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Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons Should Terrify You

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Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons Should Terrify You
By Kyle Mizokami

April 10, 2020




Of all the countries in the world, just nine are believed to have developed nuclear weapons. One member of this exclusive club is Pakistan, a country that occupies a unique strategic position on the Indian subcontinent. An ally of the United States and China and archenemy of India, Pakistan has developed a nuclear arsenal to suit its own particular needs. Unusually among the smaller powers, Islamabad has developed an arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons designed to destroy enemy forces on the battlefield.

Pakistan began developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s, but the country’s nuclear program accelerated in the mid-1970s after the detonation of “Smiling Buddha”, India’s first nuclear weapons test. Enemies since the end of the British Raj in 1947, India and Pakistan fought again in 1965 and 1971. In Pakistan’s view as long as India was the sole owner of nukes it could engage in nuclear saber-rattling and had the ultimate advantage.

Experts believe that Pakistan has between 150 and 180 nuclear bombs. It’s not clear when the country first had an operational, deployable weapon, but by the mid-1990s it had weapons to spare. On May 28, 1998, in response to a series of Indian nuclear tests, Pakistan detonated five devices in a single day, with a sixth device two days later. Four of the devices detonated on the 28th were tactical nuclear weapons, with explosive yields in the subkiloton (less than 1,000 tons of TNT) to 2-3 kiloton range.

Tactical nuclear weapons, also called nonstrategic nuclear weapons, are low-yield (ten kilotons or less) nuclear weapons designed for use on the battlefield. Unlike larger, more powerful strategic nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons are meant to destroy military targets on the battlefield. Tactical nuclear weapons are meant to be used against troop formations, headquarters units, supply dumps, and other high-value targets.

Tactical nuclear weapons are important to Pakistan’s defense posture. Pakistan has a gross domestic product of just $305 billion, about the size of the state of Indiana. Pakistan has an active duty army of 767,000. Although the majority of the force is infantry, a substantial portion is fully mechanized with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery, attack helicopters, and anti-tank missiles.

India has a GDP of $2.597 billion, an active army of 1.2 million, and greater amounts of equipment of every category. The Indian Army is larger by every metric, and in many cases fields larger numbers of qualitatively superior equipment--particularly tanks. In an all-out ground war, the Indian Army would almost certainly prevail. The Indian Army is sufficiently large that until 2004 it envisioned blunting a Pakistani ground offensive and then launching a counterattack with three “Strike Corps” of three divisions, all highly mechanized and each including at least one armored division.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, particularly tactical nuclear weapons, are seen as an asymmetric means of offsetting India’s advantage in conventional forces. Even if a Pakistani Army offensive into India fails and the Strike Corps counterattacked, tactical nuclear weapons could blunt their spearheads, ideally halting them in their tracks.

Pakistan has an unknown number of tactical nuclear weapons, but we can get an idea of how many exist by counting delivery systems. A report by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists claims that the country has approximately 20-30 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles designed to carry the NASR/Hatf-9 short-range ballistic missile. The TEL is a four-axle vehicle that can carry two or more NASR missiles. Assuming each TEL is armed with two NASR missiles with a single warhead each, Pakistan has somewhere in the area of 60 tactical nuclear weapons, or approximately one-third of its arsenal.

NASR is a solid rocket fuel missile with an operational range of just 43 miles. As the Bulletin report points out, short-range rules out using the weapons against meaningful targets in India, meaning they are more likely defensive weapons to be used against Indian Army units in Pakistani territory. This could also imply that the weapons are of very small explosive yield, as no country would want large nuclear explosions on its own territory.

One interesting question is that, given the fast-moving nature of modern warfare and the slow-moving nature of modern political decision making, Pakistan has already chosen target zones to launch against should Indian tanks roll into them and would delegate launch authority to the Army in times of war. If the political debate starts once the tanks arrive, the TELs could be overrun by the time a decision is made. Very small warheads would also have a very small area of effect, and a delay of just minutes could cause even a nuclear explosion to miss a battalion or more of tanks on the move.

Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons, while intrinsically unsavory, are at least defensive in nature. Unfortunately, given the number of times India and Pakistan have gone to war over the last eighty years, their use is theoretical than those of most countries. The use of nuclear weapons by one side could rapidly escalate to the use of larger, strategic weapons against populated areas by both sides.

Could Pakistan and India both give up their nuclear arms? Pakistan’s reliance on tactical nuclear weapons to offset weakness in conventional weapons will make it hard for Islamabad to divest itself of its nuclear arms. Once nuclear weapons are acquired it becomes extremely difficult to un-acquire them, and Pakistan will be no exception.

Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/pakistan’s-tactical-nuclear-weapons-should-terrify-you-142937
 

Chhatrapati

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Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional. The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies with it is that it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.
 

Tipu7

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I posted this picture in Russian defence section a while back. I hope Pakistan also have the same capability now.

Largest & smallest Soviet nuclear weapons side by side

AN602 'Tsar Bomba' thermonuclear bomb (Yield: 50 MeagaTons)
3BV3 152mm nuclear shell (Yield: 2.5 KiloTons)


We neither operate nuclear artillery shells nor strategic nuclear bombs.

Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional
Pakistan policy is also clear, don't drag us in conflict in first place.
 

Tipu7

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The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies
Americans made and deployed as many as 3000 TNWs. Soviets also deployed an arsenal of thousands of BFNWs. And all these weapons were deployed actively in Europe.

And even today, there is sizeable arsenal of TNWs and BFNWs operational on European lands.

it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.
It's a myth, or better to say an over generalization. The control mechanism varies from state to state. In case of US, the TNWs control was still within Central Command and after the PALs are delivered, only then the battlefield Commander could arm and use the weapons in their possession as per the official recommendations. These weapons are not artillery.

That's not a policy. That's like saying, don't make me angry.
By similar logic, we can also tag Indian policy as a 'saying' instead of a well crafted state policy.
 

Mrc

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Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional. The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies with it is that it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.


Trump is making TNWs now so are Russians and Chinese..

Again indian military thinking is not in line with what every one else seems to be doing

Trump was given an assessment (also made public) that tnw use by enemy may result in such damage that may make MAD response an unlikely option

Thus US was deemed vulnerable by not having TNWs

But off course Indians are a different league so they think different as well


Here is a link. Interesting read

https://amp.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/feb/13/trump-revamps-nuclear-arsenal-respond-russia-tacti/
 
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ziaulislam

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Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional. The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies with it is that it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.
Pakistan policy is also simple we start losing conventional war(or our redline is crossed we use nukes defined and published under red lines), we use nuke tactical nuke on our own terroity as defence mode..no ambiguity there..now if indai want to use nuke against cities, be our guest, pakistan triad..air, sea-based subs and MRV blastic missles/ababeel are ready..pakistan have more nukes..so there are enough for every Indian city

though i don't see that happening. IAF front fighters su30s & mirages are hopelessly outgunned/ranged by PAF 75 f16s..so any war right now will make IAF suffer..without airforce, no amount of ground forces can survive or do a cold stat doctrine
 

crankthatskunk

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Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional. The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies with it is that it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.
Well, I have said earlier in another thread, Pakistan should call Indian's bluff and do a Nasr strikes on Indian formation, command centres and ammunition dumps.
You shouldn't be underestimating Pakistan, the response from Pakistan would be disproportional, not by India.
 

Taimur Khurram

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Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional. The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies with it is that it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.
India isn't going to nuke Pakistan for blunting an offensive, if you believe that then you're just stupid.
 

mudas777

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Indian policy is clear, you use Nukes of any kind, it's Nuclear war the response may be disproportional. The reason why Americans and Russians didn't make more TNW and armed their respective armies with it is that it gives low ranking military men operating batteries too much power, rather the fate of the nation hangs in the hands of these men, unlike a central nuclear command involving different checks and balances.
1: Indian in their bravado keep on mentioning the response will be disproportional and funny we are the ones who have got more nuclear weapons then them and response will be disproportional from our end not theirs.
2: US/Russia have to have some cut off point for making the number of nuclear weapons as you can only paint a picture so many times. They had enough fire power to destroy each other and the rest of their allies few times over
regardless first or second strike or whoever took the initiative that's why it was called MAD hence they decided on to have some sort of ceiling.
Considering we are next to each other and of small land mass, India can jump up or down, do what ever feels like doing, do chest thumping and teach her country men the loudest farts once you start a war both countries are screwed.
 

Osiris

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Osiris

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1: Indian in their bravado keep on mentioning the response will be disproportional and funny we are the ones who have got more nuclear weapons then them and response will be disproportional from our end not theirs.
2: US/Russia have to have some cut off point for making the number of nuclear weapons as you can only paint a picture so many times. They had enough fire power to destroy each other and the rest of their allies few times over
regardless first or second strike or whoever took the initiative that's why it was called MAD hence they decided on to have some sort of ceiling.
Considering we are next to each other and of small land mass, India can jump up or down, do what ever feels like doing, do chest thumping and teach her country men the loudest farts once you start a war both countries are screwed.
Pakistan has just 10 or so more nuclear weapons, with one third of them being tactical. Where as total yield of Indian nuclear weapons is believed to far larger than Pakistan's arsenal.

Considering India has 4.5 times more land area than Pakistan, 6 times more population, a missile defence system in the process of deployment and a true nuclear triad. Indian nuclear response would be far more devastating for Pakistan, than Pakistan's for India.
 

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