Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) in Current Indo-Pak Environment
Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty


Nuclear weapons have been primarily categorised into Strategic and Non- strategic weapons. Strategic weapons have a longer range and higher yield. Non- strategic nuclear weapons conversely have a smaller range and lower yield.

A Tactical Nuclear Weapon (TNW) as per the Cold War application refers to a non-strategic nuclear weapon which is designed to be used on a battle field in military situations, mostly with own forces in proximity and perhaps even on disputed territory. In contrast, Strategic weapons are used against targets in the enemy’s depth areas. These would include military bases, cities, towns, nuclear power plants, arms industries and other hardened or larger area targets to damage the enemy’s ability to wage war. Like many international terms no agreeable definition exists for the TNW. The United States (US) and the erstwhile Soviet Union had considerable amount of TNWs during the Cold War which commenced after the Second World War and ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991.

TNWs include not only gravity bombs and short range missiles but also artillery shells, land mines, depth charges, torpedoes and rockets which are mated with nuclear war heads. The smallest tactical nuclear weapon was a projectile used with the US 155 mm Artillery Gun. The W 48 155 mm nuclear artillery shell had an explosive yield equivalent to about 72 tons of TNT or .072 kiloton.

Need For TNWs

The need for TNWs is aptly summarised by Kenneth Waltz who states that Americans managed to convince themselves that thousands of strategic warheads and multiple means of delivering them were needed to deter the Soviet Union. He clarifies that if one thinks politically instead of militarily, it becomes apparent that not much is needed to deter. He very clearly asks as to which political leader would run the risk of losing even a city or two and also his position of power in military pursuit of problematic gains. Needless to say, use of nuclear weapons by one power would lead to retaliation which would lead to tremendous loss of human life. Victory in such conflicts is difficult to gauge as loss of life and property would be humongous on both sides. On the other hand a hypothetical example of TNWs by both sides would confine the damage to the battle field, provided there is no escalatory response by either side. It is also important to note what McGeorge Bundy felt was the difference between thought process of political leaders and strategic analysts. This pertains to issues concerning acceptable damage. While analysts would concede loss of a million lives as sane, in a nuclear conflict politicians would consider it a big risk which they would not like to indulge. It is in this context that the need for TNWs is appropriate as it limits the number of casualties. It is a fact that almost 60,000 warheads were produced after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It speaks volumes of the leaders of all nuclear weapon states who have displayed extreme restraint with regard to these weapons.

Are TNWs Actually less tactical and more Strategic?

Though TNWs are of smaller yield, the impact is actually strategic. Late Air Commodore Jasjit Singh has stated that, “Any nuclear weapon of any quality, mode of delivery or yield, used against any type of target, will result in a strategic impact to which the logical response would be the use of nuclear weapons, more often than not on an overwhelming scale”. Therefore even if TNWs are used against a purely military target in a conflict in future, the effect would be strategic.

Viewing the aspect of a heavier retaliation, TNWs suffer from many disadvantages. Prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the US justified their use that this would enable flexible response. This was not correct as it would lead to a second strike strategic response. The disadvantages of TNWs are as stated below:-

  • These are complex weapon systems as they are difficult to manufacture being in the sub-kiloton range. Each nuclear weapon is a nuclear reactor waiting to be triggered. To miniaturise a nuclear reactor is a difficult task and requires precision technology.
  • Maintenance of such war heads is extremely difficult. Storage under field conditions would be extremely difficult.
  • The command and control of TNWs needs to be delegated to a field commander. This exposes the weapon to enemy surveillance devices and can be engaged by air and artillery. Further, there is a risk of these being used prematurely when not authorised. Professor Henry Kissinger, a former Secretary of State, described it as the, “Mad Major Syndrome”.

The disadvantages of the TNW make it a weapon which would have possibly limited use and no deterrence. Countries having these weapons are aware that they are likely to be retaliated with heavy dose of strategic weapons. Accordingly neither do these weapons deter nor do they facilitate usage as it would escalate issues to a level of punitive deterrence.

Pakistan’s TNWs

Pakistan is a country possessing nuclear weapons. Its nuclear programme is Indo-Centric and aimed to deter India from launching aconventional war. It has presumably about 120 nuclear war heads. It has four nuclear reactors enabling processing of plutonium. It has the capability of firing surface-to-surface missiles from land and sea as also air-to-surface missiles. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine follows the ‘first strike’ principle.It believes in deterrence with all its nuclear weapons including the TNW. Pakistan also believes in graduated response and currently claims to have a credible second strike capability. Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, a former Director General of the Strategic Plains Division (SPD), laid down the following red lines which would compel Pakistan to use nuclear weapons:-

  • The first is large part of sensitive Pakistani territory captured by India. This is known as the space threshold for employment of nuclear weapons.
  • The second aspect relates to major echelons of Pakistani war machinery destroyed. This is termed as the military threshold.
  • The third pertains to economic strangulation of Pakistan. This is termed as the economic threshold.
  • The fourth relates to large scale internal destabilisation which becomes the political threshold.
  • Overall, Pakistan would like to pose that it has a low threshold, thereby possibly deter India from launching a conventional attack.

It is essential we understand Nasr, the TNW that Pakistan possesses. Nasr is stated to have a range of 60 Km and has undergone its first flight test on 19 April 2011. The launch system is similar to artillery rocket system. It is believed to be derived from the Ws-2 Weishi Rocket system developed by China’s Sichuan Aerospace Corporation. Four missiles can be carried on the Chinese origin Transport-Erector-Launcher. However, Pakistan has modified it to carry two launchers. The warhead section has been estimated to have a cylindrical section which is 361 mm in diameter, 940 mm long with a conical portion which is 660 mm long.

The first question here 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 the effect where the TNW will be used. In the mountainous region it will have no impact. Accordingly, the entire area of Jammu and Kashmir gets excluded. In the plains, the Army dominated by Punjabi Generals would not like to use TNWs as it would leave scars in their 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 in preventing escalation. A dilemma is thus created which Pakistan believes would deter India from launching conventional strikes into Pakistani territory.

Post the Uri incident, the Pakistani Defence Minister had been constantly threatening India with use of TNW if conventional strikes were launched into Pakistan. The Indian Army needs to be complimented for undertaking precise surgical strikes at multiple 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 has 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. Currently there was an attack in the area of 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. As to how long the situation would continueis a matter of patience.

India seems to be 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 the TNW? They have not used the TNW nor have they ever threatened India after the surgical strike with regard to the use of this weapon. It is proved beyond doubt that cold tested weapons can never be employed in operations. Further, the usage of TNW escalates the situation to the strategic level.

Measures to be taken by India

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 and the Russian S 400 to counter all types of aircraft, drones, ballistic missiles and Cruise Missiles.

It is pertinent to note that none of these systems cater for detection 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 TNWs. 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 for the Indian Army. We must work towards this aspect to enable us to launch conventional operations without any hesitation. It would be interesting to analyse the counter weapons of Israel.

Israeli Systems

Israel has a population of about eight million which is half the population of Mumbai. Therefore she has to win conflicts using high end technologies which can nullify the effect of shells, rockets and missiles. Dedicated research has led to development of three weapon systems. These are the ‘Iron Dome’, ‘David Sling’ and the ‘Arrow’ missile.

The Iron Dome was used by the Israeli Defence Forces in their offensive titled “Pillars of Defence” against the Hamas in November 2012. The system is diagrammatically illustrated below. Broadly there are three components in the system which comprises of the detection and Tracking radar, the Battle Management and Control and finally the Missile firing unit.

The Iron Dome is manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defence System and was developed in 2005 with inductions since 2011. Each missile weighs 90 kg, has a length of 3m and diameter of 160 mm. The interceptor has a proximity fuze and the launch platform comprise of three launchers each carrying 20 interceptors. The system is designed to destroy short range rockets and artillery shells from distances of 4 Km to 70 Km. On 07 April 2011, the system first intercepted a Grad BM-21 rocket fired from Gaza. In 2012 more than 400 rockets were intercepted including the Fajer rocket with a range of 75 km. The Jerusalem Post has reported on 10 March 2012 that the system shot down 90 percent of rockets launched from Gaza. In November 2012 during the Israeli Operation Pillar of Defence Iron Dome again proved its worth and countered Hamas rockets. By late October 2014, the Iron Dome system had intercepted 1200 rockets. On 22 August 2016, the Hamas fired rockets which were again attacked by Iron Dome and the Israeli Air Force. It has recently been reported that Azerbaijan is procuring Iron Dome batteries from Israel.

India has numerous co development projects with Israel particularly with regard to countering aircraft and missiles. Suitable thought must be given by the newly established Army Design Bureau to develop a weapon to counter a missile like Nasr. While the Nuclear Command Authority would deliver a suitable response, it is incumbent on the Indian Army to counter these rockets to ensure they are destroyed prior to reaching the target.


Pakistan has developed cold feet after the surgical strikes launched by India on the night of 28and 29 September 2016. They have never threatened to use the TNW which being a cold tested weapon would mal function if ever used. India on its part must develop counter weapons and use conventional forces appropriately to destroy Pakistan’s terrorist net work.

Published Date: 21st November 2016, Image Source: http://www.indiandefensenews.in

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