OPINION | The ‘Myth’ of MIRVs: Can Pakistan Do What India Does?

OPINION | The ‘Myth’ of MIRVs: Can Pakistan Do What India Does?

By Dr. Sitankanta Mishra
Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, India

OPINION | The ‘Myth’ of MIRVs: Can Pakistan Do What India Does?

Image Attribute: Ababeel MIRV / Source: ISPR Press Release

Pakistan’s “first successful flight test of Surface to Surface Ballistic Missile Ababeel” has been claimed to be capable of “defeating the enemy’s hostile radars” and aimed at ensuring survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles in the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) environment”. The Press Release by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is implicit of Pakistani bloviation to have reinforced nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis India. In reality, Pakistan is forcing all, starting from its inception, to assume that anything India can do, Pakistan can do (!!!), even if it has to “eat grass and leaves, even go hungry”!

As the MIRVing race has begun, the consequent speculations on stability-instability, first-strike / second-strike or preemption, use them or lose them, the viability of strategic triad, arms race or strategic restraint, etc. will be the core questions of the South Asian nuclear discourse for decades to come. What intriguing is the impetus it would provide for future ‘multiple interceptor missile’ (MIM) programs? This may not be so lucrative for India given its vast ‘strategic depth’, unlike Pakistan. In pursuit of addressing its lack of ‘strategic depth’, and to attain a full circle in it’s proclaimed ‘full spectrum deterrence’, Pakistan may think for MIM program in future given its “self-avowed focus on survivability, even if India’s existing BMD capabilities are quite modest.”

For full operationalization of its MIRVed missile force, Pakistan has to go a long way. To master the technology and develop the payloads without Chinese hand and technology, Pakistan may have to eat branches and trunks! To compete or respond to India’s future (hypothetical) technological pursuits like CMD or A-sat capability, Pakistan will then have to eat only the remaining roots. If the Cold War MIRV discourse is any guide, Islamabad did not learn it right – the MIRV may be technologically “sweet weapon system” but it, “like a hundred other innovations, never upset the Cold War balance”. To deter India in the real sense, Pakistan needs to attain full-spectrum development and growth, not diverting its scares resources for military purposes.

Though many argue that MIRV capability with Pakistan bound to change the strategic threat dynamics in India’s neighborhood, Pakistan’s technological claims should be taken with a handful of salt.

Firstly, the use of MIRV technology in a medium or short-range missile is extremely difficult. Therefore it is “difficult to believe that Pakistan has developed a MIRVed missile with a range of just over 2000km.”

Secondly, as Leo Sartori argues in an article aptly titled “The Myth of MIRV” (Aug 30, 1969), a MIRVed missile can carry only smaller individual warheads, and their combined yield is less than the yield of the single weapon which the same missile could carry; … “decreased yield is naturally a disadvantage.”

Thirdly, to penetrate anti-missile defended area, the MIRVed attack strategy has to succeed by firing a larger number of missiles to ensure at least one of the warheads reaches the target. In this case, “MIRV acts as a penetration aid” only; but for this purpose, the difficult strategy of independent targeting is unnecessary. The task of exhausting an ABM defense can be accomplished by less complex system like the multiple-warhead missile or Multiple Re-entry Vehicle (MRV). 

Lastly, high accuracy is extremely essential to master MIRV capability effectively which Pakistan is lacking at this moment. Pakistan depends largely on Chinese GPS satellite system Beidou. Furthermore, it would be impossible for Pakistan to neutralize all Indian silos scattered across its vast geography.

Moreover, Pakistan has achieved the dubious status of having the fastest growing nuclear weapons inventory. With MIRV program, it is going to invest heavily in the production of warheads and fissile materials, which will increase its size of nuclear arsenal even further. Unless there is still a clandestine procurement channel operating, obtaining the required nuclear fuel and components will be a challenge when Pakistan’s own reserves are meager and open sourcing is difficult.

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AIDN0030120170080 / INDRASTRA / ISSN 2381-3652
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