The Chinese Link of Pak Missiles

Photograph released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Dec. 14, 2016, shows a Babur Cruise Missile being launched from an undisclosed location in Pakistan (File)

There is little doubt that China helped Pakistan to develop its missile technology. The history of cooperation in the nuclear and missile field with China is well known even to the US and it would be surprising to learn that Pakistan tested a SSM with MIRV capability on its own….writes Dr Somu D Vasudev

Photograph released by Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Dec. 14, 2016, shows a Babur Cruise Missile being launched from an undisclosed location in Pakistan (File)

A number of missile related developments have taken place in recent months that reflect a renewed element of signaling amongst South Asian countries. India, Pakistan and China have all tested missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads over medium and long distances. Analysts argue that this is inherently destabilizing. The Chinese have tested a DF-5 with multiple warheads capability. Pakistan claims to have tested the Ababeel missile with MIRV capability.

An examination is therefore necessary of the kinds of missiles that are being tested and what they portend for the strategic orientation of the South Asian region. Chinese DF-5C missile was flight tested last month with 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs. The test represented an increase in China’s multiple-warhead nuclear missiles. adding up to 10 warheads to missiles initially equipped with a single warhead is viewed by U.S. defense officials as a major shift in China’s nuclear missile arsenal.

In the flight test of the DF-5C missile conducted in January, the rocket was fired from the Taiyuan Space Launch Center in central China and to an impact range in the western Taklamakan desert. Being that the DF-5 requires between 30-60 minutes to fuel, it is due to be replaced by the DF-41, however its more recent MIRV capable variants, the DF-5A, DF-5B, and DF-5C have considerably expanded the DF-5 model in areas such as accuracy and range.

Army cadets march during an event to mark the 140th birth anniversary of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in south Pakistan’s Karachi (File)

These developments can aid China to maintain a retaliatory, counter-value-oriented WMD capability, as well as prevent potential WMD-based blackmail and intimidation by other powers. For many, possession of such abilities also grants China the respect and status of a major power. The primary targets for the DF-5 ICBMs are locations in the Continental United States territory. In the first half of the 2010s China upgraded 10 DF-5 missiles to the DF-5A variant equipped with three nuclear warheads.

Pakistan on the other hand had tested the Ababeel missile with MIRV capability. The missile has a maximum range of 1,367 miles, and is capable of carrying multiple warheads using the Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle technology. According to Inter Service Public Relations, the media arm of Pakistan’s military, the test was conducted to validate the weapon’s abilities. Earlier, Pakistan had tested the Babar-3 SLBM with the objective of completing the triad of delivery systems. Of course, some doubts were raised by observers over the nature of the SLBM test and one analyst even rubbished Pakistan’s claims of having tested a SLBM.

In the case of the Ababeel SSM missile also, it is strange that there is no video showing a touchdown of the missile. All one sees in publically available footage is the missile being fired and the different stages of firing being conducted as the missile moves upwards. It is estimated that the missile was not tested to its full range of 2200 kms, from the Windar testing range in Balochistan and the dummy warheads landed in the Arabian Sea around 900 kms from launch.

There is little doubt that the Chinese helped Pakistan in this launch too. The history of cooperation in the nuclear and missile field with China is well known even to the US and it would be surprising to learn that Pakistan tested a SSM with MIRV capability on its own. Note that even China which has come a long way in its missile development has not fully mastered the MIRV technology. That is why the Chinese DF-5C test soon after the Pak Ababeel missile test indicates that a certain degree of cooperative venture must have occurred.

The progression of Pak missile development and recent claims of having a triad delivery system indicate a pattern quite similar to its acquisition of nuclear weapons in the 1980s. This record shows that nuclear weapons came from China and delivery systems came from North Korea with a Chinese nod. With the passage of time this collusion has continued and the change in tactics has been that instead of whole systems, specific parts are being transferred to Pakistan and being assembled. China has been supplying Pakistan with missile parts, guidance systems and the North Koreans have been more than happy to provide the testing facilities for Pakistan.

In the last couple of years there has been a steady traffic of Pakistani missile and nuclear scientists to North Korea for various purposes. These clandestine visits aim to get North Korea to carry out tests for the Pakistanis for validation of their designs and gear themselves for miniaturization of their nuclear warheads. In 2002, the US announced that Pakistan had exported gas centrifuges  which helped North Korea to enrich uranium and make a nuclear bomb. In 2011, former Pak nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan disclosed that Pakistan Army had provided North Korea with nuclear materials in exchange for cash. Thus, it would seem very likely that both sides continue their clandestine trade both bilaterally and with Chinese assistance.

For the South Asian region, these developments are inherently destabilizing, particularly because countries are producing and testing missiles based on the clandestine transfer of technology. The China, Pakistan, North Korea axis needs to be exposed to the international community. The Chinese are anyways supporting Pakistan in its terrorist endeavours by retaining its technical hold on Indian efforts to get JeM chief Masood Azhar listed as a terrorist entity in the 1267 al-Qaeda Sanctions List. Therefore, one does not see any lessening of the Sino-Pak collusion in the years to come.