Thursday, May 05, 2016

"Nuclear Armageddon" - Dilip Hiro's perspective.

Outlook Magazine has carried an article by Dilip Hiro that first appeared in Tom's Dispatch. It is an unnecessarily long article, but here is the part that caught my eye,

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. 

When it comes to Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons, their parts are stored in different locations to be assembled only upon an order from the country’s leader. By contrast, tactical nukes are pre-assembled at a nuclear facility and shipped to a forward base for instant use. In addition to the perils inherent in this policy, such weapons would be vulnerable to misuse by a rogue base commander or theft by one of the many militant groups in the country.

I feel it is fair to conclude that this kind of information could only have come from two potential sources. The first source would be someone inside the Pakistani NSC and the second would be a non-Pakistani diplomatic source in Islamabad who was privy to the discussions between Gen. Raheel Sharif and US negotiators who tried to get Pakistan to step away from this in exchange for inclusion in to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. As Dilip has traditionally had good access to both groups of people, I am not surprised that he is writing about it.

I had been expecting something like this from Pakistan. The Pakistanis have been on the edge since Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister of India. The situation (as I had alluded to in an earlier post) is analogous to what the USSR leadership found itself in when Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980.

There has simply been too much loose talk in India about "mating" issue and confusing nonsense about moving India to a "first use" posture when the guaranteed second strike posture laid out in the Vajpayee era nuclear doctrine is practically indistinguishable from it.

When you couple that with the massive expansion in India's special weapons deployment facilities (NOT development facilities), you see that Pakistan has no choice but to get really really worried.  While a quick look at India's special weapons development facilities clearly shows that absent a major expansion at Rattehali and Challakere, India does not have the capacity to build a large number of packages, a similar peek at India's deployment facilities paints a far more startling picture.

As things stand now, in the last decade, India has seen over 400 new special weapons deployment sites appear at various airbases and military garrisons. Some of these complexes such as Ozar, Missa, Panagarh, Talegaon Dabhade, Ramgarh, Kiradu and Ralawas are stunningly large. In addition to this every major airfield now has the double ring bunker structure needed to house a special weapons capable platform.

Despite all the equipment failure issues that play out in the lay press, the IAF today mounts something like 100 sorties a day. Coupled with air-to-air refueling, it is highly possible for the IAF to maintain a well armed strategic air patrol aloft at all times. Even if I exclude the Arihant and IN capabilities, I see several hundred potential sites for *deployment* of special weapons on land alone.

It seems that while Sharm-al-shaking/dhoti-shivering/"CIA-agenting" in public the soft-spoken Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was secretly pursuing the most aggressive push towards weaponization that modern India has ever seen.  A majority of the sites that the Manmohan Singh regime constructed are deep within India.

This is a huge problem for Pakistan. Their remote sensing platforms cannot see that far into India's territory. Pakistan's AWACS program lags India's program by about a decade. The same is true for Pakistan's remote sensing capabilities - they do not have satellite imagery with sufficient resolution or sufficient time over target to guarantee the ability to keep an eye on things (for a quick discussion of what limits SATINT see this reference). Pakistan has not OTHR capability as of now (which is just as well because that has terrible issues with noise and false positives). The Pakistanis could hack India's internet backbones and try to see if they could get inside some critical information transmission system, but even if it works exactly like it does in the movies - the reality is that without verification they would be foolish to trust what is coming down that pipeline.

Basically there is NO WAY for Pakistan to stay on top of these many sites and have any confidence in the information they possess about them. 

As a result - Pakistan practically has no advanced warning capabilities that can permit it to maintain a credible first strike posture. All claims of Pakistan having some kind of escalation dominance or control in the nuclear area are far-fetched. Pakistan's "first use" posture is completely hollow. 

While some Indians might think this is a good thing - it is NOT - this is a massively unstable situation. Even in the simplest scenario that Dilip is merely hoisting a trial balloon for the Aabpara crowd - this speaks to a very alarming dynamic that has presented itself.

Deterrence stability is a living thing, you have to work had to maintain it. It is difficult to see how the old idea of deterrence stability (which emphasized sequestration and de-mating of special weapons) will survive in a situation where Pakistan feels so threatened.

We are watching the emergence of tectonic shifts in thinking about these issues in the India-Pakistan context.


At 8:19 AM, Blogger ACR said...

Dear Mav,

I'na a situation where Pakistan has no escalation dominance better for us in India than a stable situation where Pakistan has a credible first strike capability ? Of course, work has to be done to stabilize the situation, but the onus for that rests on both sides. Moreover, India has other deterrence concerns (read China) for which preparations have to be made. Any deterrent that is credible vis a vis China would be something that is overwhelming when seen from a Pakistani viewpoint.

The best that could be done is to keep on conveying benign intentions while refusing to go slow on our capability build up.

At 5:31 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear ACR,

> I'na a situation where Pakistan has no escalation dominance better for us in India than a stable situation where Pakistan has a credible first strike capability ?

It is not obvious to me that either is better.

I see the "first use" or "guaranteed second strike" discussion as purely semantic.

The cold hard facts on the ground are that Pakistan has never known if India's second strike posture is really just a first strike posture in mufti.

As long as India only had deployment facilities in three places, they could be reasonably sure that India did not intend to launch a nuclear strike on them at any particular time but now with several hundred potential deployment sites and talk of cannisterized devices on the Arihant class, they simply cannot say for certain that India does not intend to launch a nuclear strike on them at this time.

The only thing they can do now is mate their own devices and hope that they can have an AWACS airborne when India launches a strike. If they can see a radar trail above a certain altitude and speed, they can launch their own missiles and hope they fly true.

The reality is that we have just entered a phase where the arsenals are now in a far higher state of readiness than they were prior to this date.

India and Pakistan are walking up the ladder of escalation without any public debate on the viability of these ideas.

The risk of an accident or a misunderstanding is now much higher than ever before.

At 6:09 AM, Blogger maverick said...

I feel that the GoI was very wise to focus the discussion on survivability and accuracy as opposed to yield and command.

However it seems that in the rush to resolve the outstanding issues on survivability, the GoI pushed aggressively on the dispersal side without actually thinking through what impact it would have on Pakistan's perceptions of the shift would be.

I am sure that everyone in GoI agreed that the Pakistanis would not like it, but it is almost as if the GoI didn't believe that Pakistan would have a coherent thought process on the issue and that India would somehow be able to slip this under the rug.

The GoI assessment may very well be correct, Pakistani national security calculations tend to be pretty fragmented and lacking in consensus, but then that sort of thing makes for even more instability in the context we are speaking about.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Nanana said...

Munir Akram says Pakistan wants its pound of flesh and more to not deploy tactical nooks

At 12:44 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Definitely Munir would know more about whipping than I do, but I can from the tone I can infer that Pakistan considers the deployment of these tactical weapons non-negotiable at this time.

India's Cold Start philosophy (and it is mostly that)- by its very definition signifies and unexpected and a hitherto unprecedented Indian assault on Pakistan that catches the Pakistan Army with its collective pants down. Like Israel's Operation Focus or the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian Khidat Badr, the main objective of Cold Start is to get the Pakistanis when they think they are at their safest.

How do you pull back from such a plan? what do you do to convince the Pakistanis that such an attack is not possible?

Even if you moved back all the troops, the infrastructure built in places like Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Suratgarh, Jallandhar would remain. How could Pakistan be certain that India wasn't ready to mobilize in under a week?

With the IAF alone mounting a hundred sorties a day and over a thousand flights in India per week, the IAF can move anything anywhere it wants. Even if all the troops we moved back a thousand miles, the IAF could put them back into the theater of operations in a week. Indian Railways would be able to move tanks and artillery pieces to the theater in less than a week.

There is no way to convince Pakistan (or anyone else for that matter) that the Indian's can't mount a "Cold Start".

I think the tone of the piece says it all "You can't pay me to not do this..." quite similar to the Gen. Sharif's response if Dilip Hiro's sources are to be believed.

At 5:36 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Ah no one loves a round table conference more than someone who is tracking a crisis.

"Indian moves towards ‘second strike capability’ would compel Pakistan to follow suit, says an official of Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which serves as the secretariat of National Command Authority."

And finally Elizabeth Whitefield addresses the issue of the differences in India's nuclear weapons stockpile.

I have been over this before - the difference in opinion largely stems from the untestable assumption that India will or will not turn its reactor grade Plutonium into weapons.

It is well known that reactor grade plutonium is difficult to use in a weapon due to a pre-initiation issue ( And there are differences in the estimate of the amount of RgPu available in India due to a lack of exact knowledge about how much RgPu is set aside for the advanced nuclear reactor programs and how much is available for weapons building.

The size of the investment in Challakere and the total number of sites visible on Google Earth point to India hosting an arsenal comprised of several hundred packages.

That is going to make life very complicated for the Pakistanis.


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