Pakistan’s Force Multipliers (Part 3): Cruise Missiles & Sub-Munitions
May 25, 2022

Pakistan’s Force Multipliers (Part 3): Cruise Missiles & Sub-Munitions

This is part three of Quwa’s discussion on Pakistan’s pursuit of force multiplier assets. Part one offered an overview of the – primarily economic – limitations preventing Pakistan from maintaining parity with India in terms of complete system acquisitions (e.g. top-tier multi-role fighter aircraft). Part two began delving into the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s force multiplier acquisitions, starting first with its stand-off range air-to-surface munitions inventory, mainly glide bombs. Part three will continue with this discussion (i.e. of the PAF’s stand-off range weapons program), except with a focus on cruise missiles.

Stand-off range weapons (SOW) form the main offensive element of the PAF’s force multiplier assets. But while the aim of physically destroying a target is obvious, the method or means by which this is done will vary on the weapon and its purpose. While glide bomb kits, such as the GIDS Range Extension Kit, convert general purpose bombs (GPB) –  i.e. freefalling “dumb bombs” – into relatively long-range precision-strike assets, these precision-guided bombs (PGB) are still on the lower-end of the overall range spectrum. The range of these PGBs will also be affected by the altitude from which they are launched; the lower the drop altitude, the lower the range.

The Rang Extension Kit (REK) for Mk80-series general purpose bombs (GPB). The REK is produced in Pakistan by Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS).

The Range Extension Kit (REK) for Mk80-series general purpose bombs (GPB). The REK is produced in Pakistan by Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS).

For long-range strikes, cruise missiles come into play. The Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) is the flagship cruise missile design in use with the PAF. However, it seems that it is currently earmarked as a mainly strategic – i.e. nuclear-use – weapon. The Ra’ad is powered by a micro-turbojet (or turbofan), and is capable of reaching a stated range of 350km.

Like the Babur cruise missile, the Ra’ad’s guidance system is likely comprised of an inertial navigation system (INS), terrain contour matching (TERCOM), and digital scene matching and area co-relation (DSMAC). For a quick reference into each of the guidance systems and their value, you may refer to this article. Combined, these elements enable the Ra’ad to fly at very low altitude – even in relatively close proximity to terrain – in order to reach its target. The small size of the cruise missile is coupled with a low radar cross-section (RCS) airframe design, shaping it with a low-detectable/observable profile.

In effect, the Ra’ad is meant to emulate the design and mission profile of the MBDA SCALP and AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Ground Standoff Missile (JASSM). However, it is not known if the PAF ever intends to use the Ra’ad – or ALCMs generally – in the conventional role. While the rationale of not doing so is valid in some respects (i.e. the availability of glide bombs), the technology surrounding ALCM development in general is positioning ALCM as increasingly interesting conventional tools.

Air Weapons Complex (AWC) Ra'ad air launched cruise missile. Photo credit: ISPR.

Air Weapons Complex (AWC) Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile. Photo credit: ISPR.

First, one could continue investing in the area of RCS reduction and range extension (via lighter and longer-range propulsion). A valuable target – such as a long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system’s multi-function radar – would generally be away from harm’s way, i.e. too far from the range of a glide-bomb. Moreover, such high value assets may also be protected by short-range air defence (SHORAD) assets in the form of point-defence missile systems (PDMS), among other active measures. Instead of deploying manned fighter aircraft to take on the task, one could start by using long-range low-observable ALCMs.

Second, ALCMs need not be limited to ferrying miniaturized nuclear or heavy-explosive (HE) conventional warheads. For example, one could configure ALCMs to house precision-guided sub-munitions, which will enable a single ALCM to potentially attack multiple targets, especially over an area. Consider the Textron CBU-105 as an example of what could be emulated: The CBU-105 as a whole is guided like any other PGB – i.e. via INS/GPS. Each CBU-105 carries 10 BLU-108 sub-munition warheads, which in turn contains four laser and infrared-guided bomblets called “Skeets.” Once launched, each Skeet will deploy a parachute and begin searching for targets; once identified, the Skeets’ penetrating warhead will be explosively-propelled to its target. Each CBU-105 – weighing 450kg – can carry 40 Skeets. Tyler Rogoway offered an excellent overview of the process in one of his articles on Foxtrot Alpha.

Imagine the prospect of Pakistan a munitions system similar to the CBU-105. The sub-munitions warhead and dispenser system could theoretically be placed within the Ra’ad or a future version of the Ra’ad. With this configuration, the PAF could augment the low-RCS and range advantages of the Ra’ad with the ability to saturate an area with guided strikes (via the sub-munitions dispenser). The PAF could use this system to effectively target and engage high-value areas such as naval shipyards, dockyards, industrial complexes, air fields and air defence sites. Tyler Rogoway stated that the CBU-105’s Skeets can cover an area of 450 metres by 150 metres. In parallel, a shorter range gliding variant of the CBU-105-like system could be used to help halt intruding enemy armour columns, which alone could be seen as conventional deterrence.

In as far as guided sub-munitions are concerned, Pakistan may indeed be on track to procuring something akin to the CBU-105. The first indication could be traced back to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Turkey in February 2008; in it, Turkey and Pakistan agreed to cooperate on the development of “turbojet motors”, “stealth technology”, and “precision-guided bomblets.”[1] These are clear signs that the two countries committed to collaborate on ALCM technology, and in recent years Turkey has revealed its SOM-line of cruise missiles. It would be very interesting if a “Ra’ad II” is on the horizon.

If not, Pakistan could have an option in China, at least in terms of having a gliding sub-munitions dispenser. The NORINCO GB-6 is modelled on the 500kg Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), which is designed to ferry BLU-108 sub-munitions dispensers. The missing link in this case is a BLU-108-like guided kit with smaller guided bomblets. This ought to be an area of development for the PAF, and based on the 2008 MoU with Turkey, it very well may be (especially considering India is a CBU-105 buyer). Even without a Ra’ad II ALCM acting as a long-range sub-munitions ferry, a GB-6 housing guided sub-munitions would be a valuable gain, especially in terms of close air support (CAS). The GB-6 is also being marketed as a munition for the JF-17.


NORINCO GB-6 Standoff Weapon


Pakistan cannot indigenize every weapon system in its arsenal, but it can localize some, especially the munitions that are rapidly moved and depleted in a conflict. For example, in terms of cruise missiles, it would be prudent to bring the manufacturing of micro turbojets in-house. Yes, it is expensive, but given that Pakistan’s cruise missile needs extend beyond the needs of the PAF – i.e. the Army and Navy also use cruise missiles. In other words, this expensive technology can be scaled across a large number of units, providing economies of scale and controlling costs.

[1] Lale Sariibrahimoglu. “Pakistan agrees to further defence co-operation with Turkey.” Jane’s Defence Weekly. February 2008.