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Pakistan Tests New Fatah-II Surface-to-Surface Missile

On 23 December 2023, the Pakistani military’s media department, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), announced the test firing of a new surface-to-surface missile (SSM) called the “Fatah-II.”

According to the ISPR, the Fatah-II has a range of 400 km and is “equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, sophisticated navigation system and unique flight trajectory.”

The Fatah-II is a new addition to Pakistan’s growing inventory of guided rockets, building upon the Fatah-I multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and Nasr-series of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM).

Though sharing the same core designation of “Fatah,” the Fatah-II does not appear to be a new variant of the Fatah-I. Rather, the ISPR’s visual footage shows that the Fatah-II is based on a different missile platform, not the Fatah-I line of MLRS. In 2023, Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS), the commercial arm representing a number of Pakistan’s state-owned defence contractors, showcased a “Fatah-II” that was an evident evolution of the Fatah-I. This earlier Fatah-II inherited the core design attributes of the Fatah-I, but with an improved range of over 250 km and accuracy of 10 m circular error probe (CEP), compared to the Fatah-I’s range and accuracy of 140 km and 50 m CEP, respectively.

In contrast, this ‘new’ Fatah-II not only offers a far greater range at 400 km, but it also seems to be a larger missile. For example, the Fatah-I used an eight-cell launch system (which the original Fatah-II design would have likely reused), while the new Fatah-II seems to leverage a twin-cell system. Finally, the design of the new Fatah-II also exhibits several key differences, such as the lack of fins on the nosecone, for example.

By giving an ostensibly different missile platform the same core designation of “Fatah,” Pakistan could be moving towards making the “Fatah” a family of guided rockets. Thus, it is possible that the original Fatah-II will be redesignated as a Fatah-I-based missile, like “Fatah-IB,” to represent its direct relationship to the Fatah-I. Overall, Pakistan’s investment in the Fatah series highlights the Pakistan Army’s growing focus to build its land-based stand-off range strike capabilities which, in turn, could reflect a broader military effort to building Pakistan’s conventional deterrence posture.

Unpacking the New Fatah-II

As noted earlier, the revised Fatah-II appears to be a larger missile compared to the original Fatah-II shown by GIDS in 2023. Interestingly, the new Fatah-II’s design seems to bear a resemblance to the CM-400AKG, an air-launched anti-ship rocket used by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) through its JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat aircraft. However, the Fatah-II has a much longer stated range than the CM-400AKG (i.e., 400 km to the latter’s 250-280 km). Thus, the Fatah-II is unlikely to be identical to the CM-400AKG as, being a land-based missile, it would have a shorter range. Even if one accounts for an additional booster stage/rocket, it would, at best, match the CM-400AKG’s range, not surpass it.

If one was to assume a Chinese connection for the Fatah-II, then the closest missile matching its range as well as apparent size and design would be the B611M short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) or, potentially, its BP-12A variant. Like the Fatah-II, the BP-12A has offers a range of 400 km and, similarly, utilizes a two-cell launch cannister system. The Fatah-II bears general resemblance to the B611M and BP-12A, but it still seems to exhibit some differences. For example, the tail fins of the B611M and BP-12A are right at the end of their respective missile’s fuselages; however, the Fatah-II’s tail fins seem to be slightly further away from the rocket motor/exhaust area. Thus, the Fatah-II may be an original missile design.

While one should not discount the possibility of technical help from the Chinese, the Fatah-II simply does not fully match any known Chinese SRBM available for export. Moreover, there are reasons to believe that Pakistan had been working on a new line of conventional ballistic missiles for its own needs.

For example, in 2020, then Pakistan Navy (PN) Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmoud Abbasi, revealed that a new hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) by the name of P282 was in development. It is possible that the work done for the PN ASBM program was re-leveraged to create the Fatah-II for the Army. The PN is planning to deploy the P282 from its Babur-class corvettes and Jinnah-class frigates. Thus, a P282 program is nearing service. Interestingly, the revised Fatah-II also shows that Pakistan has a record of re-designating programs; thus, “P282” may not refer to an ASBM any longer but, instead, a supersonic-cruising anti-ship missile (AShM) similar to the BrahMos. Instead, the ASBM may be given another name.

In any case, there had been an ASBM program in development for the PN and, logically, one could assume that it contributed to the Army’s new SRBM/SSM. The ISPR did not mention whether the Fatah-II can travel at hypersonic speed. However, it stated that the Fatah-II can fly a “unique flight trajectory,” suggesting that the missile is capable of some level of maneuvering. Likewise, the presence of “state-of-the-art avionics” a “sophisticated navigation system” could suggest the use of more than satellite-aided inertial navigation systems (INS), but, potentially, additional measures like terrain contour matching (TERCOM) and/or digital scene matching area correlator (DSMAC), which also equip Pakistan’s cruise missiles.

Pakistan’s New Tactical Ballistic Missile (TBM)?

From a size and range standpoint, the Fatah-II would basically play the role of tactical ballistic missile (TBM) in the Pakistan Army’s conventional rocket arsenal, similar to the American MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), Russian Iskander TBM, or Israeli Long-Range Artillery (LORA) missile, among others. The longer ranges and, in most cases, heavier warhead payloads of TBMs make them effective assets for use against key logistics infrastructure – like bridges – hardened bunkers, and command centers or hubs.

From the Fatah-II TBM to the Fatah-I-series of MLRS, it is clear that the Pakistan Army is building its own land-based, precision stand-off range strike capabilities. The license-produced A-100, the Fatah-I, original Fatah-II, and revised Fatah-II offer ranges of 100 km, 140 km, 250 km, and 400 km, respectively, thus giving the Army a multi-layered precision-strike capability.

Pakistan may potentially extend this capability to the sub-100 km-range level by upgrading its Yarmouk-series of 122 mm MLRS rockets into guided rockets, leveraging laser-guided artillery shells, and/or building satellite-guided velocity-enhanced long-range artillery projectile (V-LAP) shells. These munitions could give the Army the ability to engage in precision strikes at ranges of 20 km to 50 km.

Collectively, these investments indicate a new or revised strategy on the part of the Pakistan Army where artillery – from TBMs to MLRS to guided artillery shells – are to engage specific and possibly premediated or preplanned targets. Many of these targets may be across the border and, in the case of a limited conflict scenario (e.g., within Kashmir), the aim of concentrated, high-intensity conventional strikes from land and air (with the Pakistan Air Force handling the latter through its own line of precision-guided bombs, gliding bombs, and air-launched cruise missiles).

However, as the conflict in Ukraine has shown, the true efficacy of these precision-strike capabilities would emerge with credible intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) reach. This ISTAR coverage would need to come from multiple sources, including imaging intelligence (IMINT) from a satellite, airborne surveillance (e.g., via long-range electro-optical systems and/or synthetic aperture radar sensors), land-based electronic support measures – like electronic intelligence (ELINT) – and, not least, a strong human intelligence (HUMINT) element.

Pakistan is building towards each of those areas. For example, it aims to build a credible space-based IMINT capability through a domestic satellite program. In addition, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) created its own ‘Space Command’ to not only leverage satellites, but also sensor feeds from drones and manned special mission aircraft, like its airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) assets.

Interestingly, through its Sea Sultan long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA) program, the PN will also have an aircraft equipped to monitor surface-based targets and, albeit in maritime theaters, manage combat operations involving a mix of aircraft, surface ships, and stand-off range weapons. However, over land, neither the PAF or the Army have many assets to provide dedicated ground-surveillance/ISTAR and battle management to coordinate land-based guided weapons. It would be worth seeing if the Army or, at least, the Air Force would develop a variant of the Sea Sultan LRMPA to support this role. This asset would basically play a similar role to the Raytheon Sentinel or American JSTARS. Perhaps something like the Saab GlobalEye could fit this role (while also serving as an AEW&C).

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