’s military strength.
Deterrence and Doctrine - Asian Military Review

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