Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Pakistan Tests Indigenous Fatah-1 Guided MLRS

On 07 January 2021, Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced that the Pakistan Army test-fired an indigenously developed multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). Designated the Fatah-1, the ISPR said the guided MLRS can deliver a conventional warhead up to a range of 140 km.

Adding to Pakistan’s rocket artillery inventory, the Fatah-1 joins the A-100, Nasr, and Yarmouk-series. Like the Fatah-1, Pakistan manufactures the A-100, Nasr, and Yarmouk domestically.

But in contrast to its other rockets, Pakistan is positioning the Fatah-1 as an offensively oriented weapon. The ISPR says the Fatah-1 gives Pakistan the ability to precisely engage targets “deep in enemy territory.”

Background on the Fatah-1

The Fatah-1 seems to be one of two MLRS the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) referenced in its annual yearbook in 2015-2016. [1] These were a base MLRS and an “extended-range” MLRS.

In 2019, the ISPR revealed the A-100 (which has a range of over 100 km) as an “indigenous” rocket. If the A-100 is the base MLRS, the 140-km Fatah-1 could be the “extended-range” MLRS design.

There is no confirmed connection between the A-100 and Fatah-1. However, Pakistan apparently localized the A-100, so it would make sense for it to develop the Fatah-1 as a subvariant. If the Fatah-1 is a variant of the A-100, then it could share the same caliber (300 mm) and warhead weight (reportedly 235 kg).

However, this apparent link is only speculation. The Fatah-1 could also be distinct design and, as a result, be a larger rocket design. For reference, the Chinese Weishi or WS-series of rockets have spun out into a diverse line-up of missiles of varying calibres, ranges, and applications.

The ISPR’s mention of “precision target engagement” indicates that Pakistan configured the Fatah-1 with a guidance system. It could be a GPS/INS (or BeiDou/INS)-based suite. This enables Pakistan to feed Fatah-1 missiles with location data of predetermined targets.

Thus, Pakistan could use the Fatah-1 as a long-range strike weapon, and potentially deploy it combination with precision-guided bombs (PGB), land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), and glide-munitions.

How Pakistan May Deploy the Fatah-1

Past footage of Pakistan’s artillery deployments show that it is using the SLC-2 counter-battery radar with the A-100E (which it was using before announcing a locally built variant). However, the range potential of the Fatah-1 exceeds the reported detection range of the SLC-2.

Thus, as a counter-artillery system, Pakistan will not use the Fatah-1 to its full range. For counter-artillery functions, Pakistan can continue using the A-100, Yarmouk, and guided artillery shells.

The Fatah-1’s intended purpose is likely to support long-range strikes, especially against fixed targets like radars, missile sites, and bases, among others. In fact, with a potential warhead weight of 150-200 kg, the Fatah-1 could function as a ground-launched stand-off range weapon (SOW).

With the Fatah-1, Pakistan may be laying the groundwork for a land-based targeted strike capability it can use to deprecate broader enemy capabilities, such as air defence systems.

To maximize the Fatah-1’s usability – or potential – as a strike asset, the Pakistan Army will need to expand its ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance) capabilities. The Army already has a complete view of Pakistan’s air picture.[2] However, its situational awareness of ground targets, and its ability to identify and engage targets at long-range, may still be relatively limited.

The types of ISTAR assets the Army would need depend on the specific operational effects it is looking to achieve with the Fatah-1. So, for example, if the Army will use the Fatah-1 for targeting air defence sites, it will need to improve its signal intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities to detect radar activity.

For engaging mobile assets (such as missile launchers and radar vehicles), the Army would also need long-range ground monitoring and targeting capabilities. This is essential if the Army wants to attack more than fixed, predetermined targets. Pakistan can acquire this capability in two ways: dedicated ISTAR aircraft or drones equipped with electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) equipment.

The more affordable and lower risk approach would be acquiring EO/IR and SAR-equipped drones. In fact, the Army can look to configure Pakistan Aeronautical Complex’s (PAC) upcoming medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone for the ISTAR role. The ISTAR drones can also support armed drone operations.

The benefit of using drones is that they can absorb losses, so attrition is not a concern. This frees the Army to deploy these aircraft aggressively (e.g., in high-risk areas to locate and track targets). However, PAC’s MALE drone would require runway operations. This is not an issue for wider strike operations (e.g., against fixed installations or air defence sites), but would limit mobile tactical operations.

If the Army intends to use the Fatah-1 in an artillery role, it will need a jet-powered drone it could launch and recover from any location. China’s FX500, for example, can launch from a ground vehicle. It carries a 50 kg payload that can support an EO/IR turret and/or SAR. It has an endurance of two hours.

Given the investment Pakistan is allocating to artillery procurement, an ISTAR drone for artillery support is a plausible, if not likely, outcome. The bigger question is whether Pakistan would acquire such a drone off-the-shelf, or develop it indigenously using existing technologies, such as PAC’s target drone. Given the effectiveness of drone operations in conventional operations, the Pakistan Army will likely acquire these aircraft types for various roles in the coming years.

The other approach is acquiring a manned ISTAR aircraft. Pakistan could acquire such systems by fitting a turboprop or business/executive jet with an EO/IR turret, SAR, and combat management system (CMS) with consoles. It would function like an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, but for managing targets on the ground instead of the air or sea. However, it is unclear if the Army would acquire dedicated assets of its own; the PAF could provide this capability through its AEW&Cs.

The induction of the Fatah-1 represents more than just a new rocket, but the Army’s need to rework itself into a network-enabled force. To get the most utility out of its artillery rockets, the Army would need data-link protocols, drones, long-range sensors, and other high-tech assets.

In some areas, the Army is already shifting into a more technology-centered force. The newly purchased VT4 main battle tank (MBT), for example, is a network-enabled system. Likewise, the Army configured its T129 attack helicopters with electronic countermeasure (ECM) suites. The application is limited relatively few units, but it will spread through the Army over time, thus transforming it eventually.

Wider Development Implications

The Fatah-1 could be a sign of indigenous rocket development. Interestingly, the Pakistan Navy (PN) also commissioned the development of its own anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), i.e., the P282. Though there is no confirmed relationship between the two programs, Pakistan is investing in its rocket technology.

With its push to add long-range strike capabilities, the Pakistan Army may be working towards acquiring a new tactical ballistic missile (TBM). There are several reasons why Pakistan could seek a new TBM. First, it can incorporate the ‘counter-ballistic missile defence (BMD)’ elements from the Nasr-series to longer-ranged missiles, such as terminal-stage maneuverability. Second, such TBMs (alongside ground-launched cruise missiles) would provide the Army with potent long-range strike capabilities.

[1] Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) Yearbook 2015-2016 Part III. Government of Pakistan. p.14-15

[2]Alan Warnes. “PAF’s Eagle-eyed view.” Asian Military Review. 29 November 2018. URL: https://asianmilitaryreview.com/2018/11/pafs-eagle-eyed-view/

 

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment

0.0/5