By Afsah Qazi
Before moving on to the debate on Indian BMD, a brief introduction to it is necessary for a common man’s understanding. In a layman’s words, Ballistic Missile Defense is basically a technology developed and used for countering the incoming enemy missiles with the help of interceptors, either ground based or air based. The interceptors usually are designed to hit the targets midway before they reach the re-entry phase. BMD or ABM system is actually a defensive shield that first identifies the incoming enemy missiles with the help of its advanced surveillance capabilities provided by specialized laser and radar technologies. In the second step, the interceptors are released to hit the identified targets mid way, to refrain them from hitting their desired destination. This way the unacceptable damage, that would otherwise occur is and can be prevented.
Revival of the Debate: For a long time the debate of BMD was put on the back burner due to the 1972 ABM treaty. But the debate resumed to its fullest when President Clinton walked out of the treaty in favor of this defensive shield. US was first to have the shield in the first decade of 21st century, under the leadership of President Bush. The American BMD comprises of two components. A national missile defense (NMD) for the security of continental US and a Theater Missile Defense (TMD) stationed across the globe. In fact both the components are targeted against China and its limited ICBM force, and certainly not against the rogue states; the reason widely propagated to legitimize the US defensive shield. Whatever the reason be, the fact remains that US acquisition of BMD was highly detrimental to universal arms control agenda as important components of International Non-Proliferation Regime such as ABM Treaty, MTCR and NPT stood largely violated by this move. Another negative impact was the security dilemma posed to China, which in response started to augment its ICBM capacity. China also hardened its stance in FMCT negotiations for its linkage to the de weaponization of space as BMD also violated the 1967 outer space treaty.
Indian Obsession with BMD: The only state which supported Bush’s agenda of acquiring BMD as a measure to ensure the security of the larger number of states from the threat of Rogue states was India. India found in China’s increasing ICBM force, an excuse for acquisition of Indian BMD. Since the history of Indo-Chinese relations has not been very smooth, India propagated that changing Chinese force postures are creating a security dilemma for India that could only be overcome by having a defensive shield against Chinese missiles. Soon after that, Indian defense research and development organization (DRDO) started collaborating with the United States and became a part of US-Indo-Israel nexus and acquired technologies such as phalcon radars and green pine radar systems as initial steps toward an independent defensive shield.
Indian Objectives; Stated and Underlying: There exists a lot of discrepancy between the stated Indian objectives and the actual underlying objectives for the development of a BMD system. The most clearly stated objective is to provide the Indian cities a defensive shield against the Chinese missiles whose increasing numbers pose a threat to Indian security. However, the fact that is not being stated is that the acquisition of BMD is a pre-requisite towards gaining a major power role, which India has been aspiring to achieve since its inception. So, in order to meet the standards set by the sole super power dominating the system, i.e. US, India started to work for a BMD program. Another underlying factor not stated clearly, but which prompts India to acquire this defensive shield is its potential role in effective implementation of Cold Start Doctrine (CSD). CSD actually calls for a highly network centric warfare that depends on ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capabilities and C4I2 systems. These capabilities and systems require equipments such as radars and reconnaissance aircrafts. These equipments present easy targets for incoming enemy missiles. So, for ensuring NCW India must have some mechanisms to protect its airborne equipments that are a component of CSD. This protection can only be ensured through such a defensive shield. This shows that India also aims to acquire BMD for implementing CSD with a greater confidence.
According to Pakistani strategists, and larger number of deterrence theorists, the main underlying objective of Indian acquisition of BMD is to undermine Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent. After having BMD India can practice militarily adventurous policies against Pakistan, without the fear of damage caused by Pakistani retaliatory actions. So after acquiring this India will get more confident to hit Pakistan by knowing that their defensive shield can well protect them against Pakistan’s responsive strikes. So, this shows that there are a lot more hidden objectives that have not been stated, but they do give a considerable impetus to India’s efforts to acquire BMD.
Costs Involved: The economic costs associated with the development and deployment of an efficient missile defense system are too high as the interceptors and most of the advanced space based radar systems are to be bought from outside. The reason being that up till now India has not indigenized the production.
Economic costs apart the strategic costs are much higher. Foremost of these is the threat to stability of deterrence that has been built over decades. Deterrence is workable only in the presence of mutual vulnerability where both opponents have the capability to threaten the other and both at the very same time have the realization of the equivalent destructive capacity of the other. So, both practice restraint on their actions as this mutual vulnerability is based on the balance of terror on both sides.
A system like BMD disturbs this balance because it makes one side totally fearless and ignorant of the other, giving it confidence to act without any restraint.
This is how it destroys the carefully constructed stability of traditional nuclear deterrence. That is why Pakistan’s nuclear posture of maintaining a minimum credible deterrence will be left non credible by Indian BMD. As a result, unwillingly Pakistan will be forced to engage in a suicidal arms race that may lead to unprecedented economic, political and security instability inside Pakistan.
However, India will not remain untouched by these consequences. BMD acquisition will lead the road towards a bifurcated arms and missile race, although relatively mild, directed against Pakistan on one side and China on the other. It will be difficult for India, the second most populous nation in the world to face the economic constraints posed by this expensive arms race. Another cost will come in the shape of enhanced partnership between Pakistan and China that is already evident.
BMD and the Credibility of National Protection: The greatest debate about Indian BMD is one regarding its efficiency and efficacy once it is developed and deployed i.e. to know whether it will be 100% efficient or not. For having that estimate we need to compare it with the standard it is trying to match which is the American missile defense system. With that we come to know that US took decades of R & D to deploy the system effectively, than how will India be able to deploy after her efforts of less than a decade since India is much less technologically advanced than US. Secondly no one has ever claimed 100% efficiency of US BMD system, which gives an estimate that how efficient Indian BMD can be, when only first phase of its two tier program has been developed and not yet deployed.
Secondly, the logic tells that the threat form China will continue to linger, as the initial capability gap will continue to exist because China is not standing still to watch India come to match her. Even if not working to have its own shield, being highly advanced in technology, this is not at all a difficult task for China to come up with alternate technologies to counter and penetrate the Indian BMD. HQ-9 interceptor missile can easily destroy the Indian missile interceptors.
Last but not least, looking at its efficacy in Indo-Pak theatre, it is not a good option. For Pakistan what is a disadvantage in a conventional environment will prove to be an advantage in the nuclear environment. The short flight time of Pakistani missiles and its geographical proximity with India will make it difficult for Indian systems to intercept all Pakistani missiles successfully. So, Pakistan’s lack of strategic/spatial depth will prove to be an asset here rather than a liability. Moreover, as Pakistan’s fragile economy does not allow for a BMD system, she can look for other options. Alternate and appropriate technologies can be used to counter Indian interceptors and penetrate them. These technologies can include the super and hyper sonic cruise missiles on which Pakistan is currently working. ECMs (electronic counter measures) serving as decoys for deception purposes to make real targets unidentifiable, and MIRVs are also among effective technologies to counter the interceptors.
All the above debate about the efficiency of Indian BMD and whether it can be countered or not shows that there is no guarantee of the output efficiency of such a system and so Indian BMD is a more a source of regional instability than being a source of providing credible national deterrence to Indian cities.
About the Author: The author is a research fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute SASSI, Islamabad. She holds M.Sc degree in International relations from Quaid-e-Azam University Pakistan. Her areas of interest are South Asian security issues and deterrence postures.