When China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) holds a grand military parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on October 1 (expected to be the biggest in China’s history) showcasing some of its most advanced weapons to mark the nation’s 70th anniversary, one of the most eagerly awaited weapon systems to look out for will be the PLA Rocket Forces’ (PLARF) long-range multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL) that care meant for firing guided rockets containing low-yield tactical nuclear warheads (TNW). In fact, such 400mm MBRLs have already been exported by China to both Pakistan and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since 2011.
While in Pakistan this MBRL is known as the Hatf-9/Nasr, the North Korean MBRL’s name has yet to be revealed. The latter was first test-fired on July 31, followed by additional firings on August 2, August 24 and again on September 10, 2019. According to the Republic of Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the rockets were fired from Sondok in South Hamgyong Province into the East Sea at around 6:45am and 7:02am local time. They flew around 380km at an apogee of about 97km, with the maximum speed reaching more than Mach 6.5. Two rockets were fired each time and flew around 220km (on August 2) to 250km (July 31) at an apogee of about 25km (August 2) and 30km (July 31), with the maximum speed being more than Mach 6.9 for the August 2 test-firing.
Exports of such long-range MBRLs have so far been conducted by both the China Aerospace Science & Technology Corp (CASC), also known as the 4th Academy; and the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp (CASIC). The production authority has been the Chengdu-based Sichuan Aerospace Industry Corp (SCAIC), also known as Base 062.
The maiden test-firing of the Hatf-9/Nasr took place on April 19, 2011, while a salvo-firing of all four rockets took place on October 5, 2013, following which formal service-induction with the Pakistan Army took place. Each rocket weighs 1,200kg and contains a 400kg warhead-section. Contrary to its declared range of 60km, the rocket is estimated to travel as far as 380km. The conventionally-armed variants of this MBRL are known as the WS-2 or WeiShi-2 (Guardian-2) and WS-3, with the former being exported to Morocco and Sudan by China National Precision Machinery Corp (CPMIEC).
Soon after May 1998, the chances of an all-out conventional war breaking out between declared nuclear weapons-armed states like India and Pakistan across the 2,175km-long International Boundary (IB) became nil, and since mid-1999 (following OP Vijay and OP Safed Sagar) there have been greater prospects of limited but high-intensity wars being fought along both the Line of Control (LoC) and the that part of the IB that Pakistan refers to as the Working Boundary (WB). India’s Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) has 734km of LoC running through Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions from Kargil to Malu (Akhnoor) in Jammu district, while it has 190km of IB from Malu to the Punjab belt running through Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.
The WB, spanning 202km and including the Chicken’s Neck area, lies in Jammu Division between Boundary Pillar 19 and Sangam i.e. between Jammu and Sialkot), which was part of the erstwhile princely state of J & K. It is this stretch that Pakistan refers to it as the WB, since it maintains that the border agreement (the so-called standstill agreement) was inked between the princely state of J & K and Pakistan, and not between India and Pakistan. Given the fact that India maintains a near-foolproof anti-infiltration grid along the LoC, Pakistan has since mid-2013 focussed its terrorist infiltration efforts (via underground tunnels dug throughout the Chicken’s Neck area) along the WB.
Chicken’s Neck is the name given to the territory lying between the two branches of the River Chenab and it is a dagger-shaped salient in J & K that allows the PA an easy access to the bridge at Akhnoor in Jammu, as well as to the Chhamb-Jaurian sector. Measuring about 170 sq km, it is bound by the River Chenab in the west, and by the River Chandra Bhaga, or Ghag Nala in the east. Ferries in Saidpur, Gondal, Majwal and Gangwal areas connect it with the Sialkot sector. Being an open area in the plains, it is excellent for the conduct of swift, offensive manoeuvre warfare by the Indian Army. However, for Pakistan, this area is indefensible by conventional means, as it is surrounded by India from three sides and back in December 1971, was captured by India within a 48-hour period. Consequently, if the IA were to opt for a high-tempo but limited land campaign (under its Cold Start doctrine), with the objective being a piece of Pakistani real-estate stretching all the way out Chhamb, then the only available option for the PA is to exercise its right to self-defence by using TNWs against invading IA formations within the Chicken’s Neck salient, i.e. inside sovereign Pakistani territory.
It is for this reason that the PA between 2012 and 2015 constructed a purpose-built cantonment at Pasrur (southeast of Sialkot) for housing its 18 Hatf-9/Nasr multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL), each of which can salvo-fire four 400mm rockets. The rocket is 7.5 metres in length, can carry a TNW with a yield of 3 Kilotons out to a distance of up to 150km, and has a 300-metre circular error probable.
In such a scenario, where India will find herself extremely hard-put to justify a second-strike retaliation with nuclear weapons, the only available option then—in order to retain moral ascendancy—will be to resort to a doctrine of pre-emptive but conventional first-strike against the PA’s stockpile of deployed TNWs both at Pasrur and within the Chicken’s Neck area.