The Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) Conundrum
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 20 Oct , 2016


The Indian Army needs to be complimented for undertaking precise surgical strikes at numerous locations across the Line of Control (LoC) on the night of 28 and 29 September. Though Pakistan has denied the event and gone to the extent of taking press correspondents to the LoC to state that nothing had occurred, radio leaks from Pakistan prove otherwise. The operations were executed with surprise and numerous Pakistani militants were killed. Pakistan is awakening its sleeper cells that are carrying out sporadic attacks; there was an attack in Pampore which commenced on 10 October and the terrorists held out for three days despite heavy firing. While India is doing its best to restrain further escalation, the terrorists under guidance from Pakistan are giving no respite. There have been six attacks in 27 days commencing from 18 September. Further there are intermittent Cease-Fire violations across the LoC which are being responded without escalation. It is a matter of patience how long such a situation can continue with India determined to break the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan. Diplomatically, this has not produced results, therefore the military option to destroy these camps by firepower, Special Forces and manoeuvre need to be considered. What would be the reaction from Pakistan? Will they use Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW)?

Pakistan’s TNW

Post Uri the Pakistani Defence Minister threatened to use nuclear weapons if issues went out of control. It is essential we understand Nasr – the TNW that Pakistan possesses. Nasr is stated to have a range of 60 Km and underwent its first flight test on 19 April 2011. The launch system is similar to the artillery rocket system. It is believed to be derived from the Ws-2 Weishi Rockets system developed by China’s Sichuan Aerospace Corporation. Four missiles can be carried on the Chinese-origin Transport Erector Launcher. The warhead section has been estimated to have a cylindrical section 361 mm in diameter, 940 mm long with a conical portion that is 660 mm long. The first question is whether the warhead has been miniaturised successfully for the Nasr. There is no scientific proof that the same has been completed. Accordingly, the weapon remains cold tested which is not certain to function. The next issue pertains to its deployment. As the range is extremely limited, the weapon will perforce have to be deployed possibly about 20 km from the Line of Control (LoC) or the International Boundary (IB). This has its own problems as the usage becomes decentralised.


Presuming that the yield is sub kiloton it is pertinent to evaluate where the TNW will be used. In the mountainous region it will have no impact; in the plains the Army dominated by Punjabi Generals would not like to use it as it would leave scars in their own heartland. The only area which is suitable is the desert region opposite Rajasthan. Let us assume that our mechanised formations are launched in this region.There would be a minimum inescapable requirement of 436 TNWs to stop an Armoured Division. Currently Pakistan is possibly holding 120 nuclear warheads. Out of these let us assume about 30 are TNWs. If about four TNWs are used against a mechanised formation, then it would at best produce 20 fatal casualties. Many former dignitaries from both India and Pakistan have stated that this would lead to a holocaust which destroys Pakistan and possibly a few targets in India. Pakistani Generals are good planners but lack the audacity to execute and would never play this event which would go out of their control. They would like to continue with asymmetric steps preventing escalation. A Conundrum is thus created which Pakistan believes would deter India from launching conventional strikes into Pakistani territory.

India’s Response

Much has been written about India’s response of full scale nuclear attack against Pakistan. Such a decision would be taken by the Nuclear Command Authority which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Keeping decision taken by this supreme body, the Indian Armed Forces must take alternative measures to counter this threat. It is to the credit of our country that we are already planning for Ballistic Missile Defence to counter Ballistic Missiles and the Russian S 400 to counter all types of aircraft, drones, ballistic missiles and Cruise Missiles.

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It is pertinent to note that none of these systems cater for detecting and engagement of Nasr which is Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Missile with a range of 60 km. This is a single staged solid rocket and possibly could be engaged effectively by the Iron Dome or a similar system. There is a need for our scientific establishment to examine the details and co develop   a weapon system to counter the Pakistani TNW.

The Pakistanis have clearly stated that they would use Nasr in case India launches a pro active conventional attack. This is viewed against possible ambivalence on the part of India to retaliate with nuclear weapons on being attacked with Nasr by Pakistan. In such a situation a counter to Nasr is essential to provide flexibility to our operational commanders. Countering Artillery shells and rockets is a task of the Indian Army. We must work towards this aspect to enable us to launch conventional operations without any hesitation.


Nasr remains a cold tested weapon which has a high risk of mal function if ever used. It is doubtful whether the warhead has been miniaturised. On our part usage of nuclear weapons would be appropriately retaliated. In the mean time steps must be taken to counter rockets being fired against India. The TNW in its current configuration is a rocket and must be destroyed prior to launch or in flight. Weapons like Iron Dome may be co developed for tackling this threat from Pakistan.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen PK Chakravorty

former Additional Director General Artillery.

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