Why has the world of defense and security undergone seismically large shifts in the last three years? mostly because we must continually remind ourselves that the threats that we are guarding against, are ever-evolving, ever-morphing, ever-expanding. Our defense and security planners may have difficulties with matters such as the unwarranted and potentially destabilizing Indian defense weapons acquisitions.
The threats that we are guarding against, are ever-evolving, ever-morphing, ever-expanding.
There are several security concerns confronting resource-constrained planners and their political masters. And they’re getting bigger. However, defense and security continue to be enveloped in secrecy and are rarely subject to the degree of transparency found in other governmental domains. As a result, while ensuring operational security. Changes in the global village’s stability will only occur if substantial percentages of any social group or people change their behavior. And knowledge of the challenges is the only way to bring about such change.
It is time for more meaningful, strategic communication. After all, knowing is half the fight!
The Indian Air Force has operationalized three of its S-400 air defense missile squadrons along the borders with China and Pakistan (in Punjab Sector). The SAM defense system will have a three-layered long-range capability and will be able to strike down enemy aircraft and missiles at around 400 km ranges. Dr. Asthana, a retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and a nuclear physicist by training, recently authored an opinion piece titled, ‘India’s Recent Acquisition of S-400 Air Defense System: An Overblown Apparatus.’ Asthana’s piece challenges the widespread belief that the S-400 does not create too expansive A2/AD bubbles, revealing that countermeasures can diminish S-400 capability, as it possesses limited Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) characteristics in certain scenarios.
The Indian Air Force has operationalized three of its S-400 air defense missile squadrons along the borders with China and Pakistan (in Punjab Sector). ‘India’s Recent Acquisition of S-400 Air Defense System: An Overblown Apparatus.
The Swedish Defense Research Agency FOI corroborates this perspective, asserting that the S-400 missile system’s capabilities are somewhat overestimated. In a striking Op-Ed, Group Captain TP Srivastava contends that the S-400 may prove inadequate against maneuvering targets like low-flying cruise missiles or fighter aircraft skimming the terrain. The S-400’s effective range against such targets might be as limited as 20-35 km, contingent on terrain conditions. Moreover, it’s pertinent to note that the deployment feasibility of the S-400 varies across terrains; it excels in plains but falters in mountainous regions or jungles where radar elevation becomes a necessity. While the S-400 exhibits anti-aircraft capabilities, its probability of intercepting these specific targets might be lower than its primary role suggests. The FOI report even suggests that the system is susceptible to spoofing and electronic disruptions, potentially rendering it defenseless against a barrage of incoming missiles. India’s intended use of the S-400 for critical national infrastructure adds complexity to the equation, as it elevates the system’s vulnerability. Notably, the S-400’s influence on Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent remains debatable, contingent on multiple factors, including engagement range and deployment conditions.
Pakistan’s Fatah-1, with its 150-kilometer range, poses a genuine threat to the S-400. Furthermore, effective electronic warfare measures, as demonstrated by Pakistan during a flare-up in 2019, could aid in suppressing or destroying the S-400.
In specific deployments, the S-400’s components, such as the launch vehicle, could become direct targets. Pakistan’s Fatah-1, with its 150-kilometer range, poses a genuine threat to the S-400. Furthermore, effective electronic warfare measures, as demonstrated by Pakistan during a flare-up in 2019, could aid in suppressing or destroying the S-400. India’s plan to integrate the S-400 into its existing air defense network, composed of indigenous and Indo-Israeli systems, has prompted concerns about overconfidence and the potential for a military miscalculation in the context of the India-Pakistan rivalry.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has been actively enhancing its missile systems, demonstrating improved accuracy and penetration capabilities, particularly in response to India’s investments in missile defenses. The introduction of the Ababeel ballistic missile system, capable of countering Indian anti-missile systems, underscores Pakistan’s commitment to bolstering its deterrence capabilities. The emergence of the stealthy combat drone, ZF1, specifically designed for attacking heavily defended targets, was showcased at Pakistan’s biennial arms exhibition IDEAS 2018 (The International Defence Exhibition and Seminar.)
Furthermore, Pakistan can benefit from joint military exercises with countries operating the S-400, such as China and Turkey. These collaborations may indirectly reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian S-400 systems. China, a crucial ally of Pakistan, offers multiple avenues of support, including advanced technology transfer, assistance with hypersonic glide vehicles, and the possibility of providing a similar air defense system to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s HQ-9B missile system of Chinese-made HQ-9B missile system, based on Almaz-Antey technology, equips it to counterbalance India’s military advancements effectively. Nevertheless, prudence lies in preparedness, especially when it comes to our inimical neighbors such as India.
The ongoing race for offense-defense dominance indicates an advantage for the offense. Pakistan is now considering long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, with China’s HQ-9 system emerging as a viable, cost-effective option. To facilitate this transition, organizational adjustments within the Pakistan Air Force and Army have mobilized, both of which currently operate distinct defense systems, to integrate the offensive manoeuvre.
In response to India’s S-400 acquisition, the Pakistani Air Force is prioritizing the suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses, entailing the acquisition of more potent anti-radiation missiles, improved electronic countermeasures, and enhanced aircraft self-protection mechanisms.
In the wake of India’s S-400 acquisition, a strategic narrative emerges, one where China and Pakistan increasingly bolster their cooperation within the defense sector, with a shared objective of countering Indian advancements in weaponry and military capabilities. This partnership takes root as a response to what they perceive as India’s assertive and technologically ambitious military agenda. While India’s acquisition of the S-400 air defense system might breed overconfidence and potential military misjudgments, its efficacy against various threats remains subject to multifaceted factors. Pakistan, meanwhile, is diligently enhancing its arsenal, particularly in the realm of missile systems, to uphold a formidable nuclear deterrent against India’s escalating investments in missile defense.
the collaboration between Pakistan and China is viewed as an essential measure to counteract India’s rising military influence, as it not only challenges their security interests but also perturbs the equilibrium in the broader South Asian region.
While India’s acquisition of the S-400 air defense system might breed overconfidence and potential military misjudgments, its efficacy against various threats remains subject to multifaceted factors.
China has numerous systems Pakistan can deploy in its own Arsenal to thwart Indian machinations.
|HQ-9||Up to 200 kilometers||Based on the Russian S-300, known for its long-range capabilities and versatility.|
|HQ-16||40-50 kilometers||Designed for mobile air defense, offers a balance between range and mobility.|
|FD-2000||Up to 200 kilometers||An advanced SAM system considered a successor to the HQ-9, offering extended range.|
|HQ-22||Up to 150 kilometers||Known for its mobility and adaptability in medium-range air defense scenarios.|
|PL-15||Extended range||Originally an air-to-air missile but versatile enough for air defense purposes.|
Three nuclear powers—China, India, and Pakistan—co-exist in dangerous
geostrategic relationships shared borders, growing nuclear stockpiles,
expanding and modernizing weapon platforms, irredentist territorial claims, and cross-ideological conflict linkages.
- Bilateral/multilateral dialogue: As it stands today, there is no mechanism for nuclear weapons diplomacy between China, India, and Pakistan.
- Strategic risk reduction measures: These would include multilateral steps aimed at avoiding nuclear war.
- Updating existing bilateral agreements: This includes updating the agreement that India and Pakistan have to inform one another of nuclear accidents or incidents. New bilateral pacts between China and India.
- Naval CBMs: The three nations’ bids to advance their naval capabilities in the Indian Ocean highlight the need for three-way confidence-building measures such as incidents-at-sea agreements.
- No first use (NFU) agreement: China and India already have stated no nuclear first use policies. Pakistan could capitalize on that.
- Sharing practices: This would involve trilateral meetings to discuss and share best practices on safety at both military and civilian nuclear facilities. Such talks could even be expanded to “other military and non-military strategic technologies like space-based systems and space debris, cyber-weapons, lethal autonomous weapons, hypersonic, dual-use platforms, and loitering munitions, etc.
This collaboration between Pakistan and China extends beyond the mere exchange of information or strategies. Both nations are actively engaged in joint military exercises and technology sharing, with a particular focus on systems that could neutralize India’s advantage in the arms race. As China and Pakistan work in tandem to develop and share advanced defense technologies, the critical implication is a potential shift in the power dynamics of the region, whereby India’s military ascendancy is met with a concerted effort to maintain regional stability and equilibrium.
Asma Khan Durrani is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. She is a student of Defence and Strategic Studies. She has done M.Phil. from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She has also been published internationally. She tweets @AsmaKhan_47 Mailed @ firstname.lastname@example.org