Sale of Chinese Advanced Tracking System to Pakistan: Impact and Implications

According to a statement by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) reported in the South China Morning Post (SCPM) on 22 March 18, China has provided Pakistan a highly advanced Optical Tracking and Measurement System which will be a boon to its missile programmei.

This article attempts to examine, the impact and implication of the above sale with reference to India.

Factual Details

Broad System constituents

The highly sophisticated tracking system is normally referred to as Electro Optical Tracking System (EOTS). This system is capable of taking precision images of a missile trajectory from launch till the end. The image trail which is on a continuous thread, is of extremely high resolution and lends itself to presentation on the digital media in a variety of picture formats, in real time. Also, since the entire thread is digitally recorded the same is preserved for review at a later time by analysts and provides such common features as rewind, fast forward, pause, zoom in/out and more.

To be able to do the above tasks, the EOTS, reportedly consists of a centralised computer controlled system driving electro-optical trackers that follow the missile in flight. This kernel is supported by powerful devices like the day and night high speed high resolution cameras, infra-red detectors, laser range finders, gyros and supporting electronics. A unique feature of this system is, that the optical trackers are fed by four different telescope units which is more than the norm (normally an EOTS has one or two telescopes). In order to see the system in its relevant context, a word about ballistic missiles is essential.

Ballistic Missile Dynamics

A typical long range ballistic missile has certain identifiable stages in its trajectory. The first is the launch stage. It is a stage where the missile is lifted from its position of rest and propelled to a high speed in a very short time. The propellant unit (driving and accelerating component) providing the initial boost is called booster motor (engine) and the phase is called boost phase. In this phase, the missile is propelled with tremendous acceleration to a high velocity and a safe altitude (the peak velocity of the entire trajectory is achieved in the boost phase (also called powered phase). At a pre-designated speed and altitude, when the booster motor has spent itself, it is normally detached from the main missile and the missile completes its balance trajectory in a ballistic mode with the momentum achieved thus far.

In longer range missiles, the boost phase is two stage event, wherein just before the booster motor is exhausted, another propellant unit called a sustainer motor is fired which continues to power and accelerate the missile further, till the missile attains its peak velocity. Boost phase is followed by the post-boost stage (a stage soon after the powered flight of the missile is over). In this phase, any last minute changes to the trajectory, if any, are made, and decoys etc. are released, this phase is followed by the mid-course phase which represents most of the flight path of the missile. The last phase is the terminal phase when the warhead approaches the target. The actual engagement event is referred to as the end gameii.

In longer range missiles, there is another important feature called the re-entry. Long range missiles in their flight path go out of the earth's atmosphere and remain there for most of their post boost and mid-course path, thereby achieving longer ranges due to no air resistance. Close to the terminal phase, these missiles re-enter the atmosphere. Re-entry is a great challenge, as missiles at re-entry face temperatures in the region of thousands of degree celsius due to atmospheric drag and aerodynamic heating (maximum temperatures are estimated at around 3200 Kelvin or about 2900 degrees Ciii). This heat can cause the re-entry vehicle to completely break up and disintegrate and even explode. Special technology tools like structure strengthening, aerodynamic shaping, ablative paints, and more, are used to withstand the re-entry phase.

Also, most of the conventional ballistic missiles normally carry unitary orbitary warhead. However, there is another type of warhead configuration that is referred to as Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). MIRV warhead payload consists of several warheads (conventional or thermonuclear) which as the name suggests, are capable of being aimed independently (each warhead follows an independently programmed trajectory). This aim can either be directed at different targets or at the same target, or a combination of targets. MIRV is a niche technology area and only six countries, namely, USA, UK, Russia, France, Israel and China possess it. iv

Use of Tracking System

With this little brief on ballistic missile dynamics, it can be appreciated that the missile trajectory from the launch to the end game constitutes a complex flow of events unfolding at tremendous speed (several multiplications of the ‘Mach’ value - the speed of sound) and in a short time frame of a few fleeting minutes. To observe measure and analyse these events is a huge technological challenge.

It is obvious that to develop long range missiles, precise measurement and analysis of many such events is a must. Events that get executed in a matter of seconds are to be brought back recreated and played and re-played again and again lending themselves to repeated observation and analysis. EOTS address this challenge. A typical list of such events (though far from comprehensive) may include the following events:-

• The launch event, to include time sequence leading to launch, the performance of the booster motor, the rate and quantum of change in missile speed, acceleration and altitude with respect to time, etc.

• Booster separation: precise time events leading to the act of separation like deployment of control surfaces or panels, readiness of auto pilot, momentum delivered to the missile etc.

• Measurements in the post-boost and mid-course phase in terms of adherence to the predicted flight path, precise moment and act of deployment of decoys.

• Terminal phase, leading to the all important re-entry stage, multiple warheads surviving the aerodynamic stresses and heat of re-entry, the process of arming the warheads (if not completed earlier) and the commencement of their independently programmed trajectories, leading up to the end game.
The EOTS is so deployed as to electronically and optically observe the entire missile trajectory and record it with high resolution and precision. Events and acts as are desired to be analysed by engineers and scientists are then played and re-played with associated statistics to generate the type of inputs required by experts in a host of tasks such as proving the prototypes, checking that a matured system actually behaved as designed or fault diagnostics of failed or sub-optimal events. This is what an ETOS is used for.

Impact and Implications

For analysing the impact and implication of this sale, a peep inside the missile arsenal of India and Pakistan will be required.

The Agni series of Indian long range missiles capable of carrying the conventional as well as nuclear warheads (assessed Indian holding is 110-120 warheadsv) have had a tremendous run in their contribution towards building the Credible Nuclear Deterrence (CND) as enshrined in our nuclear doctrine anchored on the No First Use (NFU) strategy.

The journey started with Agni 1, a technology demonstrator with a range of 700-1250 km and capable of 1000 kg conventional or a nuclear warhead. Rising to the demands of CND, came the Agni II with a range capability of 2000-3500 km. Around this time (1999-2000), dawned the era of smaller yield nuclear weapons that demanded high accuracy of delivery to be effective (accuracy is measured in terms of Circular Error of Probability (CEP). It is defined as the radius of a circle, centred on the mean whose boundary is expected to include the landing points of 50 percent of all the warheadsvi). Answering this demand came Agni III with a range capability of (3500-5000 km) and a CEP of 40 m. This CEP gave Agni III the distinction of being the most accurate Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) in the world in its range and class.

Agni IV with a range of 3600-4000 km followed as a prime version of Agni II, adding strength to CND. It was equipped with a niche technology of Ring Laser Gyro (RLG) for precise measurement of angular rotation. Talking of technology, the game changer missile was Agni V that that was credited with many state-of-the-art features. The most creditable was to achieve a canister configuration for a missile of range 5000-8000 km thus making it road mobile. RLG and Accelerometer for sub-meter CEP, use of maraging steel for superior strength are a few of many other firsts. The latest successful test firing of Agni V was on 18 January, 2018vii.

As we move ahead in time we see on the horizon Agni VI with a promise of new technologies like precision navigation, MIRV capability, sub-meter CEP and more.

Pakistan has also had a very successful run of their surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) in providing delivery means for their conventional as well as nuclear warheads (assessed at 120-130 but of smaller yield and reach than Indiaviii). Starting with Hatf I (a word meaning deadly vengeance) of 80 km range, Pakistan has in its SSM arsenal, Hatf II Abdali (Range 200 km named after 18th Century Afghan conqueror), Hatf III Ghaznavi (range 300 km named after the invader Mohd. Ghaznavi), Hatf IV Shaheen 1 (Range 700 km, Shaheen meaning death), Hatf V Ghauri (Range 1500 km), Hatf VI Shaheen II (Range 2500 km), Hatf VII Babur (range 700 km), Hatf VIII (Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), Range 350 km), Hatf IX Nasr (quick reaction shoot and scoot missile ideal for launching Tactical nuclear Weapons or TNW).

The above details imply that Pakistan’s SSMs are capable of delivering conventional as well as nuclear warheads and have the range and reach to cover the entire Indian landmass and beyond. Following other points are noteworthy:-

• Besides the warheads and delivery means, the other two pillars of strategic capability contributing to CND, namely, the command and control aspects and the field infrastructures, are also reported by the open source to be in place.

• In order to play the nuclear blackmail with India (but keep it below the threshold of attracting punitive nuclear retaliation) and under its garb, conduct nasty acts of terrorism, Pakistan has reportedly developed the lower yield nuclear weapons (TNW) which are capable of being carried accurately by Nasr tactical ballistic missile having multiple tubes for launching several TNWs together (test fired on July 5, 1917) ix.

• While India is still some distance away from MIRV capability, Pakistan seems to be closer to the same. It is reported that Pakistan has been developing the missile called Ababeel (range 2200 km) which is said to be capable of carrying the MIRV warheadx.

In the light of the aforesaid, the sale of advanced Tracking System could have the following impact:-

1. It will greatly help Pakistan in testing and perfecting its ballistic missile arsenal for higher ranges, reaches and accuracies. In this, of particular relevance is Ababeel whose operationalisation may be hastened with the induction of the said tracking system.Talking of Ababeel, the logic of four telescopes in the EOTS under discussion also sits in place considering the requirement of independently tracking, measuring and analysing the MIRV payloads and their independent trajectories.

2. The induction of this capability will give a quantum jump to Pakistan in its capability to test and perfect SSMs in general.

3. It is a step by China to continuously ratchet up the SSM threat to India, This time through its ‘all weather friend’ by opening another window of threat from the western front.

4. In an unprecedented and a rare gesture of first going through with the sale of such a sensitive equipment to a foreign buyer, and secondly, making it public, China has attempted to send a strategic message to India close on the heels of the launch of Agni V (18 January, 2018) .
As regards implications for India, the following is stated:-

1. SSMs do not counter adversary's SSMs, it is the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capability that counters the adversary's ballistic missile threat. In that, it becomes imperative for India to hasten up the operationalisation of its BMD capability in 'Programme AD'.

Following specific actions are required:-

• The BMD system must now move from scientists to users and become a part of Strategic Forces Command (SFC) as deployable fire units at the earliest time frame.

• In order to make the BMD capability ‘deliverable’, there is a need to build robust and survivable infrastructures, fail-proof and survivable regime of codes, and authorisations for weapon delivery, duly supported by several layers of redundant and secure communications.

• Keeping the compulsions of NFU, the survivability of actors post the first strike also needs to be ensured through alternate Command Posts with a chain of hierarchy fully defined and known to the decision makers.

2. Not as mindless rat race, but as a logical build up of capability riding on the wheels of progression of technology, own MIRV capability on board Agni VI must also be pushed to fructification.

End Notes:

i. “China helps Pakistani missile program by providing advanced tracking system – report” at https://www. rt.com/news/news/422052-china-pakistan-missile (accessed on 23 March, 2018).

ii. “Ballistic missile flight phases” at https://www. en.wikipedia.org>wiki>ballistic missile flight phases (Accessed on 23 March, 2018).

iii. “Who holds the altitude record for an airplane?: Depends on the category—and on who was watching” at https://www.airspacemag.com>maximum-temperatutres-on -re-entry (Accessed on 25 March, 2018).

iv. https://www.simplydecoded.com. (Accessed on 25 March, 2018). (cannot access the website)

v. https://www.usanews.com/News 1/2018/03/22/china-provides-advanced-tracking-system-for-pakistan.

(Accessed on 25 March, 2018). (Cannot access the website)

vi. https://www.britannica.com>cep. (Accessed on 25 March, 2018). (need the full reference..link is not correct)

vii. https://www.economictimes.indiatimes.com. india-successfully-test-fire- nuclear-capable-agniv missile. (Accessed on 25 March, 2018). (there are two links given here. Plz ask the author which is the relevant one)

viii. iv ibid

ix. “Pakistan successfully test fires short-range ballistic missile Nasr” at https;//www.indianexpress.com>pakistan-successfully-test-fires-nasr-shot-range-ballistic-missile-nasr, (Accessed on 25 March, 2018).

x. “Does Pakistan’s Ababeel Medium Range Ballistic Missile Really Have MIRV Capability?” at https://www.delhidefencereview.com>does-pakistan's-ababeel-really-have-mikrv-capability? (Accessed on 25 March, 2018).

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)


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