India, the MTCR and its impact on Pakistan (Part-2)
February 29, 2024
The Ra'ad Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) was developed by Air Weapons Complex. It has a range of 350km and is capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads.

India, the MTCR and its impact on Pakistan (Part-2)

In part-one, it was discussed how India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) will benefit its numerous procurement and munitions development programs. The MTCR is a body that limits the export of technology that enables munitions (e.g. cruise missiles) and drones to push 500kg beyond 300km. By abiding to the MTCR’s tight export controls, India now has the avenue of fielding long-range cruise missiles and drones with the technology support of other MTCR members, such as the U.S.

From Pakistan’s perspective, the consequences of India joining the MTCR are significant, but they do not necessarily constitute a departure from what Pakistan currently requires in order to fulfill its tactical and strategic requirements. For example, India coming one step closer (albeit by overcoming a huge regulatory hurdle) to acquire the General Atomics Reaper or Avenger does not change Pakistan’s need for very capable anti-air warfare (AAW) systems in the form of effective surveillance systems (e.g. radars), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), and multi-role fighters.

While a potentially tenuous argument, Pakistan’s direct territorial proximity to India and closeness to its neighbour’s critical military and economic assets helps. For example, in strategic terms, Pakistan already possesses the ballistic missiles necessary to envelop India (e.g. the Shaheen III, which has a stated maximum range of 2750km). In the tactical realm, even MTCR-compliant air-to-surface munitions – such as stand-off range glide-bombs – can cover a reasonable chunk of India’s northwest operating theatre (penetrating from 60km to 350km).

Granted, the benefits of stand-off range engagement apply as much to India (if not more if the MTCR is included) as they do for Pakistan. With long-range cruise missiles, India has the option to engage Pakistan from the eastern edges of its Western Front, if not further (in the long-term). India basically benefits from an added layer (in terms of range and its ability to instigate an attack).

The solution for Pakistan would be to extend the range of its own stand-off weapons such that it too can readily operate from the western edges of its Eastern Front. In order to procure cruise missiles with ranges of over 1000km, the MTCR would – theoretically – help immensely (the Babur cruise missile has a range of 700km). In this ideal scenario, Pakistan could acquire micro turbojet and turbofans that will enable it to power land attack cruise missiles with not only sufficient range, but heftier payloads. This is key for high-explosive conventional warheads (for reinforced targets and infrastructure) and guided sub-munitions dispensers (which one could use to attack air fields or naval installations). In fact, guided sub-munitions – especially onboard an extended range Ra’ad ALCM – would amount to a significant coup for Pakistan. Not only could it utilize such a system to induce pressure onto India’s northwest theatre, but it could even use them in a tactical environment as a means to help curb an enemy land offensive involving heavy armour. Credible capabilities on this end could serve as a measure of conventional deterrence.

But this is theory. Pakistan itself seems to understand that joining the MTCR is prone to risk, especially in the form of the U.S. using the MTCR as a means to shape Pakistan’s strategic programs. Moreover, there is nothing to stop Pakistan from incurring the same vendor refusals it sees today, i.e. India using larger contracts and offers as a means to dissuade European suppliers from selling to Pakistan. In this case, the added benefits of joining the MTCR will be marginal, Pakistan will need to continue working on elevating its domestic research and development capacities, especially in sensitive and complex areas such as cruise missile propulsion (i.e. micro turbojets/turbofans).

The need to develop the capacity to generate such solutions was always present, but India’s entry into the MTCR does add urgency. Pakistan is not a paragon of technological development, but in the area of stand-off weapon development, it would be very wise to channel its limited resources to master the field. Yes, partnerships with China will be critical, but given that China itself is trying to commit towards MTCR export guidelines (which interestingly could be addressed if both China and Pakistan were cleared to join the MTCR), our analysis cannot include Chinese help for supra-MTCR technology. This will have to be done at home, and while it will be an arduous, lengthy, and costly process, the benefit of having in-house access to this sensitive (and scalable) technology cannot be overstated.

Speaking of China, it does seem that Beijing it is at a crossroads. For example, its CH-5 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a prelude to the advent of true Reaper-like UAVs, i.e. supra-MTCR technology. Countries not abiding by the MTCR – and thus not privy to its benefits – would be very interested in such a system, yet China exporting it would amount to a withdrawal of its commitment to the MTCR’s export guidelines. Such an act could irreparably harm its pending application, but Beijing’s entry would run against the core interests of the U.S. and its regional allies, namely Japan, South Korea and India. An exception for Pakistan could offer China an avenue to relieve the pressure being inducted by India, especially if the incentives to abide by the MTCR are declining. This is speculation territory, but it could be a variable to watch for in the short and medium term, especially as the MTCR’s benefits begin to manifest in India’s programs.