Jeffrey LewisPakistan’s Nuclear Artillery?

This is, purportedly, a very interesting Urdu-language article in a Pakistani paper, The News.  I don’t read Urdu, so as far as I know, this is just a recipe for chicken biryani.

According to some translations floating around, the article cites a “Western diplomat” claiming that former Pakistani President Pervez told US officials that Pakistan had developed “among the world’s smartest nuclear tactical devices.”

Now, since nuclear weapons don’t take IQ tests, I think “smart” in this context means “neatness or trimness of appearance.” In other words, miniaturized.

I don’t know if any of this is true, but the Pakistanis seem to be making a lot of noise lately about their tactical nuclear stockpile.  “Look at us!  We have tactical nuclear weapons!”

Mark Hibbs, in a forthcoming article for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, mentions that, during his most recent trip to Islamabad, he was directly told that Pakistan was developing very small, low-yield nuclear weapons.

A few weeks after his visit, Pakistan tested a short-range artillery rocket, Nasr. In case you had any doubt, the Pakistan’s official press release stated that the Nasr “carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield.”

The Nasr is an artillery rocket — I have never before encountered this term Battlefield Range Ballistic Missile or BRBM. Usman Ansari in Defense News quoted a Pakistani academic, Mansoor Ahmed, arguing that “the diameter size of Nasr suggests that the warhead would be less than 1 kilogram, and would be of sub-kiloton range, suitable for battlefield use and could be a fission boosted sub-kiloton fission device.”

I can’t find reliable data on the Nasr, so I used the Mark I Eyeball to observe that the Nasr (top) looks a lot like an M30/31 MLRS rocket (bottom). Both rockets have a similar range.

The M30 carries a 90 kg unitary penetrator and is about 20 centimeters in diameter.  That’s actually too small for even the smallest US nuclear weapon ever designed, the W54. (Aw, look at the little feller.)

Now, of course, maybe the Nasr is 30 centimeters in diameter (I certainly am not/not claiming to be able to eyeball rocket dimensions to within a few centimeters) or Pakistan just made a really little warhead.

I really wonder whether Pakistan could develop such a small warhead with any confidence. The general view has been that Pakistan would probably need testing to develop a miniaturized plutonium implosion device, to say nothing of the sort of boosted little devil we are talking about. I am no warhead designer, but here is how the National Academies described the situation in 2002:

Pakistan similarly could manufacture and stockpile its enriched uranium fission weapons without further testing, and it could make progress toward a plutonium implosion weapon (perhaps even producing and stockpiling one of simple—and inefficient—design, in which it could have some confidence).

Now, as I have noted before “simple—and inefficient—design” is a term of art that usually means too big for a missile, let alone a little rocket like NASR. I am skeptical, I must admit, but still intrigued. This is a smart little puzzle, isn’t it?


  1. Derek (History)

    Oh, wonderful, a nuclear Katyusha.

    The W54 was the lightest warhead ever produced, but not the smallest diameter. The W48 was a 155mm artillery shell that apparently weighed somewhere in the 50-60 kg range, so it would probably fit onto an MLRS-type rocket.

    • Cameron (History)

      And I’m recalling that we were looking into a new generation of 155mm shells under Reagan. And a unitary MLRS XM-31 has a 200lb claimed warhead weight. So it’s certainly doable if the missles are roughly equivalent and Pakistan is willing to mount a 100-200 ton yield.

    • kme (History)

      Here’s a picture of the W48 for comparison, with a weapons designer scratching the little fella behind the ears:

  2. Rezaul Hasan Laskar (History)

    Here’s a link to the article in English as it appeared in The News daily:
    What you have at the top of the page appears to be the same article in Urdu from the Jung, the sister publication of The News.
    Nice piece by the way.

  3. John Schilling (History)

    20cm diameter and 100kg mass might still allow for a gun-assembly uranium weapon; the historic precedent there would be the US W-33 8″ artillery shell. This is something the Pakistanis could be technically confident in even without testing. It would have the disadvantage of requiring ~40 kg of HEU for even a sub-kiloton yield; that’s about enough for two or three ~10 kt warheads that would fit on Pakistan’s SRBMs or IRBMs.

    The same logic applies to plutonium-implosion devices. If you settle for simply compressing a sphere of delta-phase plutonium through the alpha transition, and accept predetonation limiting you to sub-kiloton yields, the demands on your implosion device are quite modest and might fit in a 20-30cm sphere even with the design margins you would need to be confident of reliable operation without testing (or sophisticated, test-validated models). But, again, the fissile requirement is quite high – on the order of 15 kg of plutonium, which is again enough for two or three “normal” bombs.

    The claim that the warhead weight is less than one kilogram, or even that it uses less than one kilogram of plutonium, is not credible. I suspect someone is applying an intuitive but incorrect linear scaling relationship – a bomb one-fifth normal size must use one-fifth the normal quantity of plutonium. In fact, all else being equal, compact/lightweight nuclear weapons use more fissionable materials than their big brothers.

    One would have to be quite enamored with the idea of battlefield nuclear weapons to want to trade in even two 600 km missiles with 5 kt warheads (pessimistic Shaheen-1 estimate) for a single 60km missile with a 0.5 kt warhead.
    And Pakistan is not so lavishly endowed with fissile materials as to have it both ways.

    Has someone in Pakistan developed at least a conceptual design for a Nasr-compatible nuclear warhead? Almost certainly. Would it work, if fired in anger without prior testing? Probably, but not certainly. Does it actually exist? Probably not, and certainly not in great quantity.

  4. George William Herbert (History)

    The W53 is the lightest warhead; smallest diameter produced en-masse would go to the 155mm artillery linear implosion models (and alleged 127mm sized models never mass produced, and possibly somewhat smaller).

    Within the 20 cm-ish envelope one could also work a gun-type uranium weapon.

    Something like a W79 or W33 would fit nicely.

    The most modern two-point true implosion systems probably would also fit…

  5. Davey (History)

    Since I’m just an interested lay-person… What is Pakistan’s fear that this is intended to address? Do they really have visions of India making a massed armor invasion? Are they trying to take a page from NATO’s cold war playbook and re-invent the Davey Crockett? Seriously?

    I’m trying not to imagine these little guys growing legs and spreading like bedbugs.

    • John Schilling (History)

      This article:

      suggests that this is intended to address India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, which involves brigade-level armored blitzkriegs aimed at securing key pieces of Pakistani territory on short notice, then sitting down for peace talks before the Pakistanis go nuclear. Explicitly a reactive and limited-war strategy, not a replay of Poland 1939, but something very likely to discomfit the Pakistani government. Arguably calculated to do so.

      If the result is Pakistan saying, “Oh, so you think you can complete even a limited blitzkrieg before we go nuclear? Look how fast we can go nuclear now!”, I suppose that isn’t entirely ridiculous. Though for a number of reasons I think it would be better addressed by a more responsive command and control system for Pakistan’s existing strategic forces, and if necessary an explicit first-use doctrine.

  6. Stephen Schwartz (History)

    As it happens, LITTLE FELLER was the code name for two shots of the W54 at the Nevada Test Site, conducted as part of Operation SUNBEAM.

    For LITTLE FELLER II on July 7, 1962 (one day after the 104 kt Sedan Plowshares test sent 12 million tons of radioactive rock and dirt into the air, 8 million of which fell outside the 322 foot deep crater –, a W54 was suspended three feet above the ground and detonated with a yield of 22 tons (.022 kt). Ten days later, on July 17, LITTLE FELLER I went off. The first and only full-scale operational test of this weapon was fired from a stationary M29 155mm Davy Crocket launcher and detonated about 1.7 miles from the launch site at a reported height of 40 feet. The yield was 18 tons (.018 kt).

    LITTLE FELLER I was incorporated into Operation IVY FLATS, in which an estimated 2,900 military and civilian support personnel conducted simulated battlefield activities post-detonation. Not only was this test witnessed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Maxwell Taylor, it was also the last US atmospheric nuclear weapons test.

    Declassified DOD documentation of LITTLE FELLER I, demonstrating “simple yet effectively response nuclear firepower,” is here – (Note also the highly effective “standard decontamination procedures” for troops and vehicles from 16:10-16:36.) If you want to see just how light the W54 was, check out this clip from 1:42-2:01 –

  7. joshua (History)

    “Smart bomb,” as far as I know, means a precision-guided weapon, so “smartest” could indicate “most accurate.” That would be consistent with labeling what appears to be an artillery rocket as a short-range ballistic missile.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I was reviewing sources on this (and removing part of the sub-1-kg warhead nonsense from Wikipedia…) and am moving towards a precision guided artillery rocket. Among other things, it’s got canard fins, which are consistent with guidance (mere aerodynamic stability needs push towards rear fins only for artillery rockets).

      The source at: with the “1 kg of plutonium” comment by a nuclear “expert” …. Sigh. That paragraph should be ignored as non-credible.

      Also, the chassis it’s mounted on is from a Chinese 2-shot 300 mm diameter artillery rocket system, so it may be bigger than estimates here.

    • A Complete Stranger (History)

      George; why does the Wikipedia reference for the W33 have all the technical information listed under the heading “Disinformation or inaccurate reports”?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      A Complete Stranger writes:

      George; why does the Wikipedia reference for the W33 have all the technical information listed under the heading “Disinformation or inaccurate reports”?

      Sigh. I hadn’t looked at the page since that happened apparently.

      It’s a long story, involving someone involved in W33 operations and (yes) some longstanding historical info tracing back to early reporting on it from the 1980s. The involved person made that section label.

      The real problem is that, while there is reasonably good data that’s more recent *cough*, it’s not been published. In part because it’s essentially unavoidably providing key design details for a functional 250 lb compact up to 40 kiloton gun-type nuclear bomb. Which is a proliferation sensitive as all get-out. So we’re left with an article which had some more recent info that got stripped out as unsourced and unpublished, has the sourced and published but now known to be wrong 1980s info in it, and is in generally poor shape.

      I should do something about this, but the long term solution is sort of complicated. A shorter term solution (and working with for example Carey Sublette to get the old info out of the Nuclear Weapons FAQ etc) is practical…

      The joys of curating data that’s remarkably sensitive.

  8. rba (History)

    A Pakistani friend says “smartest” should translate to “smallest.”

  9. Qamar (History)

    JEFFREY i think that comparison of the Nasr with M30/31 MLRS rocket not accurate,

    Pakistani Hatf-IX ‘Nasr’ seems to be uses PHL03 chassis which has also been used by the Chinese for their WS-2 Multiple Launch Rocket System. The PHL03 carries (2×3)6x WS-2 400 mm rockets.

    Now if we compare this with the fact that only two Nasr missiles are carried on the same chassis. My rough estimates put the Nasr missile diameter more in range pf of 500 to 600 mm.

    Now i may be wrong, but diameter of 600 mm will also make more sense as both Hatf-IB & Hatf 2A Abdali are of same diameters.

  10. Qamar (History)

    Prime Minister Sharif began his televised address said, “Today, we have settled a score and have carried out five successful nuclear tests.”

    Pakistanis claimed that they had tested low yield nuclear devices in 1998.

    In an interview on 30 May 1998 A. Q. Khan told the prominent Islamabad daily The News that “The other four were small tactical weapons of low yield. Tipped on small missiles, they can be used in the battlefield against concentrations of troops.”

  11. Sukhjinder (History)

    I think the next step for pakistan will be nuclear bullets
    and nuclear hand grenades, also not to forget nuclear AK-47 for the haqqani network.

    • Amy (History)

      Yes, kind of sucks that India started the nuclear arms race in the Subcontinent by misusing peaceful nuclear technology given to it, huh?

      BTW, Zia Mian and colleagues did a study of this — they found Pakistan would need a lot more tacnukes….this may be why they have increased their fissile material production of late:

    • John Schilling (History)

      The analysis by Zia Mian seems quite naive, in that it focuses on using nuclear weapons to destroy enemy tanks on the battlefield and finds that tanks are extremely difficult to destroy using nuclear weapons. This is true as far as it goes, but the takeaway lesson really isn’t, “We’re going to need an awful lot of nukes”.

      Even if you insist on planning for tactical nuclear warfighting, there are much more sensible ways to go about it.

    • John (History)

      Well Zia et al. do say tacnukes have a limited utility.

      The editorializing was by Amy.

      Solid study.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I agree that tactical nuclear weapons have limited utility, but Zia et al do not properly address those limits. They accurately, but only, assess the effects of battlefield nuclear weapons against enemy tanks, and correctly conclude that Pakistan’s nuclear missiles would not be a very efficient means of destroying Indian tanks.

      This is about as useful and informative a result as discovering that Pakistan’s antitank missiles are not an efficient means of killing Indian infantry soldiers, that Pakistani assault rifles are nearly useless against Indian artillery.

      There are legitimately useful things a military force can do with tactical nuclear weapons, if it comes to that. Killing tanks is not on that list. A truly solid study of the (admittedly limited) utility of tactical nuclear weapons, would address all the things such weapons actually can do well, not just one of the things they can’t.

      If the idea is that Zia et al have done a solid job of underselling tactical nuclear weapons in hope of steering Pakistan’s generals away from such a path, that fails if the generals understand the deficiencies in the analysis and backfires if the generals conclude that, tacnukes not being as efficient as they had hoped, they really are going to need a whole lot of them.

  12. PW (History)

    Just for comparison, the NASR looks more like a somewhat bigger brother of the Israeli Extra of 306mm diameter ( than the M-30. The comparisons with WS-2 or similar Chinese missiles also make sense.
    It probably also has a similar function as the Extra: an accurate artillery rocket. The fact that the launcher includes two missiles indicates that the claimed nuclear role is one of several possible roles including ATACMS alike conventional ones.

    Or may be we should stir up a tactical-nuclear-arms race discussion and compare the NASR with the Indian answer which was tested two months after the 1st Nasr test: the 150 km range, 420mm diameter, 200kg payload, truck launched PRAHAAR which can carry different types of warheads and is slated to operate as a battle field support system/battle field tactical missile for the Indian Army. No mention of mini-nukes in the official Indian statement however. ( )
    That has not stopped others in india from interpreting ‘different types of warheads’ as a euphemism and discussing the risk of confusion about the possible nuclear role of the Prahaar:

    See for some further discussion about the technical aspects of the Prahaar and some more pictures to assist comparisons:

  13. Azr@el (History)

    A love ode to the land of the Pure.

    This is ridiculous. Pakistan is a third world nation on the brink of fracturing. Her nuclear arsenal is a joke; bad fuel + poor design. Her army, as such, is a paper tiger waiting for the first big wind to blow. She is only fortunate in that her competitor is equally handicapped by a shared post colonial experience and that the deaths of her soldiers seem to bring some amusement to US airmen and thus garners US coin.

    Let’s review from the top:
    Pakistan is a colonial mashup of angry tribes and even angrier refugees. British policy of divide, conquer and debase coupled with the geography of Pakistan ensures long term a pashto sequal of Yugoslavia. Pakistan’s nuclear drive was intended to hold the Indians at bay but along the way the shadow junta realized that atomics serve a far more important role: making Pakistan too important to fail for the world system.

    Pakistan has no real working military nuclear weapon designs. Her atomic experiments are more a little political theater mixed with a horror novel. Her physics packages strapped to the sharp pointy end of a shake and bake haft-xx rocket have little strategic credibility. In the hands of non-state actors on the other hand: they would crap the collective trousers of known world.

    The Pakistani army has mainly succeeded in enriching itself and impoverishing their nation over the decades. Their highest realization was coming to the conclusion that atomics are not effective against fast moving columns of armour: true, this was realized a day or two after trinity: that’s why atomics fires are targeted at concentrations: whether they are supply depots, staging grounds or pre-breakthrough masses, etc….

    I could go on, but alas, Pakistan is just not worth the effort. If the leadership had even a bit of love for their people, they would:

    A) Make peace with India: India is decaying and falling apart for much the same reasons, but more complicated then Pakistan. Corruption, northern caste politics, mismanagement of the economy and infrastructure, etc,etc.. A nation is known for what it builds and who it fights: Pakistan builds nothing and fights India; which is more lowly? Sign a treaty, demilitarize your frontiers and find a working agreement for the people of Kashmir.

    B) Make peace with yourself: I won’t talk down to Pakistanis and assume I know more about their internal relationships between punjabis, pashtos, mohajirs and the bit actors: kashmiris, balochis, those 500 hindus running around somewhere. But obviously things need to change before they become irreversibly stuck in the bad gear.

    C) Kick us out of your country. The US is unfortunately like an abusive, drunk husband. Our liquor of choice is power and our exaggerated sense of exceptional-ism…unfortunately when things aren’t a cake walk….we wind up breaking things and screaming a whole lot of nonsense. We may be good in the sack, and give you fancy toys and little pocket change, but we’re really not worth all the trouble.

    D) Put the bomb back in the basement, put yourself a few screw driver turns away from the anything that can go Ka-boom. Trust me, you’ll sleep sounder at night.

    • OT (History)

      You sum very nicely up what thirld world nukes are about.

      I for one can’t persuade myself to believe that their generals care a dung about nuke design and how it fits their fancy military strategies. They just gather up stuff that looks like nuke and rocket and play the bluff game. Building one would actually cost money, which has better use (from their point of view) in the corruption.

      And it’s easy environment to bluff in. Every opponent assumes worst case scenario, and non-existence of the paid article is a national secret.

      That doesn’t necessarily mean there is no nuke at all, but there is huge and expensive gap between half successful concept test by garage nerd gang and reliable, deliverable weapon in the hands of trained experts.

    • Alan Tomlinson (History)

      Your contempt for the Pakistani military is not particularly well-founded. Their military is large, well-trained, has lots of connections with the US military and intelligence systems, and is, to put it mildly, disciplined. You may not like them, but I would counsel against discounting them.


      Alan Tomlinson

    • Azr@el (History)

      Hey Alan,

      Counsel against discounting the Pakistani army? Hmmmmm In 2010 Pakistan floods when they failed to give an organized response to the crises; opening the door to allow various NGO’s of religious bent to fill the gap is when the average Pakistani began to discount them.
      ‘Discipline’ is not marching in formation or enduring hazing; it is holding it together when the chips are down and giving an organization/cause your primary loyalty. During the floods, the punjab heartland, where the army recruits the bulk of its manpower was affected. This discipline of which you speak broke down as soldiers attended to their primary loyalties: i.e. family/tribe.
      And ‘size and training’, well I’m sure many failed to properly discount Saddam’s or Milošević’s army for much the same reasons.

      Finally; ‘connected to the US’; by the gods, this is my favourite post-modern trope. Of the two worst things that ever befell this country, neither occurred in September nor anywhere near NY. One was the end of the cold war and the other was swift, relatively bloodless victory in Desert Storm. These two events planted the seeds of misbegotten belief in our supreme invincibility.

      In reality, the US military is no more invincible than Rome was; our officer corp is fairly inflexible, too narrowly focused and overly politicized towards the top(has been since the Civil War honestly), our manpower is constricted by the lack of conscription (better trained, but still constricted) and quite frankly we have an unhealthy technology fetish which isn’t in many cases tracking to needs.

      The one area that we do excel in, and have excelled in for a very long time: is logistics. Fortunately logistics is the key pillar of war and our relative supremacy there has washed away the tactical advantages of the confederacy, the huns and everyone else whose ever wanted a piece. Unfortunately, a talent for logistics is very hard to transmit by osmosis.

      Pakistan and all other nations that attempt to mimic foreign armies without undertaking the societal transformations that created said foreign nations/armies will always be fighting with a severe handicap against indigenous militaries that are an outgrowth of their respective cultures. Again luckily so far Pakistan has only had to worry about India, which is akin to shadow boxing. However with the rise of a decentralized tribal militancy with their collective eyes on the atomic ball, I fear this vaunted Pakistani military cannot be discounted fast enough.

  14. Alan Tomlinson (History)

    Hey anonymous,

    Opinion is not an argument. There are 520,000 men in the military in Pakistan. They are rated as one of the top 20 militaries in the world by all the sources that I’ve seen. Unless you actually know something, I call bullshit.


    Alan Tomlinson

    P.S. Anonymous posting leads to bullshit.

    • Azr@el (History)

      This is very hard to describe to someone who doesn’t seem like they’ve ever gotten out beyond this gated community called the first world, but I’ll try.
      Now, if you wanted to seem clever, you could have made your argument by pointing out Pakistan’s battlefield successes to make your arguments 65’ held their own against India(not really much of achievement considering India just got slapped silly by Mao’s cadres 3 years earlier), 71’ Pakistan gets vivisected by the Indian military, literally carved into two, 99’ India slaps Pakistan off Kargil. India is not a military superpower, quite the opposite; they fly migs like brits fly lawn darts, they use poorly built equipment, their officer corp is on the proverbial jemedar picnic. But they’ve proven more than up to the task of containing this wonder army of Pakistans.

      Japan during its pre-meji era made swords, samurai swords, which were held in high regard. The Japanese fought wars against each other using these swords until they met a mongol raiding force that landed on their shores. The mongols using wootz steel sword played slice and dice with the samurai and their swords; which turned out to be a thin easily chipped poor quality steel wrapped around cheap iron. Take away, you may be big when fighting peeps in the same tiny fish ball, but the big leagues can get awfully rough awfully fast.

      At one point, Iraq was the world’s 4th largest military, a million plus men under arms, and was ranked in the top ten, fought the Iranians to a standstill, had all the fancy kit from around the world. Numbers are very impressive but also very illusionary at times. Pakistan’s military does not consist of 650K American’s fighting for their republic but rather mainly poor conscripts motivated by a desire to better their lot in life. They would stand fairly well, but with much futility, against equally unmotivated Indians, but against a determined opponent they would crumble….thus the need for atomics.

    • kme (History)

      The commenter you are replying to is writing pseudonymously, not anonymously.

  15. Noah Rahman (History)


    While I may not be a regular Jane’s reader. I do have a little more experience with the Pakistani milieu than you (I was rba’s friend above). The Pakistan Army is a volunteer institution – there is no conscription, and it was until recently highly regarded to volunteer. It’s still desirable from a doing materially well viewpoint. I am no fan of of the military’s strategy (or lack thereof), but at least make sure your vitriol is properly mixed before you throw it.

    • Azr@el (History)

      Replace ‘poor conscript’ with ‘poor recruit’ and the rest remains standing steadfast and stark in both points and merit albeit lacking dint of vitriol so harshly ascribed by you. As a human being, I’m deeply saddened that Pakistan’s leadership has historically and more recently chosen to piss away most of its national potential shadow boxing with India as opposed to materially and spirituality uplifting its population. But alas, we can not be more Pakistani than Pakistanis, that’s their bed to make, my only hope is that we don’t have to sleep in it down the road.

  16. John Hallam (History)

    I believe I may have uploaded the english-language version of the rdu article soma days ago on the regular newsupdate that I send out to certain folks in the nuke abolition movement worldwide.

    I wondered at the time what ‘smartest’ meant, and its substitution by ‘smallest’ makes perfect sense – which goes to show I wasn’t very smart at the time.

    I also seem to recall an item on a rival blog – the FAS one – on NASR whch is worth looking at, some weeks back.

    The big ugly thing in al of this i that – assuming these smallest Pak warheads do indeed work and there is really no reason to assume otherwise – their presence and possible use on the battlefield against Indian armour brings the nuclear tripwire just that bit (well, more than a bit) perilously closer.

    And as we know or ought to know, the wider se of nuke weapons in an India-Pakistan conflict would not only destroy both nations as functioning entities, but would bring about catastrophic global climatic effects that really ought be be a subject for discussion on this blog.

    John Hallam

  17. John Hallam (History)

    Here is a link to the FAS item I referred to in my previous entry:

  18. John Hallam (History)

    The following url will take you to the global climatic effects of an India – Pakistan nuclear conflict, conducted with fewer weapons than are now likely to be actually used:

    • SW (History)

      Wot, no more anthropogenic global warming? Climatologists jumping out of high windows? Greenpeace dissolving at the next Annual General Meeting? IPCC switching seamlessly to the study of new glaciation?

  19. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    Since America is hell bent on trying to buy client status from the Pakistani government. Perhaps I could throw this out as an idea. Given the small estimates of Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons, and their limited use at blunting an Indian armored advance. Perhaps it could be constructive to do something along the lines of Nun-Lugar and trade Pakistani tactical nuclear munitions in exchange for hell fire missiles, helicopter gunships, various version of American fuel air munitions, and … of course …. cash. Pakistan’s conventional shortcomings would have a conventional patch, we would remove small nuclear arms from ‘the market’ and the Pakistani Army could continue throwing the party for one more month or so.

    • John Schilling (History)

      This could have interestingly perverse effects if, as I suspect, the Pakistanis are mostly bluffing about having a bunch of nuclear Nasrs in the first place. Is it more cost-effective to simply buy a dozen AH-64s and associated ordnance, or build a battlefield nuke and offer to trade it for same? If what you really want is late-model F-16s and AMRAAMs, do you build longer-ranged nuclear missiles and advertise them as being intended for destroying Indian forward airbases?

    • Azr@el (History)

      Nun-Lugar i.e. CTR was not a conventional weapons for non-conventional weapons swap. It was financial aid to help decommission non-conventional weapons and replace military industrial complex jobs with scientific plowshare work. Everyone is more than supportive of offering aid to both India and Pakistan to decommission their atomic arsenals or at least to shove them back into the basement; rice for nukes if you will.

      As it stands, Pakistan doesn’t have deliverable atomic weapons yet, and definitely not a warhead that can convert 1 kg of fissile material with a driver small enough to fit on a tactical rocket system. But what they do have now is probably sufficient to blackmail the US into providing them with the means to conventionally ensure regime survival. Alas, Pakistan simply doesn’t have any enemies, except of course for its own people.

      As an aside; the cost of a nuke, given the precipitous slide of the US dollar, is in the ballpark of 2 million usd. The unupholstered, no fuel in the tank, no ammo in the can, batteries not included price of a single Apache runs in the mid 20 millions. I wonder if Beijing is willing to approve the loans to finance this initiative.

      And Pakistan’s conventional shortcoming derive from the fact that the Pakistani military need an excuse to exist to continue distorting Pakistan’s economy to benefit themselves and their loved ones. Beyond that, the Indians have been trying to call it quits on the slap fight since they realized they could make money in IT. Pakistan honestly has quite a lot of potential…even more so the shame.

  20. John Schilling (History)

    I find myself somewhat amused by the concept of a market price for used nuclear weapons…

    • Alex W. (History)

      John, I think they prefer the label “pre-owned.”

  21. John Bragg (History)

    So the Pakistanis have developed a nuclear artillery shell smaller than anything the US ever did in the Cold War.

    What’s the Urdu for “Mouse That Roared”?

    • John Schilling (History)

      The Nasr is an artillery rocket, not a shell, and it appears to be somewhat larger than the US W-48 and/or W-54, among others. This is 1960s technology, by American standards.

      The reason the Pakistani announcement is noteworthy is that A: many analysts had previously only credited the Pakistanis with 1950s-level nuclear weapons technology, and B: we all figured out at least a decade or two that such weapons are not really all that useful.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      It’s not that tactical / battlefield nuclear weapons have no utility. For a nation-state whose back is literally up against a wall and national annihilation is a possibility, glassifying ones border regions in the face of a serious attack may be an acceptable tradeoff. It’s not as necessarily going to escalate to mutual civilian annihilation if one doesn’t preemtptively or excessively strike the other guy’s territory.

      The potential of several Indian armored divisions crossing the IKB (Inter-Kashmir Border) in a hurry and heading towards Islamabad is the sort of game plan that would logically fit into a tactical nuclear countergame. Given the limited attack vectors, reasonable defensive deterrence could be achieved even with such ugly devices as buried thermonuclear “land mines”… Though the vulnerability thereof to discovery and disruption would likely render them less popular than a tactical missile program.

      Not that I’m recommending this course to Pakistan; I think that actually ending the campaign of support for terrorists is a superior threat reduction strategy. But I see Pakistan not willing to take that step for various internal reasons. The strategy of defensive tacnukes is regrettably comprehensible under that circumstance.

    • Azr@el (History)

      It’s that tactical / battlefield nuclear weapons have absolutely no utility. For a nation-state whose back is literally up against a wall and national annihilation is a possibility, glassifying ones border regions in the face of a serious attack may be the silliest course of action. It’s not necessarily going to deter by risking mutual civilian annihilation, if one doesn’t preemptively or excessively strike the other guy’s territory or at least hold them at risk.

      I won’t even touch the ‘thermonuclear landmine’ concept. But let’s review what nuclear weapons are and aren’t. Nuclear are not weapons, they are the exact opposite of weapons. There existence in multi-nuclear world pretty much negate their actual use and takes the piss out of most conventional wars between nuclear weapons states for fear of escalation; kargil in point. The only proper and cost effective deployment of atomics is counter-value, i.e. against cities, with enough kilo-tonnage to get the job done; everything else is a waste of fissile fuel.

      “Not that I’m recommending this course to Pakistan; I think that actually ending the campaign of support for terrorists is a superior threat reduction strategy. But I see Pakistan not willing to take that step for various internal reasons.”

      Really? Can we move past the whole terrorist trope? We the US support various groups that use political violence to further our interests, we as a nation use violence, political and otherwise, to achieve our end goals. The Pakistanis support various groups that use political violence to put pressure on the Indians to attempt to resolve Kashmir in their favour. There is no moral high ground, as long as there are children in the world who cry and cower when they see US soldiers coming in the dark then we all support terror as a means to an end.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Using nuclear weapons to stop a conventional offensive is not an unreasonable prospect, and it’s something Pakistan has to be considering strongly – even if they do stop sponsoring the terrorists.

      But giving a brigadier his own short-range nuclear artillery to directly engage the combat arms of an attacking Indian armored division, is almost certainly not the way to go about that. Front-line combat arms are sufficiently dispersed and mobile as to not make good nuclear targets. Front-line combat arms are sufficiently dependant on external support as to be effectively neutralized by the destruction of rear-area logistics and C3I nodes, air bases and transport hubs, and the like.
      In mountainous terrain, as you note, there are geographic chokepoints as well. Those are much more practical targets for “tactical” nuclear weapons, but they call for something more like a Shaheen than a Nasr.

      If you’ve got nigh-infinite nuclear resources, sure, you build both. Can’t hurt. Well, can’t hurt if you trust your brigadier generals. But if you’re husbanding no more than a couple tons of HEU and maybe 100 kg of WGPU, you have to be in my opinion irrationally enamored of battlefield (as opposed to broadly “tactical”) nuclear weapons to field something like a nuclear Nasr.

  22. Anonymous (History)

    When I read the original “The News” article in the newspaper I laughed out loud. The author of the article has known connections with Pakistan Military and this article has most probably been fed to him through some of those connections.
    This article has been planted in the English language newspaper to give a message to Americans that their troops can be targeted in Afghanistan through tactical nuclear weapons if they attempt a ground invasion of Pakistan. Everyone is aware of the capabilities of Pakistan, although a very talented people but are downtrodden because of the policies of the military to keep them that way.
    If it comes to the crunch the foot soldiers of the army would fight very hard but the officers are there for the perks and I won’t expect too much from them.

    BTW, the Urdu for “Mouse That Roared” is “apni gali mai kutta bhi shair hota hai.” [literally: A dog acts like a lion in it’s own alley]

  23. Anonymous (History)

    It is likely that the NASR if carrying a nuclear warhead, will carry a Plutonium warhead (given its diameter the warhead needs to be miniaturized). However, it is unlikely that such a design will be used without testing it beforehand. As it is not clear whether Pakistan has tested a Plutonium design, is it possible that ‘someone’ else might have tested its weapon on its behalf. The North Koreans for instance… this cold be something like the South African VELA test of the Israeli nuclear weapon. Any comments?

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