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By Syed Nazakat in Delhi

It has been a test-for-test year for Pakistan and India. Both armies tested missiles, while the politicians were shaking hands in Mohali,Islamabad and New Delhi. The good news for diplomats, strategists and scientists on both sides is that the tests have not vitiated the talks.

Pakistan tested Abdali-2 in March 2011. The missile has a range of 180km, and can carry a nuclear or conventional warhead. In April,Pakistantested the Nasr aka Hatf-9, a nuclear-capable “short range surface to surface multi-tube ballistic missile” with a range of 60km. Both were developed to deter swift offensives by the Indian Army. SincePakistan’s nuclear doctrine allows the use of nuclear missiles against a conventional tank attack byIndia, the tests were essentially validating the doctrine and warningIndia.

V.K. Saraswat, director-general, Defence Research and Development Organisation, replied by testing Prahar at Chandipur-on-sea on July 20. Prahar, which means ‘strike’, has a range of 150km. “It is a battlefield tactical missile,” he told THE WEEK. “It can carry a single, high-explosive warhead that can demolish even the best-protected target or critical infrastructure.” 

Logically, it means this: ifPakistanmoves Hatf-9 batteries forward, to hit Indian tank columns, Prahar would be deployed against the batteries. Prahar has a longer range than Hatf, and as it is non-nuclear,Indiawould not face the odium of having launched nuclear weapons first. 

Saraswat said Prahar would replace the unguided rockets and bridge the gap between the indigenous Pinaka, a multi-barrel rocket system with a 40km range, and Prithvi-II, which can carry a 500kg warhead for 350km. “Prahar has a very low signature and, therefore, will be hard for enemy radar to detect,” said Saraswat. Prahar’s range is comparable to the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System used by the US Army, but it is considered to be accurate than ATacMS. 

Prahar is expected to further validateIndia’s Cold Start military doctrine, which involves quick, multiple and simultaneous invasions by units which are less than corps strength. A corps usually has 20,000 to 45,000 troops. The small units are designed to invade Pakistani territory well before thePakistanarmy can reach the border and take defensive positions. Rather than seeking to deliver a catastrophic blow toPakistan, Cold Start would make shallow territorial gains before the big powers or the United Nations can intervene. 

The targets of Cold Start strikes would be military assets such as tank columns, artillery regiments, command-control and communication centres, rather than civilians, cities or towns. The goal would be to push armoured divisions intoPakistanin 72 hours. The armoured divisions will be backed by Prahar, which will take out Hatf batteries and its command-control centres.

Prahar is likely to be deployed alongside or behind tank columns, just like long-range artillery guns and rockets, to ensure that no Hatf battery comes within striking distance of Indian tanks. The Hatf series form the initial component of the Pakistani missile arsenal. Besides the nuclear capability of Hatf-2 and -3, in the conventional mode it was designed as an offensive weapon to pound armoured divisions. 

A Prahar battery has six missiles, which can be deployed against one or multiple targets. Its quick reaction time has been boosted with sophisticated inertial navigation, guidance and electro-mechanical actuation systems. Its onboard computer guarantees an accuracy window of 10m. It can also hit targets up to a height of 36km, making it useful to shoot down incoming Hatfs. 

More importantly, Prahar will give the Indian Army the option of multiple warheads. It can carry air-delivered mines to deny passage to enemy troops and tanks, or it can carry bomblets that disperse over a wide area, killing exposed troops. 

The Cold Start doctrine was developed to cover shortcomings of Operation Parakram, the mobilisation after the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. During the operation, three tank corps took more than three weeks to reach their battle positions on the border. Such delay, it was surmised, would give enough time for the big powers to intervene and restrain military action.

But, the Army will have to wait at least a year before it is equipped with Prahar. Saraswat said a few more tests were needed before production. 

(August, 2011, THE WEEK)

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