Pakistan conducted on Tuesday its first successful test of Ababeel missile, using the Multi Independent Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology which, Pakistani officials indicated, as a landmark achievement to neutralize our "Ashwin" ballistic missile defense shield.

The surface-to-surface ballistic missile can reach targets at a range of 2,200 km (very similar in the range to the Shaheen-II missile), according to an official statement released by Pakistan Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

The purported claim by the Pakistani propaganda machinery is that the missile is capable of delivering multiple warheads, using the MIRV technology.

Ababeel is capable of delivering nuclear warheads and has the capability to engage multiple targets with high precision, defeating the enemy’s hostile radars, the report said.

The test flight was aimed at validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system, said the military’s media wing. It also said that they took minimal measures to restore deterrence equation.

India last year tested an indigenous multi-tier anti-ballistic missile system, which could intercept a nuclear-carrying ballistic missile. “Development of the Ababeel weapon system is aimed at ensuring survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles in the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) environment. This will further reinforce deterrence,” ISPR further went to add.

A typical illustration of a multiple warhead strike - The ICBM (1), Stage Separation (2,3,4) MIRV coasting (5), multiple warheads deployment (6), MIRV guidance (7), target termination (8)
The reason I called this as a propaganda exercise is rather simple:

1. Michael Krepon – a prominent thinker on South Asia’s strategic issues and co-founder of the Stimson Center, a prestigious think tank in Washington DC, considered three Pakistani responses to Indian MIRVs and BMD development: no response (the ‘ignore’ option); a measured response (the ‘tortoise’ option); or a quick response (the ‘hare’ option). But, Pakistan wanted to take the 'hare option' to quicken its deterrence equation against India's BMD.

2. Keeping the 'hare option' as the inevitable choice by the Pakistani establishment, ISPR office had to get its duplicitous act right and move fast to seemingly demonstrate an offensive capability by fielding an exclusive technology like the MIRV as a counter to India's BMD.

3. We can easily surmise from the published images (see above) that Pakistan has fielded the SHAHEEN-II ballistic unit (the range is the indicator) as the Ababeel and equipped it with an enlarged dummy fairing to represent a MIRV payload.

4. The United States was the first country to develop and field MIRV technology, its first MIRVed ICBM was the Minuteman III in 1970, and the first MIRVed SLBM, the Poseidon in 1971. The USSR followed suit in 1975 (ICBM) and 1978 (SLBM), respectively. Both the United States and the USSR had a solid technological base before developing MIRV tech. The Soviet Union was the first country to send an artificial satellite and a human into space, the US was the first to send humans to the Moon. Despite this technological lead, both the countries took several decades to develop MIRV technologies.

5. Correspondingly, a recent Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military power claimed that China’s ICBM force now includes the “multiple independently-target-able re-entry vehicle (MIRV)-equipped in a DF-5 missile.” If so, China joins the club of four other nuclear-armed states that have deployed MIRV for decades: Britain, France, Russia (former Soviet Union) and the United States. The CIA also reported that the Chinese MIRVing of a mobile ICBM such as the DF-31 “would be many years off”. The CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate in 2001, which concluded that “Chinese pursuit of a multiple RV capability for its ICBMs (mobile) and SLBMs would encounter significant technical hurdles.” If the Americans, the Soviets and the recently the Chinese took more than 20 years to develop MIRV technologies, it is unbelievable and very unlikely that Pakistan could achieve the same level of technological proficiency well under 10 years.

6. MIRVing a missile would require a much smaller warhead and possibly nuclear testing.

7. Typically all the MIRV enabled missiles are on ICBMs or long-range ballistic systems with a minimum strike range of over 6,000 km. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that Pakistan has developed an MIRV-enabled missile with a range of just over 2,000 km.

8. Pakistan has virtually zero industrial infrastructure and scientific base to make high-end missile technology components such as decoders, encoders, command signals, mission computer, attitude control computer, pitch and yaw retro rockets, reaction control motors, liquid injectors, thrust vector control system, MIRV deployment module, advanced avionics & guidance electronic sets, inertial navigation systems, gyroscopes, complex & comprehensive software support, miniature nuclear devices, reentry vehicle technology, reentry correction system, MIRV stage separation kits, among others.

9. The Chinese are no fools to part with sensitive strategic technologies even to its "all-weather" friend, as the same can be used against them.

10. It is amazing that Pakistan has officially not reported of any failed missile tests in its entire missile development history, whereas India has reported many Indian missile testing failures. Amazingly, the Pakistani army appear to conduct their first ballistic missile tests over heavy populated areas. The Ghauri IRBM (comprising of 40 Nodong missile units supplied by North Korea as knocked-down kits) has been a complete disaster as it encountered multiple failures, the program has since been cancelled due to its dismal success rate. The Ghauri missile fiasco throws a bad light on the Pakistani establishment but also cause suspicions on capabilities of other missiles in its arsenal.

11. The deployment of Chinese MIRV warheads raised serious questions about China’s strategic relationship with India. In addition to our missile defense capabilities, our nuclear force is an additional driver behind China’s nuclear force modernization. There is little doubt that the deployment of Chinese MIRV has nudged India into the MIRV club as well. But, I don't see any valid reasons why Pakistan should to be unduly perturbed on the development of a strategic weapon system solely directed against the Chinese.

With this new fake test just as in the case of Babur-III (which had been proved conclusively as a fake by an Indian defense expert, simulated using cheap animation tools), would resolve our weapons designers to now hasten the development and deployment of our own counter force nuclear weapons capabilities on the AGNI-VI which was reported to have been already developed, all DRDO needs is the political nod to carry out this important test.

Ababeel's test seems to be a clear case of false pretense, deliberately messaging India that the primary intent of this weapon is for use against civilian populations to cause unacceptable levels of damage, besides, as a corollary, Pakistan had to address its domestic audience as well after a barrage of successful ballistic missile tests carried out by India in the recent past. The modernization of India's BMD program has unquestionably unnerved Pakistan as it has questioned the very survivability and the penetrability of its nuclear forces to assure of a strategic retaliation when needed. Hence, such dubious tactics was warranted.

The fake Pakistani MIRV test would trigger & deepen nuclear competition between the two nuclear powers and reduce security for both. This calls for both countries to show constraint but it also requires the other MIRVed nuclear-armed states (Britain, France, Russia and the United States) to limit their MIRV and offensive nuclear war fighting strategies.


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