MIRV: Technology to Maintain Strategic Balance in South Asia

The South Asian region has long been characterized by a volatile security environment, primarily due to the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan. In recent years, this rivalry has taken on new dimensions with India’s development of a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system, which has raised concerns about the destabilization of the strategic balance in the region. In response to India’s BMD system, Pakistan has developed and repeatedly tested its Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology as a means to maintain strategic stability in South Asia.

India’s development of a Ballistic Missile Defense system has been a matter of concern for Pakistan. The BMD system is designed to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles, which, in theory, could neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence capabilities. Missile defenses would negate the concept of deterrence. Deterrence works where both  the  sides  have  the  fear  of  retaliation  and  remain  vulnerable  to the  nuclear  attacks.  If  one  of  the  adversaries  feels  secure,  and  have  no  fear  of nuclear  retaliation,  it  could  go  for  a  large  scale  attack,  which  would  have  a destabilizing  influence  on  strategic  balance.  The  other  side  in  return  will  have  to go  for  the  effective  countermeasures  for  neutralizing  the  defenses.  In  case  of South  Asian  region,  this  scenario  is  observed,  if  India  would  go  for  the  missile defense  shield,  it  would  undermine  the  deterrence  capabilities  of  Pakistan,  to  a larger extent, and of China as well, to a minor level.

Furthermore, the development of BMDS would embolden India to go for counterforce temptations against Pakistan. As further supported by US, India will be  in  a  stronger  position  to  go  for  pre-emptive  strike  against  Pakistan,  while having  reliance  on  its  BMDS,  as  a  shelter  in  response  to  the  attack  by  Pakistan. This also indicates a deviation form India’s stated No-First Use posture, set out in its Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) 1999, followed by India’s first amendment in January 2003. As  Indian  Nuclear  draft  2003  depends  on  counterforce  strategy,  the introduction  of  BMD  would  entice  the  hawkish  Indian  leadership  to  go  for counterforce surgical attack on the Pakistan’s military bases, missile batteries and other  strategically  important  locations.  Considering its capabilities, India can go for the pre-emptive or preventive nuclear strike against Pakistan, without the fear of retaliatory nuclear strike and would subvert the balance of terror which prevails between the two countries and is an essential ingredient for enduring South Asian strategic stability. 

Though the credibility of Indian BMDS is still not viable, as there  are  fragments  inside  India,  who are skeptical about the BMD technology, which isn’t proven even, and the huge cost  being  spent  on  it. But considering India’s hawkish behavior, Therefore,   Pakistan   has   to   make   sure   the   credibility   of   its   nuclear deterrent in face of emerging threats from India and to maintain the strategic balance in the region.

MIRVs are multiple warheads carried on a single missile, each capable of independently targeting different locations. This technology increases the survivability of a missile and presents a greater challenge to any missile defense system. MIRV is economically cheap and is an effective BMD countermeasure.

In response to India’s BMD system, Pakistan has tested MIRV missiles, firstly in 2017, and again recently on Oct. 18, 2022, Pakistan conducted a flight test of Ababeel missile, which is capable of carrying Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV). Pakistan aims to strengthen deterrence and enhance strategic stability in the region through the operationalization of Full Spectrum Deterrence in the overall construct of Credible Minimum Deterrence.

The strategic rationale behind Pakistan’s pursuit of MIRV technology lies in its need to ensure the viability of its nuclear deterrent. By developing MIRVs, Pakistan aims to overcome the challenges posed by India’s BMD system. MIRVs can potentially overwhelm or evade missile defenses, making it difficult for any interceptors to accurately target and destroy all the incoming warheads.

[DOD Defense Visual Information Center, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Amber Afreen Abid is a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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