Hatf VII: a strong deterrence
PAKISTAN crossed a major milestone in strengthening its deterrence after the test of its indigenously developed 700km-range Hatf VII cruise missile named Babur on Sept 17.
Pakistan has been testing and improving its cruise missile systems since 2005 and now maintains land-and air-based versions of the system, Babur and Raad, respectively.
Cruise missiles add to deterrence in both conventional and nuclear realms due to their ability to penetrate modern sophisticated air defence and antiballistic missile defence networks and, therefore, are a credible option for counterforce targeting on land and sea.
The test was important in two ways. First, it was officially acknowledged for the first time that Babur cruise missile is capable of hitting targets at sea also. Prior to this, Pakistan has been testing both, Babur and Raad cruise missiles, to hit static targets on land.
Second, the recently-added feature of the National Command Authority (NCA) Strategic Command and Control Support System (SCCSS) was tested again. This means providing full situational awareness for decision-makers related to all platforms meant for nuclear use. This network-centric system further improves nuclear command and control structure and signifies advancement in technological domain.
In terms of strategic utility, the Hatf VII system is a welcome development. Given the official remarks on the test, Pakistan has now enhanced its capacity to target sea-based counterforce targets, counter a naval blockade of its ports by hostile powers and increase the cost of aggression by the threat to disrupt vital trade traffic originating from the Gulf towards seas in the east and the west.
This capability was much needed and improves Pakistan’s political position at both global and the regional level. This system, therefore, reflects the thinking of operationalising credible land-based anti-ship cruise missile systems in the near future to counter threats from sea.
Given the current trajectory of weapons development, air-launched Raad cruise missile is expected to follow the same route along with developing sea-based platforms for launching cruise missiles on land and sea targets.
Nuclear policy analyst
Centre for International Strategic Studies