Pakistan’s Force Multipliers (Part 4): Asymmetrical Munitions?
April 16, 2024
An illustration of the Boeing-Saab Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB). Photo credit: Saab

Pakistan’s Force Multipliers (Part 4): Asymmetrical Munitions?

This is a continuation of Quwa’s series on Pakistan’s pursuit of force multiplier assets. Part one provided a context of the issue, especially in light of Pakistan’s economic constraints. Part two examined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s various stand-off range weapons. In part three, we had offered an overview of the armed forces’ cruise missile programs. This article is a continuation of sorts of part two and part three in that it will continue to focus on munitions, but from the angle of what Pakistan is not pursuing, though it feasibly could should it decide otherwise.

Looking back at the previous parts of this series, it was clear that Pakistan’s ability to deploy stand-off range munitions and cruise missiles was, in large part, tied to the availability of its delivery platforms. But while these platforms, such as combat aircraft, are valuable, they are not perfect. Even an efficient and cost-optimal design will not maintain a 100% availability rate, and in the time of war – i.e. when a country’s ability to source spare parts and manage the human condition (e.g. fatigue) are stressed to new limits – a high rate must never be taken for granted.

In light of this reality, it is interesting to note that Pakistan has not (at least openly) pursued more land-based conventional strike assets. Yes, the Army does have the Hatf IX Nasr tactical ballistic missile system and Hatf VII Babur land-attack cruise missile (LACM). However, neither are meant for purely conventional use. Rather, the Nasr and Babur are the core of Pakistan’s “tactical nuclear weapons” program. In other words, Pakistan does not possess land-based precision-guided munitions for conventional mission roles.

Despite that, the concept itself is not novel. The Lockheed Martin MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) was essentially the first of this kind of system to be deployed in live combat. In recent years, Israel has also made tangible strides in the area through the development of the Long Range Attack (LORA) platform. Developed and produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the LORA is at heart a rocket-powered ballistic missile. It carries a fairly heavy warhead (570kg) and it is capable of a maximum range of 300km. The LORA’s guidance suite is comprised of a satellite-aided inertial navigation system (INS), which imbues it with a circular error probable (CEP) of approximately 10 metres. In effect, the LORA is a ground-based precision-guided munition (PGM).

The LORA’s launch system is comprised of a four-cell canister, which can be deployed on land using an 8×8 truck as well as a surface ship. In all likelihood, IAI used an existing (i.e. relatively scaled or widely adopted) rocket design to develop the LORA, so as to control its cost. In fact, IAI’s recently revealed SkySniper – an air-launched ballistic missile – seems to be a lightweight derivative of the LORA, though this is merely analysis and not a verified fact. In any case, the cost is the central consideration, and with that, the user could be capable of fielding a relatively large number of these PGMs.

Interestingly, IAI is not the only one working to develop land-based PGMs. For example, Boeing partnered with Saab to develop the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB). It is essentially an SDB paired with a rocket motor. While the GLSDB does not possess the same payload or range as the LORA, it is still useful enough to target sensitive installations (e.g. radars) up to 150km away. The principal aim of the SDB is to minimize collateral damage as well as be deployable from multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS). Its compact design is integral to its ease of mobility.

One may point to the Ghaznavi short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) as an analogous solution, it is essential to understand that the LORA and its contemporaries are much lighter, whilst retaining comparable range and warhead loads. In a sense, an LORA-like PGM could serve as a replacement for Pakistan’s various older SRBM designs. However, the actual value addition would be the possession of a conventional stand-off range weapon that can be produced and deployed in very large numbers, enabling the Pakistan Army to engage in long-range precision-guided strikes (including saturation strikes).

If particularly creative, Pakistan could also – in wartime – bolt PGM launch canisters aboard its fast-attack crafts (FAC) and other surface combatants. Furthermore, if the PGM’s rocket and guidance suite can be acquired or produced cheaply enough, the PAF could potentially consider its own SkySniper-like solution.

This ground-based PGM could be used in concert with the PAF’s own stand-off range strikes, enabling the Pakistani military to engage in relatively wide-reaching and heavy strikes in quick succession. It would be surprising if China is not in possession of the requisite single-stage rocket technology to make this possible, though, given the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)-compliant nature, it should not be the most difficult area of technology to acquire from the market.