India’s acquisition of the Patriot missiles system can jeopardise the existing nuclear deterrence in South Asia by tilting the strategic balance in favour of New Delhi, diplomatic observers in Washington said.
A US defence team began briefing Indian officials in New Delhi on Monday on the Patriots. In Washington’s diplomatic circles the visit is seen as a prelude to the sale of the advanced capability anti-ballistic missiles to India which can shoot down any of the Pakistani nuclear missiles.
New Delhi made its first request to the US for this defence system in November 2002 and now the Pentagon has decided to begin the sale process in what the diplomatic circles believe would bring a virtual end to the Pakistani nuclear deterrence and tilt the power balance in India’s favour, despite Pakistan’s nuclear capability.
The neutral strategists note with disbelief that President Musharraf’s closest ally and friend in the war against terror, President Bush, could be doing such a devastating thing to Pakistan. “If India gets the Patriot anti-missile defence system, where do we go, because it would be almost impossible to penetrate with the indigenous Ghauris and Hataf missiles that we have,” one analyst said.
The US team led by Edward Ross of the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), will present a technical brief to the Indian ministries of External Affairs and Defence. Ross is second in command to General Koffler at the DSCA in the Pentagon. Indian media reports say the Pentagon team will also interact with officers of the Indian armed forces and the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) during their stay in New Delhi.
The Bush administration gave clearance for a classified technical presentation of PAC-2 system as part of the Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) agreement signed between India and the US last year. Surprisingly Pakistan has not yet raised any hue and cry in Washington about this escalation of the arms race in the sub-continent
The first indication that Washington was willing to share technical data came after Indian Ambassador to US, Ronnen Sen, flew to New Delhi last November to discuss the missile defence issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. It was then that the government gave clearance to Sen to proceed further.
While the Indian defence establishment is keen to have a look at the PAC-2 system, it has its eyes on the future because this opens the way to PAC-3, the latest upgrade of the anti-missile system developed by US defence majors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
PAC-2 is a long-range, all altitude and all weather air defence system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft. The range of the missile is 70 km and it can climb to an altitude greater than 24 km. The minimum flight time - time needed to arm a missile - is less than three seconds and maximum flight time is just three-and-half minutes.
Patriots were first put to use by the Israelis in the first Gulf War when Iraqi missiles fired at Israel were intercepted during flight and destroyed. Ever since much advanced versions have been developed. Till date, Washington has shared this technology, updated in 1991, with key allies, including Israel, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.
PAC-3 was seen in US military operation in Iraq and has a kill rate of more than 95 per cent. Neither China nor Pakistan have this type of anti-ballistic missile capability and the geo-strategic location of Pakistani missiles makes the Patriots more effective as any Pakistani missile could be intercepted in the air while in its own air space much before it could reach any major Indian city.
Pakistan defence managers have been claiming over the last few years that a level of deterrence had been achieved with the development of nuclear-capable long and short-range missiles and it was this deterrence which prevented India and Pakistan from going to war during the 8-month long armed stand off of troops during the Vajpayee Government.
They concede that lack of spare parts and non-supply of new aircraft had left the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) almost crippled with just a few F-16 fighters after most of them were cannibalized. The US has consistently refused to consider Pakistani request for new F-16 fighters, although Pakistan has been declared a Non-NATO ally and military sales have resumed to Islamabad.
These sales have so far been all on US terms and the latest goods in the pipeline worth $1.2 billion are basically 8 P-3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft which, many experts believe, Pakistan hardly needs in preference to strike capability F-16s or equivalent aircraft.
Surprisingly within India there is a strong section of defence experts who do not want to acquire the Patriot Missile System from the US.
“There are disarmament fundamentalists who object to missile defence on the basis of obsolete Kissingerian arguments that missile defence will unleash an arms race. There are self-reliance fundamentalists who assert that India can develop its own missile defence technology and therefore does not need any US inputs.
Thirdly, there are still veteran warriors who cannot forget the Enterprise mission of 1971 and so called ‘continuing’ US support to Pakistan. K Subramanyam says, “If we act on our own ancient wisdom, in this globalizing and post-Cold War world, mindful of our own national interest and security, we should exploit every opportunity to augment them.”
“India particularly needs missile defence because we have adopted a ‘’no-first-use’’ doctrine in respect of nuclear weapons. Therefore, a missile defence for our national decision-making centre and some part of our retaliatory forces would make our ‘’no-first-use’’ posture more credible. It would enhance the uncertainties of our potential adversary and act as a disincentive to his ready resort to nuclear weapons.”
Secondly, he wrote: “Pakistan is not in a position to engage in such an arms race without technological inputs from countries like China and North Korea and large-scale financial help from Saudi Arabia. In the present international strategic environment, the probability of these developments taking place is not high.”